An essay on social currency

Guest post by Alexander Southwick– Emerging Solutions and Social Advertising Executive at Fairfax Media

As social media develops to become a mainstream marketing channel for brands, there is a critical need to define the way we measure social success. In line with the traditional measurement metric of ‘reach’, most marketers look to the total number of ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ on their brand accounts as a key objective for their social media activities.
In theory, ‘reach’ should increase the engagement level with brands. Therein lies the dilemma of social networks: a consumer can filter out a brand if they feel they are being interrupted too much (spam). Knowing that the average post on a Facebook brand page will only reach 12% of your audience means that the total number of ‘likes’ a page has isn’t a true reflection of social success. Instead marketers need to look away from reach based messaging, to messaging that is adding value to the communities they are building around their brands: Social currency!

Social currency is a relatively new term that is applied to material being shared across social networks. People deal in social currency to increase their personal or brand standings in the eyes of peers and consumers. In short… something that people want to share and discuss. A brand updating their page with a new viral video gives their users a reason to share with their connections. As a result the creation of content with high social currency will help to add value to the community. Consequently, for marketers to be successful at social media, they need to look to develop content that gives social currency for users to take away and ‘share’, ‘retweet’, ‘reblog’ and ‘repin’ across social networks.

One of the most outstanding example of social currency is the  Red Bull Stratos Jump. It occurred on the 14th of October 2012 and not only did Felix break 3 world records, he helped Red Bull create truly unique and compelling ‘hook’ that people wanted to ‘share’, ‘retweet’, ‘reblog’ and everything in between. With more than 8 million people worldwide watching the Youtube Live stream, the post jump photo of Felix having landed safely has achieved 491,353 Likes, 21,175 comments and 50,508 shares the majority of which occurred in the first hour of it being uploaded! Multiplying the number of shares by the average number of friends a Facebook user has the reach potential got close to 11 million Facebook users. Even by applying the 12% viewing ratio, that still gives you a true reach of 1.32 million! Red Bull associated its brand to content that is so compelling  it became a mainstream topic of conversation. Direct marketing benefits are invaluable!

Creating social currency isn’t easy.
However, by deeply understanding your audience (beyond what they like about your brands & products), identifying what is  most interesting to your fans/followers and potential customers and creating content around it, you will have the keys to provide value. The next thing you need to do is break out of the TVC model and go for a ‘branded entertainment’ production model…. and that isn’t easy… only a few advertisers manage to do this well. The Mary Me Microsoft campaign we blogged about in 2010 and the ‘is it content or is it advertising?‘ post from last December showed good examples. Here is a more recent one: Teaching your consumers something new a in fun way is a particularly good, even if it has a bit of a sombre message –

As more marketers understand the importance of social currency, and consumers gain more power to ignore or amplify their message….  The process of surrounding the target consumer with messaging in an integrated campaign might not hold true anymore. Accurate measurement is critical for social media to keep growing its share in the communications mix. We must re-think how to evaluate social media KPIs and what messaging will achieve these KPIs .

As an agency or advertiser, do you have specific KPIs for your social media campaigns? Are able to clearly measure the benefit they are bringing to your marketing plans?

For more information on how to create social currency read our article “What are the three words that will guarantee social media success?”

Alexander Southwick


Red Bull Facebook Page

2012 Cannes Lions download

I am not going to analyze the award winning campaigns. You can view the Cyber Lions case studies here (have a look, some campaigns are quite amazing)

During the festival, there has been some tremendous presentations and seminars, here is a download of my favorite ones:

 Paul Adams-Global Head of Brand Design at Facebook: Brilliant presentation about social media. When you go social: think people not technology

The full presentation can also be viewed here

A campaign that illustrates the concept of “people web” is the museum of me. Sorry I couldn’t resist, for those who haven’t seen it yet (Gold Lion).

Alain de Botton- Philosopher: By far some of the most interesting and inspiring thoughts about advertising (and it’s not because of his accent!!)

More of his though provoking speech here too!
If you are in Sydney in July, Alain de Botton will be speaking at the Opera House

How can advertising make a better world:

And some more good ideas for small business by Amex: Small Business Saturday

And some kids stuff to finish off

Marie Sornin


What are Red Bull’s secret ingredients?

Taurine, glucuronolactone, caffeine, B vitamins, sucrose and glucose are definitely no secret…. So what makes Red Bull the number one energy drink, selling almost 4 billion cans of this high octane every year? Red Bull has managed to open up a totally new soft drinks segment and dominate it ever since; would it have to do with their unique communication strategy?

The Red Bull communication strategy is all about associating the product with the coolest thing to a young male target audience. Their numerous initiatives range from extreme sports to art shows, music, and video games.  The difference is that Red Bull really maximises their media activities further than other brands. They not only sponsor events or celebs and stick their logo everywhere… they also create their own events and generate branded entertainment from them! It’s then pretty simple: Make branded content SO COOL that once you watch it you will want to share it.

Proof by example, watch this:

So? didn’t you find it so awesome you would have posted it on your Facebook wall? I did when I watched it for the first time.

 I have often said that Content is at the heart of a good social strategy. Red Bull pushes this further by demonstrating that content and social can be at the heart of a brand strategy. Check out the Red Bull corporate website: definitely not about product information…

– 1st secret ingredient: understand what would appeal to your audience. Not the mainstream stuff, but the inspirational stuff, hence the cliff diving, Parkour, skating…
– 2nd secret ingredient: carefully select your talents, directors, producers and create break throughs… hence their formula 1 pilot Sebastian Vettel (youngest-ever championship runner-up and current world champion). When putting the team together Red Bull was looking for a potential rather than a winner at the time.
-3rd secret ingredient: use opinion leaders within your target audience to spread the content, from there build your own community, hence the integration of every single of their athletes within their brand social strategy. That makes over 300 personalities who genuinely amplify Red Bull’s communication!
-4th secret ingredient: curate your community… with over 22 millions global fans on their Facebook page, plus thousands more on their sub categories (record production, teams, flights…) Red Bull is increasing the focus given to their own distribution channels (mobile & web TV with social integration).

With the recent F8 summit, we have heard a lot about “social by design” I think that Red Bull had nailed this concept very early on in the very essence their marketing activity. Their strategy embraces cross platform story telling, participation and audience engagement. This is also reflected in the way Red Bull works on the deployment of its media activities:

 “The Red Bull approach ensures that storytelling is at the heart of every idea, event, relationship and initiative. That’s such a huge advantage when it comes to creating amazing content, and driving a social response. It made the job a bit of a dream come true for any communications person. The good news is, it’s not out of reach for other brands, but it does require a shift in thinking.”

Christie Poulos spent six years at Red Bull UK, and now owns Jumpshot, specialising in Brand Entertainment Strategy & Creation

 In summary I thought this was an interesting case study to share as a lot of brands are looking at ways to best use social media. Red Bull is doing it well and there is a lot we can learn from the product I feel like calling “the Facebook of energy drinks”.

 If you are interested in reading more about the Red Bullionare, here is a good article on The SMH

 Marie Sornin


Making tracks in social media

The tourism Australia “making tracks” campaign just won the 2011 IAB award for social media marketing and picked up best in show at the same time.  The campaign is now shortlisted for the US IAB MIXX Awards.

The Youtube Symphony Orchestra was a unique opportunity to put Australia on the map for a night! The 2009 edition at New York City’s Carnegie hall sold out instantly and generated 15 millions YouTube views on the date.

What was smart from Tourism Australia was to not only leverage the final event at the Sydney opera house and broadcast it on TV or make a beautiful ad out of it but to get the participating musicians to visit Australia! The “making tracks” idea was to pair up one Australian and one international musician and send them to stunning places around Australia to write music based on their experience! We would all agree that Australian landscapes are breathtaking and magical… using them as a source of inspiration for artists coming from all over the world was a great way to associate the YouTube Symphony Orchestra and Tourism Australia! 

 The concept had double benefits for Tourism Australia; at the end of the campaign they had produced:
1/beautiful music tracks
2/ unique branded content

This is episode 1:

Very smart indeed when you know that:
1/ most users turn to social networking for exclusive information and not only for commercial offers/freebies
2/ visuals are one of the most powerful triggers for travel!

To me the success of the campaign lies in a very simple insight: you can’t go wrong when you produce quality content!

 But quality content is only the beginning of the story, what made it a success (once again simple but powerful) was the paid & earned distribution strategy of this content. 

The 4 short movies were released one after the other to build momentum towards the final YouTube Symphony Orchestra event at the Sydney opera house on March 20th 2011.

For maximum viewership the episodes were first released on the Tourism Australia website, branded YouTube channel and Twitter feed. Users were invited to engage with interactive features on the Facebook page and via the YouTube Symphony Orchestra portal. The musicians themselves were blogging/tweeting and Facebooking about their Australian journeys. It was authentic and real, so the audience was ready to carry it! Because it was content, and not ads, global media platforms also picked up the films… and here you are, that created the amazing ripple effect that we know: 2.7 million episode views and Australian version of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra final concert generated a record high 33 million views globally! What a great exposure for Australia as a tourist destination!!

Congrats to everyone involved in this campaign for beautiful ideas, music, people and places together!

Good luck in New York!

Marie Sornin


Can social networking change reality TV?

The season finale for the most popular show on Australian TV is approaching quickly and fans (you are probably one of them) are already passionately debating on who should win this year’s competition. Of course, the 2011 the MasterChef will be crowned based on their culinary performance, but guess what, the comments you have been publishing on various user generated content platforms clearly reveal who you wish the winner would be!

Thanks to a deep social listening analysis done with the Reprisemedia team using Nielsen Buzz Metrics, we found that MasterChef’s favourite candidate according to audience opinion is (was) Hayden.
The full story just got published in the Australian. You can read it here.


Our ranking is based on the volume of positive online conversations* people are having on social networks, local blogs and forums about each contestant. The 24-year-old lifeguard from New South Wales displayed an overall twice more positive sentiment than the average of all contestants, proving to be the viewers’ favourite since the beginning of the show. The chart above shows that over the duration of the show, Hayden has generated a lot more positive buzz than any other contestant, followed by Dani. Unfortunately Hayden has been voted off the show last week, leaving MasterChef empty of its most likable contestant!

Of course the show is pre recorded, and we all know that the MasterChef ratings are absolutely dominating any other program, so the loss of Hayden is probably not going to reverse the wheel, however, I can’t help but think that social interactions have a big role to play in TV programing and sponsorship, starting with reality TV.
TV content doesn’t stop once it’s been aired but the engagement ripples across multiple channels… and MasterChef is the perfect example:
–  Search queries increase after each episode: +63% searches on Google on July 28th 2010 (day after last year’s finale)
– Seasonal website traffic constantly growing year on year- spiking at 746K Ubs in June 2011 according to Nielsen netview
– Catch up TV viewing soars: 349K Ubs on Network Ten video player in June 2011 according to Nielsen netview.  This is excluding the world of short form video watched on YouTube or other video sharing platforms
– Over 560K Facebook fans and 30K Twitter followers- Amongst the biggest Australian social networking communities

There is a real challenge for content companies to take into account audience opinions expressed through social networks to optimise their productions. As for advertisers, the opportunity goes beyond billboards and product placements, it also lies in creating branded content, reactive search strategy, real time community management, leveraging consumer insights, and of course ultimately generating conversation…. I believe it is up to us, digital marketers, to push the boundaries and trun reality TV into social TV. It seems that the X Factor might very well be leading the way according to the Hollywood report!

But anyway, who do you think MasterChef’s winner will be?

Source: Nielsen Buzz Metrics. Twitter, forums and blogs in Australia.

*Definition: Online conversations occurs every time someone mentions the studied topic online, it can be a blog post, a comment on a blog, a forum post or one tweet (Twitter update). Facebook is not included on this study due to privacy concerns as social listening tools can’t listen in on personal facebook profiles.

Marie Sornin 

The Government does social and learns from it!

I was invited to present at the Government Marketing Communications conference in Canberra on May 27th and 28th. I am not going to share my presentation but two success stories presented by Jessica Ewens Senior campaign manager at the Department of Families, Housing, Community and Ingenious Affairs and Daniel Sheehy, Web content Manager at the NSW Police Force.

The Line- How social media can be the pillar of a behaviour change campaign
The Line campaign is part of the time for action report, a broad initiative aiming at informing and changing young people’s behaviour towards relationships. Jessica explained that prior to deploying the campaign the Department lead thorough research about teenagers. They found that it is between the ages of 12 to 20 that teens shape the way they interact with each others; and that a high part of their conversations happen on digital and social networking spaces. It became obvious for the Department to promote their messages on Facebook, Youtube and a blog enabled website. They also understood that for it to work, the campaign had to be conversational and that the government couldn’t afford to appear authoritative. This digital approach was also supported print, press, PR, music partnerships and artist endorsements.

Social Academy @ the NSW Police Force
In just over a year the NSW Police Force Facebook page grew from nonexistent to 42K active fans. It didn’t happen by chance. Daniel demonstrated the value of social media to his his peers and officers by using the below tricks:

          Show that people are already talking about your organisation outside or your touch points

          Explain how social could make their job easier/ more effective (eg: detectives)

          Invite other organisations to come in and share their success

From there, it was the beginning of his social media boot camp! He was allowed to take the @nswpolice Twitter account over from the smart arse advertising agency that had set it up in 2009 with the hope of “selling” it back to the Police at appropriate time. The NSW Police Force now has 12K followers on Twitter, 870K views on their Youtube channel (with a spike at 100K views on a single video relating an egging incident on the person of Justin Bieber), and 42K “Likes” and their Facebook page.
The NSW Police Force don’t do social networking because it’s trendy; they do it because it brings real benefits to the communities.

          Encourage people to report crime

          Educate people about crime prevention & safety

          Create community confidence, reassurance and goodwill for NSW Police Force

          Provide public with important information at specific time (events, crisis…)

          Rewards & fun: It is not all about crime and busting the bad guys. NSW Police Force recently ran the Police Puppy Naming Poll


Jessica and Daniel reported two very different experiences but the learnings that their organisations drew from their involvement in Social Marketing were very similar.
They both said that when they turned social media channels on, officials were ready to face criticism but that most of the time the community regulates itself and wants the dialogue to remain free and open (because they maintained an active and healthy community)! They also said that the conversation is already happening elsewhere on the web and that felt a responsibility for the authority the drive the dialogue to constructive outcome. They also said they absolutely love participating in such a fast evolving medium and that they still have a lot to learn and experiment!

Marie Sornin

Dairy from business holiday- day 2

When Malaysia does social media, it does it well