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There's an interesting discussion afoot in the field of employee advocacy (programs by brands empowering employees to support the goals of the company through social media). Done well, organizations are reaping the benefits of encouraging and supporting their employees' social media strengths.

Within the field, one of the most important capabilities and advancements is metrics, which I have written about before. It is vital to exactly how much reach, of what kind, your company authorized and supported employee effort is producing. My company has compiled research to show that a company with a base of 1,250 employees that leverages employee engagement can accomplish the following:

  • Increased brand reach of 1.1 million individuals for content shared
  • An annual increase of 25 million authentic impressions
  • A savings of $515,000 in recruiting expenses
  • $1.2 million in earned media advertising value
  • A 19 percent increase in revenue growth

In addition to metrics, the other intriguing feature is gamification. It is possible to gamify social media activity in a number of ways -- awards and incentives for size of following increase, number of high quality posts, and number of shares over a given period. Rewards can range from prizes (days off, movie tickets, monetary awards) to simply seeing the name and stats at the top of a leaderboard program participants see online (that is also possibly circulated or shown to the full company).

But here's the catch -- while gamification is immensely helpful in some areas, it is not helpful or even detrimental in others. What can you do to ensure that the inclusion of gamification in your own employee advocacy program is good?
 
According to industry watchers Thorn Klosowski, Matt Wilson, and Tony Ventrice, here's where gamification is good, as well as where the strategy suffers.

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Last month, we revealed that the World Cup was officially the biggest branded video event of all time. While the tournament only lasted for four weeks -- from mid-June to mid-July -- it dominated the world of branded video for the past four months.

Brands that advertised during the event lead the July iMedia Brands in Video chart, with big-time tournament advertisers Samsung, Nike, and adidas taking the top three spots, respectively. However, the influence of World Cup brands on the list is far less than it was in June.

Last month, eight of the top 10 brands had made investments in the World Cup. This month, it was only half of that. Additionally, viewership of the top 10 brands decreased by 23 percent from June to July. The top brand last month, Nike, had more than 123.7 million views, whereas this month's top brand, Samsung, had 96.7 million views.

For big events that take place over many days, it is the lead up and beginning of the event that drives the most viewership. Is that simply because more brands launched content during this period? Possibly. But it's more likely a result of the anticipation leading up to the event and the excitement of a global audience in the early days of a tournament when all countries are still playing.

While the World Cup played a huge role in July's branded video story, it was Always that really dominated headlines during the month. The feminine care brand's 39 million views are the result of one campaign: "#LikeAGirl."

The video, which debuted at the end of June, aims to dispel the idea that doing something "like a girl" is cause for mocking. In the first part of the ad, men and women are asked to run, punch, and throw "like a girl," and they do what you might expect by performing the tasks in an idiotic and mocking fashion.

Then young girls are asked to perform the same actions. They do them without the exaggeration that the adults imbued in their runs, punches, and throws; they simply run, punch, and throw like any other person.

The uplifting video, helmed by documentarian Lauren Greenfield ("Queen of Versailles") has garnered more than 52 million views and 1.2 million social interactions. In addition, it spent six weeks on the Ad Age Viral Video Chart, during several of which it held the top spot.

"#LikeAGirl" is indicative of a great trend of female empowerment. Over the past year, we've seen a number of brands attempt this type of messaging.

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"Barely Legal Pawn"

Ever wonder what happened to Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul after "Breaking Bad" ended? Wonder no more! This is pretty awesome.

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It's no secret that everyone is embracing cloud/shared technology from the Department of Defense (DOD) to every single startup. It's a great way to lower overhead costs, increase flexibility (in some cases offer a plethora of telecommuting options), and supposedly enhance security. However, not all sharing technologies are created equal, and you can't assume that just because there's a big name behind a service means it's the most secure. There's no getting around it -- you have to do your homework if you're going to go into the cloud.

5 popular shared technologies that once failed

In the beginning of any technology, there are going to be kinks and bugs to work out. Knowing the past failures of some of the most popular technologies can help you see the flaws and also gauge whether or not you think an option is secure enough for you and your business. There are ways to optimize your security, but there are also times when certain marketers in key industries can be a little more lax.

Here are some of the most popular sharing technologies available today, how they've failed, and a guide to whether or not they're now a good option for you and your business.

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I'm a traditionally trained journalist. That is to say, I understand what it is to constantly be asked, "Are you obsolete?"

On my most time-pressed days, the answer is usually, "Yes. Yes, I am." Followed by a quiet sigh. But if you catch me on one of my more patient and time-permitting days, that answer might be followed by a lengthy "but..."

Journalists, like the publishers that employ them, find themselves in an "adapt or die" situation these days. What we once were -- even just five years ago -- is not what we are today. (At least, not if we're being honest with ourselves.) Our value has changed. It's still there -- but you have to know where to look and how to channel it. Our traditional role in society is, in fact, obsolete.

Journalists are not the only ones. The ad agency world faces many of the same threats -- both perceived and real -- in the evolving media landscape. Agency value is being challenged, tested, and debated. It's still there. But do you know where to look and how to channel it?

In an effort to better understand today's agency value -- and perhaps justify my own -- I reached out to industry leaders at agencies, brands, and other entities to get their perspectives on the greatest threats to today's agencies and how they can be combatted (if they can at all). Opinions varied, but no one denied the need for a transformation in the traditional agency model and mindset. Let's take a look at a few of the themes that emerged.

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The new consumer: Someone who integrates technology more and more into his or her life while demanding brands keep pace.

In the past few decades, all brands have seen a change in the way consumers shop and interact with marketing. However, perhaps nowhere is the shift more radically felt than by iconic legacy brands that are household names. One of these brands is Heineken, which was founded in 1864 and is currently the number one alcohol brand on Facebook. This company has seen it all and has sold to every type of consumer over the years. Heineken is as well known, loved, and popular as any brand can hope to be, but the digital revolution has cultivated a new society of shoppers whose expectations are radically different than ever before. It has forced Heineken to shift its strategies in every area. It's no longer enough to just be established; brands must now be technologically nimble. Heineken defines the "new consumer" as someone who is not only using technology in every facet of life, but increasing it every day. They want brands to understand technology and incorporate it into marketing messages, products, and experiences. Today, consumers demand brands evolve along with them and interact on a cutting-edge technological level. This is a new reality many brands still need to face.

No one is more in tune with the needs of the new consumer landscape like Jeremy Brook, global lead of digital strategy and media innovation at Heineken. He explains how his brand defines the new consumer, and why social listening should be used in new ways to help brands future-proof their strategies.

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Constantly hammering subscribers with "buy now" messages in between purchases is a recipe for increasing your unsubscribe rate. To avoid this, I recommend a strategy that I call "the permanent campaign." One of the essential elements of this strategy is recognizing when it is the time to shift back into "buy now" mode with a subscriber with your email marketing.

Most subscriber behavior does subtly (or not so subtly) change when they are shifting into buy mode. For items purchased on a short purchase cycle, the subscriber is almost always in the "buy now" state, but for longer purchase cycle products and services, there will be shifts in behavior that email marketers must learn to recognize and react to. Here are three of the things your subscribers are doing when they are shifting into "buy now" mode.

They increase email engagement

While on the surface this seems pretty obvious, most email marketers aren't actually prepared to react to this behavior with offers. If you have a good content marketing strategy, you should be able to keep subscribers engaged on some level on an ongoing basis -- or at least so they won't unsubscribe. Even so, if someone who has been opening the occasional email from you suddenly starts opening and clicking on your regular campaigns, it's time to start looking very closely at what they are clicking on and provide the right information and incentive in follow-up email communications, as well as in other channels where you interact with that subscriber. Sure, that person is going to buy, but you want to make sure they buy from you.

Think of a hotel chain email subscriber who only travels for pleasure, never for business. If this person takes one to two trips a year where lodging is required, six months could go by with nary an email open. If that behavior suddenly changes, it's likely that another vacation is being planned. Savvy email marketers will recognize this signal and act accordingly by sending enticing offers to that subscriber.

They make purchases

I hear you thinking to yourself "Wait, what?" But think about it. Truth be told, it's highly likely a person who has just made a purchase is still in "buy now" mode! So that purchase should be seen as a really big signal. How should you react to it? Assuming the purchase was made on your website, you are going to send the buyer a purchase confirmation. This is the time to dynamically insert some additional offers based on the previous purchase into that communication -- something along the lines of "people who bought A also bought B." If your email platform doesn't support dynamic product placement into a transactional email, you can always communicate the same information via your next email to that subscriber. The time lag will reduce your chances of success, so it's best to do it immediately if possible.

Let's revisit our hotel chain. Someone who has just booked a room might be interested in local attractions, a rental car, or a show (perhaps this hotel is in Vegas). The customer is going to buy these things from someone. Why not you?

They update preferences or profiles

If someone takes the time to update his or her preferences at your preference center, that should set off all kinds of bells in your email marketing brain. It's a clear indication of renewed interest in your brand, as well as a desire to refine the communications that person receives from you -- whether it's the frequency, the content, or just a desire to get in on your special email offers. People don't think about brands just for the sake of it. (I'm sorry to break that to any of you who think your brand is all that interesting. It's probably not.) People think about brands when they are thinking about making a purchase. And they are obviously thinking about your brand when they are on your preference center. Use what they tell you to create more relevant email communications that right away help you close the deals.

Think once again about that hotel brand. If a subscriber changes her preferences from content about European locations to the Caribbean, you can safely assume there is an island vacation in her near future. It's not enough to just send her the changed content; now is the time to hit that subscriber with the latest travel deals to those locations.

Regardless of the length of your purchase cycle, it's critically important that you learn to read and react to the signals your subscribers send out when they are ready to buy. Automated and triggered responses are best, as they are the timeliest, but even if you can only react in your regular campaigns, you'll still see results. The list is certainly longer than this, and many of them are product or service specific. But if you just focus on these three signals for now, you'll see an increase in conversions and a happier subscriber base.

Chris Marriott is the vice president of services and principal consultant at The Relevancy Group. Check out a webinar Marriott recently gave on the subject of data-driven email marketing here.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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It's been a few weeks since Airbnb launched a bold new brand into the world and captured the internet's imagination. The company's headlines are just now transitioning back to more expected fare such as "Airbnb slobs are causing a ruckus in Montauk" and "Airbnb host can't get rid of squatter." Now that the dust has settled, it's worth taking a moment to see what we can learn from this modern branding odyssey.

Act I: The launch

Despite what you may have read during July's logo gate coverage, Airbnb's brand launch was a case study in thoughtful rebranding, a venture often beset by risk. It was highly choreographed, press-savvy, buzzworthy, delivered with passion, and, most importantly, done with purpose. Airbnb's new brand was so much more than the proverbial fresh coat of paint. The company reexamined who it was and who its audience should be. Airbnb thought critically about what kind of company it wanted to become and how to best express that vision.

Next, Airbnb then did what all good brands do, which is distill their core business into an emotion or set of personified attributes that resonate with their community. Airbnb, along with DesignStudio, developed a new logo, Bélo, in order to symbolize and herald a new positioning based on a notion of belonging. Inseparable from that exercise was the redesigning of key touch points like the website and mobile experience in the spirit of this new positioning.

Airbnb laid the groundwork for success by giving its community a hint that something new was coming through social outlets and a teaser website. The company courted the press through events and get-togethers where it privately made the case for change. Airbnb seeded irresistible branded content like its GIF animations that spelled out the new brand story and its beautifully crafted YouTube video that set the scene for all of the visible changes to come. Airbnb provided disciplined talking points and pretty much anything a journalist could ever need in order to cover the brand in a comprehensive and constructive light. By the time the new brand launched, most everyone was already on Airbnb's side.

Act II: The backlash

You don't have to Google Airbnb for long to know that even the best laid branding plans often go awry. Within minutes of the launch, customers and journalists alike begin comparing the new mark to everything from grizzly bears to female anatomy. I must confess, when I first saw the symbol, my initial, fleeting impression was of something vaguely sexual, almost mischievous, but I didn't think much of it. It's nearly impossible to predict the nature and magnitude of a response to a change like this. Anyone who has ever created a logo for a mass brand can attest that you agonize over things like this and do your best to predict what the issues will be for any nascent logo. It's hard to tell if Airbnb's tools, like its logo creator and its invitation to manipulate its brand, helped or hurt this reception. Sites like airbnblogos.tumblr.com are part homage, part invective. They're enough to keep any brand steward up at night. And while Airbnb certainly got a lot of press out of this one, it was very stressful to watch this unfold, as someone who often finds myself in the position of advising clients to take risks. Anyone who has followed the most recent branding debacles like GAP, Tropicana, and Yahoo can attest that a company's immediate response can dictate whether something like this will blow over or reach critical mass.

Act III: The response

Airbnb's response was a first rate example of clever damage control and coolheaded restraint. It took to Twitter in real-time to acknowledge people's observations and join in on the fun. In response to the tweet, "The new @Airbnb logo looks like a weird butt," Airbnb replied lightheartedly, "We prefer well-rounded." It took to the media outlets with a few select statements suggesting, more than anything else, that it believed in the new brand and was standing steadfastly behind it. It produced a quick blog post on the process and rigor required to get to the final solution, but the next thing it did was just as critical: It took a break. In this case, silence proved golden.

If you acknowledge too much of this negativity, you perpetuate the feedback cycle and can find yourself in even deeper trouble. If there's anything people feed on more than negativity, it is weakness. Airbnb denied them that chance by never appearing desperate. I was once in the position of advising a client to ignore the comparison a journalist made between their logo and a vibrator. It sounds silly, but keeping quiet at times like that can be tough. Trust me -- that is a difficult thing to do.

The most brilliant thing Airbnb did was a week or two after launch, once things had cooled down a bit. It produced "The Bélo Report: an infographic on the new Airbnb symbol." Not only was this "report" a beautiful, shareable JPG that just begged to be read, but it once again took control of the story Airbnb wanted to tell. It was witty and passionate. There may be some reality distortion going on here, but it's an undeniably honest sentiment. Sure, the logo looks like genitalia, but it also looks like modes of transportation, food, and animals! Sure, people created parody Tumblr accounts largely ridiculing the new logo, but someone also wrote a song about it! This report does a beautiful job of showing the community passion that rose up to meet Airbnb's passion and demonstrates all of the creativity that was shepherded into the world. It was inclusive, humorous, and warm.

Without any more unexpected hiccups, this post should make for good closure to an exciting brand launch with many ups and downs. The media can now get back to writing exciting Airbnb headlines like "Most Airbnb Rentals Go Perfectly. Then There Are These Horror Stories."

Sam Becker is creative director at Brand Union.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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It's no secret that emotionally resonant creative is the key ingredient in advertising. Always has been, always will be. But these days a strong emotional connection is also one of the best ways for advertisers to break through the clutter and make the most of earned media. Emotional connections, after all, are why we consume media. We watch movies that lift up our spirits and tickle our funny bones. We watch television that horrifies, shocks, and -- hopefully -- gets us buzzing about what we just saw. And from time to time, we see advertisements that strike us on such a gut level that they cut through the noise and lodge their message deep inside our minds.

7 emotions connecting brands and consumers

Of course, most media fail to connect on an emotional level. You've certainly forgotten more movies than you remember. A handful of TV shows endure, but most are forgettable. And when it comes to ads, the vast majority of them are entirely disposable. Making that emotional connection with the largest possible audience isn't easy. In fact, it's incredibly hard, which is exactly why we've decided to showcase some of the best emotional advertising we've seen online lately.

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With social media 1.0, simply having a Twitter and Facebook account worked. Social media 2.0 forced brands to break down barriers between social networks, surf the swelling tide of mobile, and help customers navigate the maze of social noise. A new shift is underway -- one that nips at the heels of marketers who control robust budgets but must increasingly use social insights to make smart decisions. And there is big money in play.

Research firm BIA/Kelsey projects total U.S. social media advertising revenues will grow from $5.1 billion in 2013 to $15 billion in 2018. It's no secret that social networks are promoting paid advertising and dialing back organic reach in an effort to establish their own sustainable foothold. This may contribute significantly to rising social spend. So should brands grin, bear it, and pony up more dough for paid social and see what happens?

Not exactly. Just as racking up likes and follows is no longer a sustainable social strategy, neither is throwing money at social marketing because somehow big spend must equate to big success. This isn't to say that social marketing doesn't require financial investment; it does. However, money alone can't help a brand plan, create, and leverage better content or translate social insights into actionable business decisions.

Here are three "buckets" where social media insights can impact both marketing and the larger business.

Staffing

Social media was often mistakenly thought of as a "free" marketing tool. That was true if you weren't paying anyone to actually execute your social strategy -- to say nothing of paid advertising.

Another vestige of days past is the idea that brands do people a favor by replying to customer service issues on social media. Customers who engage a brand with a question or complaint now expect a response -- and a timely one too. Determining the correct social customer service staff can be challenging and require a strategic shift.

According to Katy Phillips, senior analyst of social communications for American Airlines, the company began staffing a 24/7 customer service operation in January 2013. When they first launched their social customer service presence in late 2011, American responded to customer questions on Twitter and Facebook during business hours. With the goal of eventually being a 24/7 operation, they increased their hours of operation to 12 hours a day in spring 2012 and then to 18 hours a day a couple of months later. There was lots of number crunching to forecast headcount. They used data to look at incoming volume, projected growth of fan base and other factors to determine the optimal number of team members.

Insights that lay bare potential holes in a brand's social media customer service such as average response time can help determine additional spend required to build an adequate team. This issue goes beyond customer service too. Does an Instagram presence require dedicated staff, or just current employees with smartphones and creative eyes?

Content creation

If you think projected social ad revenues are big, consider TV. eMarketer expects TV to continue capturing the largest share of paid ad spending in the U.S. for the foreseeable future, with revenues reaching an estimated $75.3 billion in 2017.

One could argue that brands with TV ad budget likely have enough money for social media ads. But again -- it's not about available spend; it's about smart use of good content. While answers will vary from brand to brand, marketers should ask questions such as: "Do we need to spend major resources creating custom content for YouTube, or is repurposing our TV spots enough?"

Many brands experience viral growth with their TV ads on YouTube -- especially around events like the Super Bowl. It's easy to fall into the mistake of planning content per channel when brands should plan it per audience. Chances are the people who respond most positively to a brand's TV ads are the same people who engage with the brand on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.

Again, there's no silver bullet here and finding the right answer will involve some trial and error. Understanding what organic content does well can help inform what to put spend against, and successful paid content can also be pushed out organically. Marketers don't always have to reinvent the wheel.

Beyond marketing

Social media for social media's sake is over. Earlier this year, Altimeter analyst Rebecca Lieb opined on this topic here. However, as she states, the maturing of social media doesn't diminish its importance, it's "essential for integration into the larger marketing organization."

I would take this a step further and contend that it's essential for integration into the larger business organization. Companies should increasingly use data to advance the entire organization across all departments when possible. Social media insights can potentially be used to make critical decisions from human resources to product development to sales. Community managers all the way up to CMOs should work to share data with others and explore how to capitalize on social insights to grow the entire business.

Brands must 1) ask the right questions and set the right objectives, 2) have the appropriate technology to access and use social data, and 3) have people with the intelligence and intuition to apply the data correctly. With this, marketers will be armed to make smart decisions for the company beyond social media.

Lux Narayan is co-founder and CEO of Unmetric.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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