be_coolLast week, Matt Peters published an article extolling the need for thoughtful consideration of the already-cluttered state of information most of us exist in, these days. For individuals, this means floating in what can seem like a vast stream of information (be it news items, tweets/status updates from friends and family, or announcements from brands and organizations), and dealing with the challenge of filtering that information in ways that make it meaningful. Like any irrigation system, assuring that information in the stream, no matter what the source, gets to the right destination is essential. For brands, and for marketers savvy enough to get in the know, this means understanding how your audience filters its streams already, and determining how best to make your messaging mean something to them.

When I look at the ways I filter my own information streams, it’s a combination of tools provided by the social networks on which I’ve chosen to be active, and some home-made tools that were born from those most organic drivers of innovation: circumstance and convenience.

I have over 1,000 Facebook “Friends”. Many of these are people I’ve had class with, worked with, or am related to. Others are casual acquaintances, the results of “networking”, or some other professional association (among other things, I’m a member of The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, The Free Shakespeare Project, etc…). The final group of these Facebook contacts is comprised of the brands/companies/industry minds I’ve chosen to “Like” – it’s this group that is the cause of both much consternation, and doubly much enthusiasm.

My personal solution has been to use Facebook’s built-in “Friend List” mechanism to create news feeds populated with topically-grouped information. For example, I have an “A List”, which is made up of my closest friends and family. A list called “Locals” is made up of the people, places, and brands local to Boston that I’m interested in. Another is called “Brands”, which is where every brand/corporate page I “Like” gets placed. This is my irrigation system, and I’ve come to rely heavily upon it; needless to say I suffered feelings of acute distress when the latest iteration of Facebook for iOS lacked the ability to filter the news feed by Friend List – something supported in the previous version (for shame, Facebook).

On Twitter, I follow far more people than I am followed by. I use Twitter less as a soapbox, and avenue for the cataloging of errant thoughts, of which I have many during a given day. Just as on Facebook, I’ve used Twitter’s built-in “List” feature to organize the feeds I follow. I have lists titled “Friends”, “Locals”, “Shakespeare”, “Scotch”, “Dailies” etc… the constitution of which should be fairly self-explanatory, given their names. Again, I’ve effectively filtered out messages unrelated to what I’m curious about at the time. If I want to know what’s up with Shakespeare, I’m not going to the “Scotch” list; if I’m curious about what The Glenlivet is doing, I’m not going to “Friends”.

Ay, there’s the rub

From the marketer’s perspective what I’ve done is negate the ability for your message to reach me in the way that was intended. Instead, I’m a potential customer/client/evangelist who has decided that I only want to receive your message when I feel like receiving it. This is the painful realization that so many brands and businesses must grapple with when embarking upon their maiden voyage on the sea of social media. But that’s the point. As marketers, and as brands, it’s time to realize that our messaging, be it tweets, Facebook content, a Flickr stream, or anything else, has the capacity to engage with a more broad and more targeted audience than ever before. The flipside to this is that at no previous time has the audience been so able to actively – and rapidly – reject that messaging.

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Shakespeare On The Common

Gone are the days when the savviest consumers are going to put up with interruption-based messaging. To refer to my previous example, though I am a passionate Shakespearean, I’m also an aficionado of single malt scotch. If I’m sitting at a performance of Shakespeare On The Common, I don’t care to receive messages about a tasting of The Macallan, happening next week. That said, when I go to my aforementioned “Scotch” list on Twitter, I’ll be thrilled to see that news. Getting that message to me at the right time, and in the right place, is critical. Facebook, Twitter, and their ilk are the right places – but getting the timing right means understanding that it’s out of your control. Marketers, though giddy about the prospect of connecting with a consumer on the same channel that consumer uses to interact with their friends and family, must understand that just like a phone call from my Mom, hitting “ignore” doesn’t mean “leave now and never come back”; rather, it means “I hear you, but I’m not ready to listen just yet.”

This is not to say that the voyage is hopeless – the waters are not so choppy that you are certain to sink. Rather, what’s crucial to realize is just how vital it is that the messaging being sent out is compelling. At Pandemic Labs, we hold fast to the axiom that “Content Is King”, and never has this been more apt a description of its nature. Unnerving though it is to suddenly have no guarantee that we’ll reach an audience exactly when and how we’d like, the shift must now be to understanding that the channels in which consumers are engaged simply don’t work that way. These channels offer multiple ways to filter content (as I’ve done with my Facebook and Twitter lists), and ensure only one thing: that when a consumer decides they want to receive your message, it had better be compelling, lest it be cast back into the stream as irrelevant to their needs.

So why is this post titled “Be Cool”? Is this some ill-advised reference to an even more ill-fated sequel? With all due respect to the former Vincent Vega – decidedly no. Nay, it’s as simple as this: too often, marketers misunderstand compelling to be defined as flashy, ornate, and aesthetically stimulating. Messaging developed with these ideas in mind doesn’t work in social media; it doesn’t work in a place where the veil of “marcom” is too easily torn asunder. The truest definition of the term – the explanation that breaks the word down to its core – is that it’s a way of describing that which is irresistible, demands attention, and commands respect. The savvy marketer’s practice is to ensure that each piece of content they put out is compelling, and understanding that the most valuable customer might be the one that never sees it until they decide to.

Written by Ed Gazarian
Ed is the Managing Partner of Pandemic Labs, where he occasionally does some work in-between deep discussions of both Shakespeare and Star Wars.