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Calling out a tough crowd before they have the chance 

We change all the time and this is the same for brands; the only difference is that public backlash is more common which is why they do to their best to hide change; problem is the internet can be a cesspool of troll activity which makes it that much harder not to slip up. 

Recently, I’ve seen two cases where YouTube personalities have avoided such outcry by making a simple announcement to address change in real time.

Ahead of Robby Motz’s debut on YouTube show “Equals Three”, Ray William Johnson asked viewers to go easy on the new host which successfully quelled any preconceived hate before it even started because a human perspective was brought into the mix - “you’re a really tough audience on people and they’re all very afraid of you!”

YouTubers have a huge stake in their brand and are proactive enough to do whatever it takes to protect it; especially where they personify the brand.

Speaking directly to his fans, Felix Kjellberg (aka PewDiePie) announced that he’d be removing video comments from YouTube forever which is a game changer in itself because the most subscribed channel on YouTube just decided to quit the worst part of it; but for viewers, the frustration that would have been directed to him for his actions was instead deflected back at the people by criticising their actions.

In these two cases I’ve discovered that when a transition from old to new cannot be made it’s sometimes better to call it out and react to the conversation before it even starts.

 

image source: 1, 2, 3, 4

Computer animation: a peek behind the curtain

Growing up on hand-drawn cartoons and animated movies I always resented computer animation for coming to the forefront, but I’ve recently found myself entranced by the tiny details behind the hair physics in Brave, the painterly art style of Paperman, and Frozen’s subtle character quirks (never mind the snow itself)! Below are a few interesting excerpts I’ve read about on Fxguide.

Brave: moon hair

Hair is modeled using a series of mass and springs…curls are very stiff, so the springs need to be quite rigid, but the movement of the hair requires a soft flowing quality that fights this property….Merida’s hair wanted to unwind due to the weight of her own hair, so the team tried lighting the mass, but then the hair became floaty “almost like underwater hair. It is not that the mass changes, it is almost as if gravity itself changes.” So the team ended up using a gravity coefficient closer to that of the moon than earth

Brave New Hair (Mike Seymour, 2012)

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Paperman: CG drawings 

“I started thinking about ways of merging the hand-drawn lines and get the best of both worlds,” recalls Kahrs, “trying to find the expressiveness of the line, and keeping that, and then hanging onto the stability and dimensionality and the refinement and motion that you find in computer animation.” 

The inside story behind Disney’s Paperman (Ian Failes, 2013)

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Frozen: toffee snow

Amongst the many challenges faced by Disney in creating the Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee-directed feature Frozen was how to deliver shots of heavy and deep snow that both interacted believably with characters and had a realistic sticky quality…The basic assumption we had is that we can model snow as elastic and plastic material. So this is similar to a piece of toffee, where you stretch it and you pull it so far that it doesn’t return. 

The tech of Disney’s Frozen and Get a Horse! (Ian Failes, 2013)

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It started with a scream

It’s a real eye-opener to see noticeable refinements in 3D modelling which started with easier to animate “big” expressions in the beginning to the more sophisticated character quirks seen today. 

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The secret sauce is open source

In the animation industry, 3D modeling and simulation tools can be used by everyone. Pixar’s 3D RenderMan software has been used in a lot more than their own movies, Dreamworks shares its data as Open VDB, as do Walt Disney Animation Studios.

3D animation has progressed so much in so few years and it’s clear why, there has never been a pause in innovation because each new tech development is shared between animators and film studios which is okay, because as Ed Catmull says, ”ideas are going to flow through like water but you want the people who generate it” as true creativity is in the people.

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image source: 1, 2, 34, 5, 6, 7, 8

Mean brands can be meaningful
The internet is an unfiltered space where people like to speak their minds, take a look at the recent hubbub surrounding the Korean band Girls Generation at YouTube Music Awards and you’ll find that angry shouty people (who love Justin Bieber) comment more than happy chirpy ones.
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I am rubber, you are glue

Many brands (this includes public personas) face a barrage of negative comments and can only grin and bear it to avoid agitating things, warranted comments should of course be handled in a professional manner. However, the brands who wind up in social media as the lackey or punchline to somebody’s joke should take note of Tesco. The UK retailer launched a full-on retaliation against folks tweeting sarcastic digs at them by hosting a #nojoke campaign that pelted handcrafted snarky comments right back at the sender! 

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While we’re not suggesting that brands should act as online bullies and ditch the nice work they do online, we do think there is space for brands to be more “human” online — brands should not homogenize online.
Mean Brands (BBH Labs, 2012)
Mean brands serve as a great counterpoint to nice brands
But the real takeaway is for brands to be real and relatable like a human being; to show an informal side that we can get behind. That being said, I was a little taken aback when coming across Tesco’s rather casual back and forth the other day…
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Don’t want to mess with the mob?  

Whereas in the old days mentioning the competition would be considered free advertising, nowadays consumers have too much variety in their hands and don’t necessarily care about any one brand…

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Mess with the competition!

…so why not use that information to make a statement against them and create buzz for your own. Brands shouldn’t just set themselves apart from the competition but stand on the shoulders of them and be seen! Have a conversation with consumers or call out your enemies; that’ll be a good start.

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image source: 12, 34, 5, 6

Netflix’s big data cook up new programming model

For the longest time, the way we consume television has been evolving in response to our digital advances, an iterative process that now calls upon TV to do the same. Video on demand (VOD) services such as Netflix and LoveFilm initially came about as a niche alternative to video rental stores for those with good home internet - this has since become the choice for many. Now with TV offering video streaming for their own exclusive content the lines have blurred in how entertainment is fed to us.

 

What’s the difference between TV / cable networks and VOD?

TV networks are rapidly encroaching on VOD territory, specifically HBO who owns all of their programming and churns out hit shows one after another. The threat of HBO GO has become apparent so much that in early January, Netflix declared that their goal was to become HBO faster than HBO can become them. The Netflix original initiative brought about a new season of the once cancelled cult hit Arrested Development and a US remake of House of Cards; however, the intricacies of this new strategy are even more newsworthy.

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On demand buffet

With the release of each Netflix original, entire episodes will be made available at once bypassing the more common week-to-week wait; this binge-viewing model will be familiar to those who marathon entire DVD box sets or already subscribe to Netflix for such cause; the interesting part to this story is big data. Because VOD is an inherent digital service everything users do and view will and has already been analysed to engineer the success of Netflix originals.

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Netflix might not know exactly why I personally hit the pause button…Perhaps the action slowed down too much to hold viewer interest — bored now! — or maybe the plot became too convoluted. Or maybe that sex scene was just so hot it had to be watched again. If enough of us never end up restarting the show after taking a break, the inference could be even stronger: maybe the show just sucked.

How Netflix is turning viewers into puppets (Andrew Leonard, 2013)

House of Cards was built off the back of viewers who watched the 1990 BBC miniseries on Netflix, a majority of these viewers also happened to like watching movies starring Kevin Spacey or directed by David Fincher; the result led to a US remake of the series starring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher!

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Final thoughts

Despite criticism over the all at once approach or the use of algorithms over creativity; my thoughts are that of optimism. For example, TV shows that started off on the wrong foot or would have struggled in that one particularly tough timeslot have more time to find their audience. Long-form serialised storytelling is made more palatable to viewers with the completely optional binge-viewing choice potentially being a far better method than the week-to-week one. In addition, those who love to wait still can because nobody is forced to gorge.

Death of the watercooler?

Sure, the anticipation and discussion over each new episode is great, The Walking Dead’s episodic gameplay was refreshing to many gamers and watercooler moments came each month waiting for the next instalment; but wouldn’t it be weird if every game were to be played episodically? Those fearing the death of watercooler conversation have little to worry aboutbooks aren’t released chapter-by-chapter and are rich with watercooler discussions in the form of book clubs; the only problem I envision is spoilers!

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image source: 12, 3, 4

Coca-Cola Polar Bears Film 2013: the importance of an honest branded content experience

What I find really compelling about the Coca-Cola Polar Bear short is that it provides brand marketing without attaching product. Ad awareness is served by the YouTube title and a logo which appears ahead of the content for about twenty seconds before fading away. By being transparent over their involvement Coca-Cola are giving us the chance to opt-out; this matters, it sets-up a feeling of brand honesty, choice and trust in viewers to stay and watch on. Last year’s XFX Power Rangers parody works along the same lines but instead parodies product placement with its own style of heavy-handed promotional techniques.

Unfortunately, Samsung’s Overly Attached Computer is made less compelling by being somewhat covert in their advertising, serving themselves up as the punchline to an otherwise entertaining music video. Adam Saltsman sums it up best with his comment about advergames, saying “I think games that are really blatantly advertisements affect people differently — to me they are much more honest" and it’s true, harbouring a hidden commercial agenda without being honest can rub people the wrong way. This is becoming more apparent in the online space with brands having the option of hosting extended ads on YouTubeproduct placement dramas, even sponsoring a space jump seen around the world.

As savvy consumers, we have a knack for spotting product placement and have been poking fun at it since Wayne’s World but that doesn’t mean product placement is a bad thing, it’s just that a little honesty in our ad experiences can warm us to a brand while silent/subliminal marketing can be a little uncomfortable for everyone.

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The Human Face of Big Data: working with intelligence

Early last year, I blogged about useful content curation tools such as Twitter and Scoop.it allowing us to aggregate the internet and ultimately prevent information overload. The funny thing is that all the news and social media sites we visit on a  day-to-day basis already shield us from overdosing by only showing what we need. The articles. The images. The content. Putting this into context, some 90% of data in the world today has been created in the last two years and we only ever get to see a fraction of it. 

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The Human Face of Big Data, a digital crowdsourcing data project launched in late September, attempts to shine a public spotlight over big data and our ability to collect, analyze, triangulate and visualize vast amounts of it in real time. As data gets bigger and more complex, data handlers are needed to identify trends and validate information within vast rows and columns of numbers. The study in itself is made up of fifty personal questions collected from iOS and Android users, ending November 20th; the public will then be invited to freely explore and manipulate an interactive visualisation of their big data.

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Data requires human intelligence

Our digital activity is an exponentially increasing footprint fueling a digital ecosystem growing in tandem and seemingly powered by the speed of thought. Marketers want to target advertising, insurance providers to provide better offerings, and Wall Street to make better readings on market temperament. All of this presents pure opportunity to the market with human behaviour collected at a granular level and algorithms derived to further trace the patterns of our actions (Boyd & Crawford, 2011).

Looking at it from a social media monitoring perspective, SMI tools can help brands detect topics of interest and areas for crisis management. Everything is stored with automated intelligence systems crunching out numbers and insights tailored to our needs; however, data doesn’t carry any knowledgable value without the proper analysis; this coupled with the complexity of big data means that human intelligence is the best solution.

Crowdsourcing the future

The Human Face of Big Data introduces new blood into the mix. People with fresher and more creative ideas on critical thinking will have a chance to play with big data. Teens bringing a new energy into the field will find stories behind the data in new and interesting ways and it’s the many possible new angles they’ll approach it that excites. With big data at the top of the research itinerary, we’re beginning to tap into the global brain and crowdsource a new way of learning and leveraging the massive volumes of data our world is immersed in. It’s not just computers that need to think smarter than before; we do too. image

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Social media in China is tailor made for the people

I’ve always felt there was something intangible to China when it came to social media; a place where memes get used by brands for marketing, virtual alter egos exist as fashionista avatars, and corrupt officials are publicly named and shamed. Still, I couldn’t quite connect the dots when it came to understanding why China netizens are so much more wired than say, Hong Kong or UK netizens. Social Media Week’s Social Trend in China panel hosted by Harbour City offered up a pretty good answer to this question by quite simply framing everything I knew about China within the context of social media which then suddenly made sense of it all.

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The Cultural factors that make it work

Anyone who takes the MTR knows that commuters are slaves to their screens - silently consuming data in their invisible bubble; but even so, it is less often that you’ll find a guy somewhere in the corner feverishly typing into their phone and nodding to the rhythm of each tap-tap-tap. Such is the case for China as described by Hugo Chan, Managing Partner of WE Engauge, who says that these personalities are commonly created from a combination of external influences i.e. long-term family separation (from within China), the one child policy (with youths compensating by creating their own family of siblings online), affordable broadband internet, and an underlying mistrust of news media (trust is in the masses).

The digital shadow protest

There are also internal influences which are less unique to the makeup of China but their importance is nevertheless amplified in a country where freedom of speech is repressed. Identity & recognition (the power of a single voice), opacity of rank (connecting with government officials and celebrities alike), and the ability to share & debate are useful tools in the virtual empowerment of an otherwise vertical society. For example, ”Weiguan” (围观) is a netizen term that calls attention to the power and passivity of online protest; re-tweeting a sensitive topic is seen as acknowledging an injustice which is of no harm in itself. 

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In reality, however, there is a silent protest taking place behind the scenes that sends out the message that the people are unhappy with what’s going on and are willing to let fellow netizens hear about it. Each unique view then becomes a projection of netizen power that grows with the masses (David Wertime, 2012).

The “customise” culture

Does China copy from Western social media platforms? Yes and no. China draws influence from what came before but they also repurpose it into something that is more palatable for the people. When Sina Weibo was launched back in 2009 it was easy to write it off as the Chinese version of Twitter; fast forward three years and its much clearer to tell apart the differences such as Sina Weibo’s inline pictures & videos, threaded comments, message board functionality, maps, page analytics, promotion zones, and app market. These features have all come together to make Sina Weibo a true destination platform for content discovery; something that Twitter is still struggling with themselves.

Not everything is made to be social

It’s easy to imagine China’s social media landscape to be a reflection of our own but there are actually parts of it that, unlike Western social media, are created to be less social. Take for example, video sites such as Youku, Tudou, and PPTV; they all lack the social sharing buttons that we’ve come to expect with YouTube. That’s not to say videos can’t be shared it’s just that not all content on these sites are created with sharing in mind. Copyrighted content such as syndicated TV opera and live show events such as The Voice of China are hosted on these sites - effectively creating an online TV station with long-form display ads served up as TV commercials; media such as this doesn’t lend itself very well to the grab-and-go culture of sharing online. 

Final thoughts

It seems that everything I’ve come to know about China; from the politics, the culture, to the technology is exactly why social media is so powerful in the country. In addition, Sina Weibo, Renren, Youku etc are platforms made for the people first so there is no homogeneous rounding of the corners (UI, features, etc) to fit the international mold of user.

Why is China so wired for social media? 

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Because it’s China!

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The disparities between face-to-face communication and computer-mediated communication (2009 research paper)

I should have uploaded this back when it was fresh and more relevant but better late than never. My 2009 Msc research paper explored human behaviour and friendship online, it looked at the disparities between face-to-face communication and computer-mediated communication. I remember it being a hard sell to my supervisors at the time; an excuse to surf Facebook they would say! 

Looking back through the research it’s clear to see that there was a certain uneasiness about discussing Facebook in offline situations. It was almost like an admission of guilt that you enjoyed spending time talking to people online more than offline. But three years has changed a lot, social media has not only become the norm it has become a term that people recognise and understand. It’s funny to see that the social media buzzword wasn’t cited once in my paper considering its overuse these days. Now for some extracts.

The tonal conversation shift between friends offline to online

"…the FtF setting fostered a situation where politeness was factored into the equation in order to avoid offending other people (especially when making first impressions), on the other hand, CMC raised a barrier which negated first impression politeness and fostered humour instead. This is more apparent when the communication barrier makes being oneself hard to convey; in its place, irony is used to compensate."


Macro-coordination and micro-coordination

"Macro-coordination and micro-coordination compliment each other when used for arranging FtF meetings. Email is used for making general arrangements and determining the availability of each individual whilst micro-coordination is used when plans are finalised and the journey has begun."


The use of photographs as a communication tool

"Communication tools on SNS such as photographs help to close distances between friends a great deal; however, SNS cannot truly sustain a friendship if FtF contact in the traditional sense is not present."

The entire research paper can be found here.

Watch Dogs E3 reveal trailer is a “technomancer”

The plot comprises of an interesting premise where in a world controlled by computers who controls the computer? Personal data collection is the key commodity, you are a data cluster casting a digital shadow of over 2.3GB representing every moment of your digital life and revealing how you think and what you believe. That information could be turned against you, not just to sell products, but to influence your world views.

Morphic resonance and the power of social influence

There has been a noticeable uptake in brands giving the public a vocal influence over product and marketing decisions, this could stem from the internet’s ability to crowdsource on a global scale. Most recently the Occupy Wall Street protests, Stop SOPA, and KONY 2012 have seen mainstream attention garnered from both offline and online sources. In addition, Crowd funding has had its share of attention with Tim Schafer of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango fame reaching out to fans to fund the development of a new point-and-click adventure game on Kickstarter. Fans were given the power to become stakeholders in a project that would never have got off the ground otherwise.

Grassroots: growing the passion point

Successful campaigns are fueled by the passion of fans, a great example of this is the “pay it forward" scheme where fans share their love over something with close friends in order to generate word of mouth buzz. However, the success of this approach can be rather hit and miss with prizes at stake, this ultimately inspires a lack of community and divides passion rather than bringing it together.

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But alternate reality gaming has created a sense of community time after time through experiences that call on people to solve the game as no single person can do otherwise, the rewards are generally shared so there is nothing to lose and everything to gain in this instance.

Based on the Halo fiction, ilovebees was an original radio drama that was deconstructed and delivered to consumers over an unlikely broadcast medium: ringing payphones. ilovebees was a giant multi-player, multi-platform story, immersing players in the world of Halo2 in the four months leading up to the title’s record shattering launch.

During the campaign players hunted down and answered payphones in all 50 states and several countries around the world. Each week a new episode was broadcast to the phones which the players obsessively sought out in order to unlock the content online for the broader community playing the game.

I Love Bees Campaign (42 Entertainment)

Recent cases of crowdsourced marketing at work

Case 1: Fan involvement in movie score (The Dark Knight Rises)

In November 2011, Hans Zimmer reached out online for fans to contribute to the chanting heard at the end of the first teaser trailer to The Dark Knight Rises. They could record their sample of the chant, Moroccan for “He Rises, He Rises”, which Zimmer would then cut into the final score.

The chant became a very complicated thing because I wanted hundreds of thousands of voices, and it’s not so easy to get hundreds of thousands of voices. So, we Twittered and we posted on the internet, for people who wanted to be part of it. It seemed like an interesting thing. We’ve created this world, over these last two movies, and somehow I think the audience and the fans have been part of this world. We do keep them in mind. And I thought it would be something nice, if our audiences could actually be part of the making of the movie and be participants in this.

Hans Zimmer on The Dark Knight Rises (Collider, 2011) 

Case 2: Entertaining market research (Nestle Kit-Kat Chunky)

This was UK market research on a grand scale. Peanut butter, white chocolate, orange, and double chocolate flavours were launched in January 2012 under the limited-edition banner. The public were then given the chance to vote for their favourite flavour on Facebook or by scanning posters for the campaign with the Blippar app. Well over half a million votes later peanut butter was crowned champion with 47% of the public vote and permanently added to the Kit-Kat Chunky roster.

Case 3: Early access to content (The Dark Knight Rises)

Another great instance spinning out from The Dark Knight Rises marketing machine came in April 2012 with the tweet graffiti campaign. The third trailer for the much hyped movie was set to be screened infront of The Avengers in cinemas on May 4th; howver, if users could find the Batman graffiti listed in real world locations across the world, it would go live ahead of official release which it eventually did.

 

Morphic resonance

The common thread to of these cases comes down to the interconnected web and our ability to harness it as a networking platform but more so than that, there is a an invisible concept at work that plays out behind the scenes.

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake explains the term morphic resonance as a memory principle that forms around social groups such as a flock of birds, a school of fish, or an ant colony. This extends toward the friendships and interconnections we create in modern society feeding into our collective memory and our influence over others with the morphic fields we share.

What you do, what you say and what you think can influence other people by morphic resonance. So we’re more responsible for our actions, words and thoughts on this principle than we would otherwise be.

Rupert Sheldrake (Crossroads Times, 2012)

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Neuromarketing gone viral

If morphic resonance can explain how laughter is contagious and why people are tempted to join a really long queue without knowing what it’s actually for, it may go a little way into explaining the viral nature of the meta experience because we are driven by a subconscious and telepathic desire to contribute within our social groups (family, work colleagues, football teams).

If marketers can rally fans around a brand and then solidify this attachment by creating a shared experience that carries emotional weight, our human brain will give these experiences meaning and extra stickiness in our minds. Furthermore these unique experiences have the ability to be shared through social networks and then read on the largest morphic resonance field that we share in common, the internet.

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