Archive for March, 2012

Responses to Tragedy

March 27th, 2012 No comments

There’s been a lot of talk about Trayvon Martin’s murder and social media.[1]

It shouldn’t be surprising that there is a spike in social media conversations surrounding events that resonate with the public – we talk about them in real life, so it makes sense that we’ll talk about it on the internet.

At Attention, we’ve noticed that most events that trigger a substantial social media response follow the shark fin pattern. They spike out of nowhere and then gradually decrease (the interesting part is figuring out what causes the spike and if the rates of change can be generalized across cases). It’s a visual representation of the human attention span – everyone talks about something for a day or two and then we gradually move on to something else.

It happens all the time: Komen v. Planned Parenthood, Kony 2012, Occupy Wall Street, Goldman Sach’s resignation letter, Troy Davis…

I don’t think there’s anything groundbreaking in the fact that social media hyper-drives the focus around significant moments like these – that’s the point of a connected network with frictionless sharing. It’s a neat phenomenon, but it’s expected.

I think it would be more interesting to see if there is a lift in the conversation volume surrounding the general topic after one of these events (e.g., did social media conversations about the death penalty see a sustained volume increase after the Troy Davis execution?). It would also be interesting to find out why this story lay dormant for over a month before gaining national attention – this post has some answers (took time for facts to come out, etc.).

There are a few things about the social media reaction to Travyon Martin’s death that I do find interesting.

Social media as a release valve. We’ve seen an immense outpouring of grief, support, outrage, ignorance, and solidarity via social media, especially Twitter. Those emotions would still exist (although to a lesser extent, because less people would know about the case) absent social media, but where would they be funneled toward? In this respect, I think that Twitter and other social media outlets act as a pressure release valve. Would the existence of social media have diminished the likelihood of riots after the Rodney King trial? Who knows – contemporary experience says probably not (see: London Riots (read this Wired piece), Arab Spring, Occupy – all instances where there was significant social media activity that facilitated offline action) – but I do think that social media does provide some relief.[2]

Speaking out. Social media influence is a topic that we constantly discuss. Without looking at data, I’m not sure who the influencers are in this case – I’ve been particularly drawn to @Toure, @Baratunde, and @bomani_jones. Influencers are usually defined as people that move the needle and spur conversation. I’m more interested in the fact that two unlikely people could become influencers (in the real sense of the word) out of this tragedy.

The first is Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, who is on Twitter as of today with already 50,000 followers. Ideally I’d like to see her use this platform to get a Trayvon’s law passed – either revising the Stand Your Ground law in Florida or doing something about concealed weapons and gun control. Through Twitter she has a direct platform to some very important people and could continuously press for broader systemic change. It could be a real platform.

The second, oddly enough, is LeBron James. Last week, Lebron organized his Miami Heat teammates and took a picture of them wearing hoodies. This was both a show of solidarity for black youth unfairly targeted and a way to stand up to idiots like Geraldo Riviera. A simple picture tweeted with a few simple hashtags, but it spoke volumes. I don’t know what it was that got me about this picture. I think it was the fact that someone so big was standing up in his own way for someone so small. And that he did it in such an understated way. It made me happy to see that today’s athletes (even one who is focused on being a “global brand”) are emboldened by our media options to step up and do something selfless without overtly calling attention to himself. LeBron was just one of the thousands of people showing solidarity in the Twitter stream.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Like most people, I’m outraged by the fact that George Zimmerman hasn’t been charged yet. Obviously, it’s impossible to know all the facts, but it certainly doesn’t seem like a case of self-defense, so the Stand Your Ground law shouldn’t apply. Add in the fact that Trayvon was unarmed, had no history of violence, Zimmerman seemed to be paranoid, overzealous, and distrustful of African-Americans and the picture becomes clearer. Why a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman is allowed to carry a concealed weapon is beyond me. As much as this is a story about racism, it’s also a story about gun control. No reason for this man to have a gun.
  2. I realize that this is a loaded paragraph, but unpacking it is a completely separate post.

NBA and Social Media, Redux

March 8th, 2012 No comments

You can find Part I of my NBA social media ideas here.

I had so much fun writing up my first list of NBA social media initiatives that I thought I’d take a second pass at it.

In terms of delivering a marketing message, the NBA is in a wonderful position with extremely valuable assets: an engaging on-court product that delivers something new every night, a slew of superstars in the primes of their careers, vibrant personalities amongst players, coaches, and owners, and scores of rich content in the vaults.

NBA fans can go to a variety of different sources for news, information, and opinions about the NBA. But the NBA can leverage its assets to add value to fans beyond the third-party analysis that they can get elsewhere.

On to the ideas:

(Google+) Hangout with David Stern

If it’s good enough for the President, it’s good enough for anyone.

Recently, President Obama held a virtual town hall meeting on Google+. 5 handpicked individuals participated in the Hangout with the President and quizzed him on a variety of issues. In addition to the Google+ Hangout, the President also answered pre-screened questions submitted via YouTube that the public voted on.

YouTube Preview Image

David Stern is, by all accounts, extremely quick-witted, funny, and engaging – listen to any of his podcasts with Bill Simmons if you’re not convinced. He’d kill in an environment like this. In addition to the State of the NBA press conference he gives during All-Star Weekend, the NBA should put him in front of fans in a social media setting. The hangouts could happen three times a season (start, All-Star break, end) or when major news breaks. The end of the lockout would have been a perfect time to hold one to clear the air and get fan relations moving in the right direction again.

The NBA could also have any major personality interact in a Hangout with fans. They could have Hangouts between NBA players where they discuss their favorite basketball moments or answer fan questions. Partner with USA Basketball and do a worldwide chat (actually, all of these chats should be global) with the Olympic team.

There are a couple of nice wrinkles to this plan. First, it’s video – so it’s naturally more engaging. From a fan perspective, you’d rather watch people talk than read an interview transcript – especially, when the personalities are the main draw. Second, with video you are creating assets that can live on all of your owned channels and can be shared across the internet. An hour-long Hangout can be broken down into several digestible pieces to be shared.

The President’s Google+ Hangout was widely considered a success with over 250,000 submitted video questions and countless more viewers for the actual Hangout. That NBA could anticipate strong engagement if it deployed a similar tactic.

Road to the #Finals

The NFL had a successful initiative in the Road to the #SuperBowl effort where it partnered with Chevy to essentially create a social media dashboard for the NFL. Users could browse tweets from players on playoff teams and could also see tweets with the hashtag #superbowl.

The success of this initiative hints at a broader possibility. The NBA should create a microsite – or a page on – that is the NBA social media hub. Create an easy interface to display tweets from every NBA player, official team handle, owner, or senior executive. Organize it whatever way works best (maybe by team).

Make it as easy as possible for your fans to view the information that they want. I’d check this site once a day, minimum.

NBA Social Charity

NBA Cares is a great initiative. It’s clear that the players enjoy it and that the NBA is proud of it. We see commercials for it during every NBA game. Maybe there’s a way to involve fans into the philanthropic effort.

Given the existing NBA Cares infrastructure, I think that each NBA team probably has a few charitable efforts in its region that it regularly contributes to. The NBA should create team-specific hashtags (#PistonsCare, #KnicksCare) and pledge that it will donate X number of dollars to the charity that has the highest number of hashtag mentions while guaranteeing a minimum amount to each other charitable effort, or split the X amount of dollars proportionately based on the hashtag mentions.

There’s been success with social charity efforts. Street King (a client at my agency) pledged to donate a meal to a child in Africa for every Facebook visit it got during a specific week – there was a great response. The same has been done for disaster relief efforts – Bing donated money based on retweets during the Japanese tsunami.

Fans care and want to be involved. Give them ways, no matter how small, to be active.

Social Expert Community

This one is for the die hards and it’s a little more involved .

Obviously, its far too hard to create a new social network around a specific affinity. It seems highly unlikely and probably inefficient to sink money into creating a social network specifically for basketball fans.

What the NBA could do instead is bake social functionality into its owned channels. Take for example. There is a wealth of content on the site in the form of game previews, recaps, features, news stories, and opinion columns. But, aside from comments, are there any social components to the site?

The NBA should create a simple widget, embeddable in every piece of content, that allows the average fan to answer questions about the NBA and flex their NBA knowledge. Here’s the wrinkle though. The questions are all predictions (e.g., “Will the Bulls beat the Sixers tomorrow night?” or “Will the Mavs be a higher seed than the Lakers in the playoffs?” or “Will LeBron win more than 3 NBA championships?”). Have the widget live on every piece of content (with questions tailored to that content), but also create a separate site where all the questions live and fans can ask their own questions also. Incentivize users to ask or answer questions by creating leaderboards and awarding prizes (trip to the All-Star Game or Finals, or season tickets) for the fan that answers the highest percentage of questions correctly. Give out badges and create levels of expertise (gamify (is that a word?) the process).

Sports fans LOVE voicing their opinion and they all think they know what’s going to happen down the line – this would be a perfect outlet for them to prove exactly how smart they are.


Now I don’t work for the NBA, so there’s a freedom to the ideas that I can throw out in these posts. But the NBA has a certain amount of freedom too – there’s a broad fan base that wants added value…just give it to them. You can be creative and you can be diverse. All of these ideas add value to the fan experience – providing access and information – deepening the fans’ relationship with the NBA.

Excited to hear what other ideas you all may have.

Shared Moments of Truth

March 7th, 2012 No comments

I just read an interesting ebook published by Google called “Winning the Zero Moment of Truth.” I have a few problems with it.

But first, here’s a quick explanation of Google’s argument:

First Moment of Truth. In 2005, Proctor and Gamble defined a consumer’s First Moment of Truth as the point where she stands in a retail aisle choosing between products. She has to decide which product to buy based on her accumulated knowledge. The purchased brand wins the FMOT.

Second Moment of Truth. A Second Moment of Truth occurs when the consumer uses the product – essentially, will it live up to its promises and satisfy the consumer?

Zero Moment of Truth. Google believes that the First Moment of Truth is not the point in time at which a brand wins or loses a customer. It posits that there is one step before that – the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) – where a consumer gathers information about a brand. And although Goole doesn’t come out and say it, it believes that search optimization is the way to win the ZMOT.

I agree with most of the points in Google’s analysis. It’s undeniably true that consumer make decisions about brands before they walk into a store. And they use the internet to do it – accessing a world of information at their fingertips. These are the awareness and consideration phases of the classic marketing funnel.

But something strikes me as off about Google’s framing of the Zero Moment of Truth. And, unsurprisingly, it’s the fact that it focuses so little on social.

Obviously, Google is a search company. That’s its bread and butter. 5 or 6 years ago, they’d have been fine focusing the Zero Moment of Truth on search. But social is just as important today. And the ebook starts to ring a little untrue once you realize that Google’s “Ways to Win the ZMOT” all stress focusing on Google products. Here are their ways to win: put someone in charge of ZMOT (obvious); find your zero moments (which all happen to be search terms and queries that users type in to find information); answer the questions people ask (also search query related); optimize (use paid, owned, earned media – ok, now we’re moving away from search…); be fast, not perfect (universal agile planning advice); don’t forget video (Google owns YouTube).

Now, I can’t fault Google for stressing search as the key part of ZMOT, except for one thing…Google has made such a big deal out of the importance of Google+ (it’s even going to impact search!). Why then would they not focus more on social as a critical moment of ZMOT? They pay it lip service, but don’t really get into how social can help win the ZMOT. They’re talking about it without talking about it – and they seem to narrow the entire world of social to the small sliver of user reviews and ratings (unscientific proof – “review” shows up 183 times in the book vs. “recommend” being mentioned 4 times).

If anything, social is gaining importance relative to search. Optimizing for search only helps you if the user independently decides to enter a query related to your product. But if you optimize for social you can perform inception on your potential audience (only half-kidding). I might not know that I want a new pair of running shoes until I see a friend “like” a post about the new Nike Lunar Glides. At that point, I might be triggered to run a search for shoes, but it doesn’t happen until I get that social trigger. Consider that there are over 1 million links shared on Facebook EVERY 20 seconds and you get a sense of the scope of these triggers. And social is even more important, because if a friend posts about Lunar Glides, I’m not going to type in a generic shoe search – I’m going to type in a search for Lunar Glides! So social optimization in ZMOT has added benefits and might be even more important.

Curtis Hougland, just wrote a great piece about the marketing funnel becoming a marketing loop in an age of fragmented attention and media instigated by the dominance of social. Two points are worth mentioning.

First, awareness is a social game. It’s the most direct path to get in your customers’ mind because a) people trust friends’ recommendations more than a search engine and b) with the amount of time people spend on social, it’s simply more efficient to raise awareness on social platforms. I think the data shows that social is growing relative to other sources, in terms of referring traffic to websites. And people spend more time on Facebook than any other site (even though Google can claim more unique visitors).

The second point has to do with the positive feedback in the marketing loop. In social, ZMOT is not a one time only thing – it’s ongoing. Spend some money to improve your site’s SEO or search placement and you’ll win the consumer that is already motivated to search for your product (or something near your product). But spend some money on spurring social conversation allows you to create a ZMOT for a consumer before they even know they have one. And it allows each consumer to turn their Second Moment of Truth or First Moment of Truth into a Zero Moment of Truth for someone else (e.g., publishing a purchase decision or positive review to Facebook that their network sees).

Ultimately, I think Google has given a name to something that we’ve called awareness or consideration in the marketing funnel/loop. But they’ve missed the boat in terms of maximizing effectiveness during consumers’ Zero Moments by only paying lip service to social.

Our attention spans have seen a steady decline creating a need to refocus marketing strategy. Consumers are no longer willing to sift through pages of search results or read websites that sound like corporate press releases when they can easily pose a question on Facebook or Twitter and get a response from someone within their social or interest graph within a few minutes. Search is and will always be an integral factor in purchase decisions, but as Google has recently admitted by prioritizing G+ results within search, social is now the true zero moment.

How The NBA Should Use Social Media

March 1st, 2012 No comments

You can find Part II of my NBA social ideas here.

I love the NBA.[1] Seeing the league incorporate Twitter voting into the Slam Dunk Contest got me thinking about other things the NBA should be doing with and in social media. After all, social is a natural fit for the NBA because it is the most personality and star driven of all the leagues.

Here are some ways the NBA should be using social media to improve its product and marketing efforts:

Visual Curation

This could be a goldmine for the NBA. Visuals rule the social sphere. Look at the emphasis that Facebook is putting on photos in Timeline or the rise of Pinterest. Hi-res photos are beautiful to look at. The NBA should take advantage of channels that emphasize visuals to share all the great photos that they have in the archives and those picture that are taken at every single NBA game.

"Give me a crisp pair of jeans and a button-up"

Start a Tumblr focused only on basketball sneakers (sneakerheads would flip). Start a Tumblr focused on NBA fashion (one of the great ironies of the NBA is that the dress code, which was pilloried when it was introduced has been whole-heartedly engaged by the new crop of superstars). Partner with GQ on that last one. Start a Tumblr to share the snippets of information that bloggers, team PR personnel, and players create every day (but focus on pictures!). Create an Instagram feed showing behind the scenes shots of teams at practice and during road trips (shots of players on team planes or with family before/after games or dealing with the press – all with image filters; my god I love this idea).

People eat up content like Hard Knocks and The Association. This would be a low cost way to make sure that they get that content all the time. People already feel closer to NBA players than those in other leagues. Here’s a great way to capitalize on that by humanizing them even more.

And I got through all those ideas without even talking about sharing actual in-game photos throughout the history of the league.

Social Aggregation

A few tools exist to aggregate and display social content – Feed Magnet and Mass Relevance, for example. You give them parameters to search for (all tweets, Facebook posts, foursquare check-ins about the Lakers-Knicks game), set some filters (exclude anything with profanity), and they give you a real-time filtered list in a pretty display.

It’s perfect for events.

With the rise of second screen activity, viewers are increasingly interested in the real-time commentary around an event. The NBA should provide that for them.

Have a FeedMagnet display on one of the screens of the jumbotron or in the walkways of an arena (especially because data service is terrible in so many arenas and people want to keep track of commentary). Encourage the networks to give up some screen real estate during playing time or pre/post-game. Create a microsite and put the content up there, allowing for subdivision by teams or games.

Dow uses it, but it would be a slam dunk (no pun intended…yes it was) for the NBA.

I think this would be an amazing way to enhance an in-arena experience – fans remain connected to the conversation outside the arena (and can get a sense of what people who watch on TV are seeing through the brilliance of broadcast TV angles and replays) and get a shot at 3 seconds of fame through a publicized tweet.

Chronicle the Past and Present

Facebook’s timeline is a wonderful way to showcase history of a person, brand, or a sports league. The NBA undoubtedly has tons of content in its archives about past seasons (champs, award winners, stat leaders, major events). Throw the best of the best on Timeline with multimedia content (pictures and videos) and allow Timeline to be an NBA scrapbook. Create an app to allow other Facebook users to re-post major NBA moments on their timelines (Bulls fans could repost the moment Jordan iced the Utah series; Cavs fans could repost the moment LeBron ripped their hearts out….too soon?).

And the NBA’s whole marketing push this year has been about BIG moments. Slap some of them on the Timeline.

Spotify Playlists

Every NBA player walks into an arena or off a bus with headphones on. What are they listening to? Create Spotify playlists for players. It’s a discussion starter. Dirk’s will have a ton of Hasselhoff, LeBron’s will have a ton of Jay.

More Twitter, More Talking

We know NBA players love Twitter. We know that NBA fans want to know more about the players. Run a Twitter chat where fans can submit questions to players using a specific hashtag (#askKG, #askKOBE). Simple, low-cost, PR bonanza.

Virtual GM

I don’t see why ESPN has a monopoly on this. The NBA should create its own trade machine and allow fans to put together fake trades. Free agency and the trade deadline are huge spikes in conversation for the NBA – might as well capitalize on the frenzy. Bake in a social component by allowing people to share their trades (something that ESPN does not do). Hold a contest where fans who guess trades correctly win prizes.

NBA Cares

We’re flooded by NBA Cares commercials during NBA games. They’re great. NBA players clearly love being involved in their communities. But let fans be involved also. Let fans propose initiatives via social media, allow fans to win a spot to do community service alongside NBA players by publicizing the event through social. Run a three day campaign where for every retweet, like, or comment a piece of official NBA content gets in social, the NBA donates X number of meals to a shelter or X number of dollars to a charity.

Dream Tournament

Add me to the chorus of people saying that All Star Saturday night is a little lackluster. I’ll steal Bill Simmons idea of an 8 person 1-on-1 tourney…with a twist. Fans vote on participants and seeding through social media. NBA awards X million dollars to the winner based on volume of votes – half goes to charity. And the shoe company of the winner (Nike, because let’s be honest, LeBron is winning this) kicks in some money too. Everyone wins.


I don’t know if the league does social media training for the players, but it should. And if it doesn’t, I’m happy to do it.


I’m sure there are a million more ideas – interested to hear what you all suggest. Have at it in the comments or send me a tweet @varunsshetty.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Save your diatribe about the purity of college basketball and the better fundamentals and flow of European ball. I’m not buying it.