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June 30, 2017
Social Media Is All About Context
Politicians’ extensive use of social media starts with an understanding that there is a series of ongoing conversations that create ready-made audiences and contexts for their ideas, their points of view, and their rants. The take-away is that context is a springboard for social media creativity.
At any given time, there are ideas, issues, topics, and conversations that are part of the ongoing national dialogue. Politicians and the workings of our economy drive some conversations. Some are developed by the realities of life. Still others emerge from the interplay of people, celebrities, and media.
By positioning your brand, product, or service in the context of these ideas you get more attention faster, see greater uptake, and gain rapid familiarity. Social media strategy revolves around connecting the dots and doing the math to link a brand’s needs to these broad themes. And while every so often a brand successfully introduces a new theme or meme or significantly changes the conversation, it is the exception rather than the rule. Generally, social media success turns on leveraging an existing conversation and mobilizing its audience.
Consider a few examples.
For the last twenty years we’ve been talking about women’s leadership, women’s empowerment, the glass ceiling, the mommy track, and post-feminism. Brands use these well-known concepts as launching points for positioning themselves, explaining the implications of their ideas, reaching out to women’s audiences using familiar terms of debate, and positioning ideas, services, and products relative to the progress and the challenges women in business face. When this is done right, women perceive ideas quickly and differently, get engaged faster, interact with brands favorably, and help advance and extend the message.
Similarly, we have been talking and thinking about ecology, our planet, global warming, conservation, and the need to respect and preserve the earth. Many clients have used this context to explain, position, and promote new organic products. Many businesses have framed moves to open markets, build facilities, and re-engineer production using these terms.
Now, if you are thinking all you have to do is clothe your pitch with the buzzwords and aura of an ongoing conversation, you’d be dead wrong! This is not a cynical manipulation, because consumers sense that instantly. This approach works when the claims are real and the connections are genuine. Americans are too savvy for the stunts and tricks of the past.
Our institutions — like family and marriage — and our civil and social behavior are a constant source of context. We are in constant conversation about teaching, feeding, parenting, motivating, and protecting our kids. Questions about traditional and changing values, the sanctity of the family, new variations in relationships and lifestyles, democracy, equality, and fairness are familiar to everyone. These ongoing national conversations are openings and opportunities to present personalities, points of view, perspectives, and products and to raise our consciousness about problems and solutions.
An important thing about context is that reaction is often as powerful and sometimes more powerful than initiation. You don’t have to have all the big ideas or even start the ball rolling. In some cases commenting on events, reacting to others’ ideas, or jumping into a debate can be a very effective communications tactic, especially since traditional editorial media no longer have a lock on credibility or distribution.
The trick is to follow and understand the conversation, pick your entry point carefully, marshal your content, and be prepared to react and engage the people who respond over time. It’s easy to get into the maelstrom; it’s much harder to master it.

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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