I was catching-up with a very good colleague today and learned that, since we last spoke, his son's living and working in the USA now that he is something of an 'Internet sensation'. Hurrah! This modern day phenomenon is what many marketing-types in business now hunger for but it's amazing how few realise just what it takes to earn it.
You've all heard about them (you may even harbour a latent desire to be one). You want to be an Internet sensation and if only you had a cool website and the right social media account then you could be one - right? Erm, no. Wrong.
"For every Zoella there's a million no-sellers."
Customers and prospects alike love to tell me about Zoella,
...this girl who just makes videos about fashion, make-up and the things which happen to her during her day... because of a belief that they can copy her success model. Zoella is a true Internet sensation, an early adopter who's managed to achieve more in the past 8 years than most brand-managing marketing-types would hope to achieve in a career.
Being the next big thing, going viral, driving likes and amassing followers remains the preserve of the fabulous few. Many marketing-types, with free reign across a clutch of social media accounts, assume that they too can emulate this success. If you're marketing a funeral parlour, do you really think that having a Facebook page is really going to do it for you...?
Oh, boy! This laxative has a Google+ page!â€” Zeldman (@zeldman) September 10, 2014
Business propositions tend to flop in the semi-translucent online social spaces because users see through a business trying to disguise pitches by being friendly and human. Let's face it, your average business doesn't have what it takes to be the next big thing.
'Should you be on social media?'
[Hint: the clue's in the question.]
The fabulous few are talent and time rich but, more than anything else, they're authentic and, quite frankly, your average business isn't. So now meet Harry - because he is.
Harry Hambley has spent the latter half of his teens taking online commissions for hand-drawn, realistic illustrations and portraiture. The desire to develop as an artist drove the output of a persistent doodling habit and, thanks to the introduction of online connections, Harry's work found itself in-front of the eyes of a US producer and, a few commissions later, Lil' Bean was born and an Instagram following - the stuff of which
Internet sensations are made - then followed. Only then did the door to merch open for business.
The hunger for content on Instagram means that Harry needs to build and maintain relationships with online followers and influencers in addition to conceiving, producing and publishing new content daily - the best of his designs find their way onto branded merchandise. It's ancilliary activities such as merchandising, guest appearances and sponsorship which further fuels demand and creates revenue. This is content marketing in its truest, purest form. Content marketing to sustain the
Internet sensation juggernaught is a full time activity - not something you do when, as a business, you've got a new product to flog or have nothing better to do. You'll forgive me if, the next time I hear someone tell me that they're setting-up a YouTube channel but have no broadcast schedule, I roll my eyes.
Messaging Harry's Dad today I wrote:
...the work's good and what makes it great is that it has soul. In creating Lil' Bean, Harry has found a voice to communicate with an audience and it's this capacity that means Harry's now not just an illustrator but a broadcast professional.
Our eyes skim over promoted tweets, no-one really clicks banner ads, we click skip ad as soon as we can to let the video we actually want play and we fast forward through the ads during TV breaks. Making something commercial in the attention economy requires a whole new skill set and a whole new outlook upon what it is that your business sells. Is your commercial marketing really so good that, in the face of competition from the likes of Harry & Zoella, people will share your broadcast material to impress and delight their friends and peers? No - I thought not. Mine neither. It's time to rethink what it is we are marketing.