[flickr style="float: left"]photo:250236754[/flickr]All good technology ideas are hatched in garages, right? Or basements. Perhaps that’s why it didn’t surprise or concern me Wednesday when Nick Huhn and I ventured to the basement of a technology building at the University of Louisville to serve as reactionaries to student presentations in a U of L-Murray State collaborative marketing class entitled, “Marketing in the Era of Consumer Generated Media.” The class was a first of its kind at Louisville and Murray State and was co-presented by professors David Faulds (U of L) and Glynn Mangold (Murray State). There were eight Louisville students and seven Murray State students represented in the four groups of presentations we saw. Each one looked at CGM, how brands are using it (both well and not so) and identified some ethical misdeeds by some.

Now I know what the old farts meant when I was in college and heard someone say, “It’s so much fun to be around you young people.” I’m now an old fart. And it was fun to be around those young people.

My biggest takeaway was two-fold. First, the college students studying social media are exploring, discussing and learning the same things we professionals are. Second, we’d better stay on top of our game because the fresh set of eyes of the next generation, the one that has grown up in the digital world, is about to hit the workforce with a level of aptitude far more anchored in this world than we are. In long-winded Jason Falls summary, let us not be like the generation of marketing folks ahead of us – the 50- to 60-year-olds who scoff at the idea of transparency and tell us to go play with our MySpace and let them show us how to market with their CBS Evening News spots and Redbook ads – because if we are, we’ll soon be made fun of just as much.

Here’s what the young people had to say:

Brands that are doing good things with Consumer Generated Media, which they defined in varying degrees, but basically summarized as social media tools allowing the consumer to add to the conversation (blogs, comments, forums, video uploads, etc.):

  • Mattel – Specifically website tools that allow parents and children to discuss and interact, comment on products, etc.
  • Pepsi Max – One of the few they found that had a website ready for consumers once the Super Bowl commercial hit.
  • Nintendo Wii – They liked the pre-, during and post-buzz of the product launch.
  • American Airlines – Milestones site for Advantage members.
  • NikeId – Create your own shoe resulted in mass customization and customer satisfaction.
  • Barak Obama – Grass roots campaign that has truly resulted in a controlled brand hijack.
  • Scion – Having an exclusive car show for bloggers and influencers who dig Scions rocks.
  • Proctor & Gamble – Swiffer Sweeper, “Science Behind The Brands,” and “Ask Julia,” – all cool.
  • Toyota – For their consumer blog and UGC campaigns.
  • Apple – For the pre-launch buzz about the iPhone (Even if it was via Jobs-esque orchestrated leaks.)

Brands that are mucking it up:

  • Mattel – No kick ass website can make up for the fact they blew a chance to make Scrabulous work for them.
  • Victoria’s Secret – No way to rate or share information about the Pink Line products for the younger target.
  • Dr. Pepper – The whole Yahoo! Las Vegas hotel wedding thing … what did this have to do with Dr. Pepper again?
  • Jeep – Though thought to be strong in the social media space, the students thought Jeep’s Marvel Comics promotion with the Jeep Patriot launch was a good idea, but not up to par with what a good campaign should be. According to the student’s research, legal issues after the fact prevented post-promotion publicity and buzz, almost killing the effectiveness.
  • Burger King – Student research says they’re targeting 16-24 year-old males but that the blogosphere is generally negative about the brand. I asked if it could be because 16-24 year-old males don’t blog much. It could also be the result of the fact big plastic king heads in ads is just creepy.
  • Ford – They said the “Way Forward Plan” should be called the “Way Backward Plan” … even on the PowerPoint slide. Killer.

Ethical Violators:

Target, Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Hunter College (I’m diving into this one for further discussion later.), Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobile for Al Gore’s Penguin Army, Sony Ericsson Cell Phones, Wal-Mart, Sony PSP and … oh, what was that last one? Oh yeah! Wal-Mart.

One group (Sarah Kayrouz and Amber Lyons of U of L and Ashley Luberda and Sarah Wells of Murray State) called out Microsoft for their Vista-loaded Acer computer outreach to bloggers, though I thought they were a bit anxious to call it a violation of the ethics standards. Product review programs happen all the time and Microsoft didn’t push for positive reviews. Still, the students cited negative blogger reaction, calling the program a violation of the principle of protecting the consumer since pushing influencers to review their product could bias information given to consumers. If the criticism is right as an absolute, then PR as a whole is unethical. And I suppose some out there would affirm that notion.

One group (Jessica Amundson and Devin Wilbur of Murray State and MaryCrae Brotzge and Julia Lawson from U of L) offered their opinion of what makes good web design for new media. Wilbur presented the following as dos:

  1. Make it easy to navigate
  2. Foster some version of community (which I assume means conversation at a minimum)
  3. Provide for user-generated content (commenting, etc.)
  4. Include activities or elements of fun/games to engage

Not a bad list. His group also produced some don’ts:

  1. Let content go stale
  2. Produce a lot of links that take folks away from the site
  3. Fall into the “me too” syndrome
  4. Have content that adds nothing to the consumer’s experience with the brand.

That group also emphasized that the key to successful CGM marketing is collaboration with your audience. The same group offered up a “Thinking Point” that read, “We expect companies to be held to high ethical standards. Shouldn’t we also hold consumer to ethical standards with new media?”

Interesting perspective indeed.

Another group (Ryan Culligan and Billy Harfosh of U of L and Kyle Howard from Murray State), in reference to Mattel’s mishandling of the Scrabulous Facebook application made a logical statement that seems obvious but is seldom adhered to by brands: “Avoid fighting online enthusiasm.”

Amen.

Each of the four group presentations used the WOMMA Code of Ethics as a starting point for their ethical discussions. They quoted it so religiously, I almost Tweeted Andy Sernovitz and said, “Hey, I’m sitting in a room full of your fan club. These kids are sharp, but starting to frighten me.” Certainly WOMMA is the right place to start. The students did seem a bit fixated on WOMMA sanctioning members who violate the code of ethics. There’s really no need. The consumers punish them enough. Give the folks in Bentonville a call if you need verification. The best discussion of it came from the group featuring Alisa Blankenship and Jonathan Erickson from U of L and Ken Hoover and Joe Kay from Murray State. They did a nice job of quoting folks like B.L. Ochman and citing from the class’s core texts, Paul Gillin‘s, “The New Influencers,” and Emanuel Rosen‘s, “Anatomy of Buzz.” (Both of these books are on my office credenza for easy access.)

All told, I took six pages of notes on their presentations, both for the evaluations and this blog post. But I came away with more knowledge than I started with, particularly with regard to what college students are seeing, hearing and learning about social media.

If I have any criticisms, other than the minor disagreements I’ve pointed out, it would be that while they all did a great job of pointing out what brands were doing right and those that weren’t, I would have been really impressed if the negative were followed with an explanation of how or why the execution didn’t match the brand strategy. The Dr. Pepper example stood out to me. I just kept saying to myself, “What the hell does this wedding promotion have to do with Dr. Pepper?” It’s easy to be critical, but tell me what specifically makes the criticism stick. Where did they miss? What could they have done to make it better? And the web design dos included activities – fun and games. I would agree but only in some cases – those that ladder up to a payoff of a greater brand strategy.

And we, as social media thinkers, should also be careful when offering criticism, too. We don’t know what limitations were placed on the programs in terms of budget, timing, personnel and so on. Edelman caught a lot of flack for the Wal-Mart blogging thing, but working with clients for a few years now, I wonder if the idea made it to fruition despite the objection of counsel?

But these kids didn’t miss much. Howard asserted that CGM needs to be focused on the target audience and work within the context of the campaign. If every brand trying social media heard and heeded that, there’d be a lot less bad examples for the students to highlight.

If I saw the future of social media thinking Wednesday, it’s both good and bad. Good because the next generation of thinkers is already on the ball. Bad because they could bounce the rest of us right out of our jobs.

(But don’t get too uppity yet, kids. Us old farts ain’t stupid.)

IMAGE: “Eraser finished with cleaning chalkboard – BC” by frozenchipmunk on Flickr.

[tags]consumer generated media, cgm, ugc, social media, marketing, University of Louisville, Murray State University[/tags]

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.damniwish.com Andy Sernovitz

    You should have tweeted! I would have tweeted back.

    Thanks for the positive mentions about me and the WOMMA ethics code. Over-enthusiastic response can’t hurt – there’s no such thing as too much ethics.

    If any of the student want to contact me, I’d love to talk to them.

    Cheers,

    Andy

  • http://www.davefleet.com Dave Fleet

    Fantastic post, Jason! Great list of companies doing things right… and wrong.

    One of your points mirrors a concern I have with a lot of criticism, especially online – it needs to be constructive. Ok, that didn’t work… why do you think that is? What didn’t fit and how could they perhaps improve it?

  • http://www.divamarketingblog.com Toby

    Jason – thanks for the post. great insights. seems this is another example of how the lines of who are the “experts” are blurring. sure experienced marketers bring much to the table but in this new social media marketing game we are all learning together.

  • http://nickhuhn.com Nick Huhn

    Great recap, Jason. I, too, was impressed by their opinions and research. I would have also loved to have seen their recommendations for what makes for a perfect social media marketing campaign.

    I’m amazed at the veiled cynicism of the students when it comes to this ‘new’ style of marketing. Gen Y seems especially attuned to skewering fakers, posers, and unethical marketing practices.

    Brands and companies are now only reflections of the consumer-generated-media that generate perceptions about them. Ad/brand execs and corporate communicators everywhere: beware.

  • http://imhe.blogspot.com Seth Meranda

    Great post Jason.

    I work in Higher Ed, and one of my largest pushes for change is revolved around how our students use and expect levels of social media that the University isn’t providing in their education or student life experience. Your post goes a long way into showing that not only do they expect social media experiences, but they require it and are critical of negative or unethical campaigns (a point that illustrates their level of engagement).

  • http://www.VerticalMeasures.com Arnie

    A very well written, informative, valuable post. I too am an ‘old fart’ and glad to be able to see what they young guns are thinking.

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  • http://www.pliggs.com Geoserv
  • http://whatsnextblog.com B.L Ochman

    Great post! I love hearing what kids are thinking. Sadly, when I’ve lectured about emerging media at Columbia, NYU and Baruch in New York, the kids have not been this tuned in – to say the least!

    I’m also jazzed that they’re reading my blog, and would love to hear from any of the students who have specific questions. But I don’t do homework questions :>)
    B.L.

  • http://www.servantofchaos.com Gavin Heaton

    Great overview and analysis, Jason. Thanks for sharing!
    It has been clear for some time that the generation that are about to enter the workforce are going to shake things up. I think there could be tears before bedtime. Just hope they aren’t mine ;)

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Andy — Honored you’d swing by. I’m sure the kids are reading the comments and will show up on your doorstep this weekend. (They look pretty harmless.)

    Dave — Constructive criticism is the only kind. Without constructive portions, it’s just being a turd.

    Toby — Agreed and we’ve apparently got some sharp folks joining the workforce soon. I’m excited for another round of energy for us all.

    Nick — Yes, the cynicism antennae were chirping for sure. While I do think it’s a cautionary sign for brands, I also think the spirited collegians are just a little overly-idealistic in their approach. Still, they clearly aren’t hip to being marketed to and we need to know that.

    Seth — Thanks for stopping by. It’s interesting how young people consume and react differently. Hopefully the post can help you push for some changes in your university. Let us know if we can help.

    Arnie — Amen to that.

    Geoserv — Thank you muchly. I am always honored when someone bookmarks or votes for my posts.

    B.L. Ochman — Welcome, my friend. It’s an honor to have you here. And I’m sure the kids are going to take you up on the offer, but probably assign homework. Good luck!

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Hey Gavin,

    Must have posted at the same time. Thanks for chiming in. We’re all certainly in for some adjusting. The smarter the workforce is, the smarter the new entries become.

  • Tim Todd – Dean – College of Business – Murray State University

    Jason,

    Thanks for your leadership on this. As the dean of the college of business at murray state university, I can’t tell you how proud I am of working with Dr. Mangold and his students. I was honored to be a part of these presentations, and I look forward to helping Glynn and his students as the future unfolds in this exciting area of study and practice.

    Tim Todd

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Dr. Todd — We’re honored to have you here, sir. Your professor and students are doing an excellent job of learning, teaching and representing Murray State University. It was an honor to be a part of the class and I look forward to future opportunities.

  • Tim Todd – Dean – College of Business – Murray State University

    Thanks Jason – and please call me Tim. My wife calls me “Timmy” but she often puts a bad word in front of it.

    The future is very bright, and I appreciate your leadership. The business college at murray state is repositioning to be a front-player on several areas, and this focus of research with Dr. Mangold is something we want to push forward, even at a time of severe budget cuts at the state level. We’re committed to help Glynn push forward, and I very much appreciate your expertise and foresight as the future unfolds.

    Honored to be here with you, Jason.

    TT

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Oh, Pshaw. Look everyone … a college dean who responds and reacts via social media tools. He didn’t go through the PR department, didn’t have legal approve anything. He engaged, making him, his institution and all of us better for it. Hat’s off Tim. We love folks from outside the bubble who get it. (Now everyone go check out murraystate.edu … Go Racers!)

  • http://www.moneygameguru.com St. Germain

    Great wake up call Jason!! Just came back from Ad:Tech – San Francisco and WOW – did I hear about next generation stuff!! Check it out: http://theanswer.ad-tech.com/view/answer/What-is-Social-Media-Marketing-2

  • http://campus.murraystate.edu/academic/faculty/glynn.mangold/hmpg.html Glynn Mangold

    Jason raised an interesting question during the question-and-answer portion of the student presentations. Are blogs the appropriate social media tool when you are trying to target adolescent teens (i.e., Burger King)? As he suggested, it would appear they may not be. Does anyone know of studies that have been done about the appropriate social media for various demographic groups (matching the media with the audience)?

    Glynn Mangold
    Professor of Marketing
    Murray State University

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  • http://myspace.com/michaelgoldstein Michael Goldstein

    Hi Jason, i’m impressed you have enough free time to play with all the fun social media tools on your page ;) seriously, i enjoy your videos. keep up the good work.// Michael

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