Social media represents a distribution vehicle for relevant communication. It provides the opportunity to “self-publish” information, bypassing the traditional mechanisms of public relations engagement.
June of 2009 was still the earliest days of Twitter-fed communications, and Sociable Communications was still a new little firm with time to kill. One evening, with a few friends, we recorded and posted a song/video to YouTube as an experiment - wondering if the distribution of content that is very relevant to a select group could catch on with any level of "virality." The song took the fan-based stance of supporting the “Make it Seven” campaign (www.makeitseven.ca), spearheaded by Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie, that was working diligently to bring a seventh NHL franchise to Canada.
The song itself was cheesy, and the video production was intentionally amateurish, to ensure that nobody would assume it was a product of the campaign itself. The song/video posted to YouTube on a Monday evening. Awareness built via Twitter comments from a few key individuals. Initial tweets reached 220 followers, but immediate re-tweets reached over 5,000 people. By Tuesday afternoon, the video was re-posted on a Facebook fansite and the www.makeitseven.ca site (separately from the YouTube link, and unfortunately, from its analytics).
Email blasts from these sites went to all site members (155,000 at makeitseven.ca, and 23,000 on Facebook). While these sites received the bulk of video views, YouTube also reached over 10,000 views as the YouTube link was tweeted and re-tweeted dozens of times. International sports blogs discussed the song. By Wednesday, it was called the “official campaign song.” Comments on all social media distribution sites numbered in the hundreds (for better and for worse) – an example of the conversational consumer engagement that is possible in this medium.
Individual views of the video peaked at over 100,000 views, but more importantly, from a PR point-of-view, the song (and the story behind it) gained significant coverage in “conventional media.”
Print stories specifically about the song and the band numbered twelve and appeared online. Additional print articles about the campaign that acknowledged the song reached fourteen. Band members were involved with four radio interviews. The video (rough as it is) earned airtime on CTV National News twice, and on CBC National News, and numerous regional television news programs. Toronto, Hamilton and Kitchener/Waterloo stations also aired a three-minute feature story on the band and the campaign. The traditional PR value of the execution is in six-figures.
The most curious spin-off of the social media engagement came as the band performed at a downtown Hamilton “Bring NHL to Hamilton” rally on Friday, June 19th. The crowd numbered over 5,000 people, disproving the alleged impersonal nature of online media with this person-to-person engagement.
The success of this experiment revealed that the relevancy of a message is critical – a relevant and robust story is essential to ensure that communication in engaged and internalized by consumers. It also proved that a strong message and a strong story would transcend any one medium. The real-time immediacy of social media as a medium for message distribution was essential in this case. Still, like ripples in a pond, the dropped pebble of social media had a reach beyond online forums.