Twitter to the rescue?

By Allison Kennedy, Social Media Strategist

“Don’t you know, social networking solves everything?” says a commenter on facebook in reply to an initiative created by BBH interns to help raise awareness by giving 4 homeless men in New York City pre-paid cellphones and access to Twitter.  Judging by this user’s additional comments, it is clear his first rhetorical question should have included “[insert eye roll here].”

Up until recently, I would have been right there with him – until I realized the power that social networks can actually harness, and the real change they can actually bring about.

From the streets in Cairo, where protestors graciously thanked facebook for existing as a platform to start their revolution, to the streets in New York, social media has become a force to be reckoned with.  But what does it take for social media to ignite and sustain a movement?

Just like other forms of technology, social media needs to be constantly evolving – sending an e-vite or creating a cause page is no longer sufficient.   To break through the clutter, those using social media as a channel need to be constantly changing their approach to disrupt our usual behaviors, and give us a reason to take notice.

I had the opportunity to speak with the BBH team that developed Underheard in NY, the project that gave 4 homeless men pre-paid cellphones to allow them to tweet their stories and day-to-day thoughts.  Rosemary Melchior, Robert Weeks and Willy Wang were issued the challenge to do something good, famously, which Melchior and her team interpreted as, “make people listen.”

The great thing about Twitter is there are such low barriers to enter since you can use it on a prepaid cellphone; you don’t have to have a computer.  And that’s it; your voice is out there – [Twitter is the] most accessible platform out there.

[…] We didn’t ask for anything but to have people [follow and] retweet them.  People decided that wasn’t enough – they wanted to help out in other ways. Social media makes these communities possible. (Weeks)

When asked about the criticism that the approximate $1,000 in funding could have gone to more conventional use, Zac Sax, creative at BBH, explained that this concern “initially came up when project launched.”  Since then, Sax says, “the community [we’ve built] has come to these guys’ aid.  As much as you can help someone in the short term with these [traditional] resources, having an entire community upwards of 4,000 people [has proven] far more valuable.”

The Underheard in NY team is not alone in their quest to bring about change in a unique way.  BBH interns, Jana Heiss, Caroline Chambers and Lisa Taber are tackling the same do something good, famously challenge by championing social media to raise awareness for breast cancer prevention and early detection. 

“We knew that this is a saturated market, and wanted to take a unique approach,” Taber says.  Man Cans 2011 is doing so by targeting men in their 20s and 30s, a demographic that has not traditionally been given a reason or opportunity to interact with breast cancer, by asking them to consider “a world without woman’s boobs.”

Using humor and digital platforms to connect to their demo, Man Cans is creating a calendar that depicts “iconic boob moments” featuring (you guessed it), men.  The calendar, which the team hopes will spread online, will be distributed as a monthly physical reminder for men to share responsibility for the breast health of the women in their lives.

This message wouldn’t have been as effective if executed on a t-shirt or as a walk, Taber tells me.  It had to be done in a way young men could feel comfortable interacting with and sharing the subject matter.

From protests abroad, to local and national awareness campaigns, social media is leveling the playing field.  It is not giving people a voice, as some have suggested – social media is making everyone’s voice equal and accessible.  And if used the right way, it is amplified and brought to the ears of people who wouldn’t otherwise be listening.

Wael Ghonim, the activist who became a symbol of the Egyptian revolution said after Hosni Mubarak stepped down, “I’ve always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet.”

To the facebook commenter who originally got me thinking about this – no, I didn’t know that social networking solves everything.  At least I hadn’t thought so before, but I do believe (to a certain degree) it’s possible now.

For more information on these initiatives, check out:

 UnderheardinNewYork.com   and follow:  Twitter.com/underheardinNY

To be a part of the Man Cans 2011 calendar (shooting in NYC on Saturday, Feb 26 – act quickly!) or to get your copy once it’s done, please visit: Mancans2011.tumblr.com

The Tweet Hereafter

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Brandweek leads Monday’s magazine with a piece about Twitter, featuring Sienna our very own Director of Social Media:

Just how effective is Twitter as a marketing tool? Some brands sing its praises, others think the service has whistled its last tune

Feb 7, 2010

- Todd Wasserman, Brandweek

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If you’re a marketer who has steered clear of Twitter, your (non)strategy may be paying off! It’s possible that this Twitter thing may just take care of itself.

In the middle of last year, Twitter’s growth slowed from 7.8 million new users a month to 6.2 million, according to a recent study from RJ Metrics. That report also found that only 17 percent of Twitter users updated their accounts in December — an all-time low. An earlier study by the Nielsen Co. revealed 60 percent of Twitter users do not return from one month to the next. Taking that into account, it’s tempting to conclude that Twitter is following in the footsteps of another social-media ghost town, Second Life.

In fairness, the raw data may be deceptive. Twitter’s proponents argue that its numbers appear low because so many people access Twitter via ways other than its Web site. But some marketers are ready to write the microblogging service off. “I’m not a big fan of Twitter,” says Joel Ewanick, group vp of marketing for Hyundai. “My Twitter meter has gone down.” Ewanick says he finds Facebook, which has copied most of Twitter’s best features, to be a superior platform. “[Twitter has] become the butt of a joke. You start seeing in popular culture people making fun of Twitter.” Geoff Cottrill, CMO for Converse, seconded that.

“Twitter is a little bit overrated,” he says. “There will be a new media toy that will replace it in a year or two.” Meanwhile, according to VentureBlog, Procter & Gamble execs recently told venture capitalists that they didn’t think Twitter was “particularly relevant to what they’re doing on the brand-building and advertising side” and that “they do not believe that Twitter will ever approach what they get out of a Google or Facebook.” (A P&G rep declined comment on the report.)

Like Second Life, Twitter has become a wasteland for brands. Verizon, a company that spent more than $1 billion on advertising in 2009, has around 5,000 followers — about 0.3 percent the amount that Perez Hilton has. Coca-Cola has 15,000. Apple’s not even on Twitter. And some corporate Twitter accounts suffer from prolonged neglect. Delta Airlines’ Twitter page went from June 17 to Dec. 22 last year without a single update. Delta reps could not be reached for comment.

Sienna Farris, director of social media marketing strategy for New York agency StrawberryFrog, says that Twitter isn’t for everyone. Farris, like other experts contacted for this article, says that all marketers should be mining the real-time mentions of their brands on Twitter, but otherwise, there are just a few areas where Twitter makes sense for marketers — customer relations management, the hawking of deals and as a vehicle for promotions. (Twitter also seems to be a great venue for smaller, lesser-known brands.)

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