Creativity and social media

Today, I gave a webinar for the 4As on creativity in the age of social media. Granted you could get a roomful of people a lot smarter than me and they could debate for hours what it is.  But what the heck, I gave it go.

My basic premise was this: in the days of old media, creativity was epitomized by messages that were clever enough, entertaining enough anPicture 6d memorable enough that we didn’t mind their intrusion into our lives. Better yet they delighted and surprised us when we happened upon them in a magazine or newspaper. Basically they were stories that brands and marketers created, told and delivered. Whether they were “creative” or not was often the difference between our noticing them and paying attention, and tuning them out.

In social media, creativity is something else.  It’s not the stories we tell, it’s the stories we get others to tell for us. Better yet, it’s the stories we get others to create on our behalf.  Obviously this consumer-generated content happens without us.  Everyone’s a creator these days. Yet if we encourage this new word of mouth, if we both stimulate it and welcome it, it may work to our benefit as marketers.
Picture 1But creativity in the age of social media begs lots of questions.  Should it be a gimmick, no matter how good (think Whopper Sacrifice) or a long-lasting platform?  Is creativity in the execution or the thinking that encourages participation?  Should it be determined by applying the old media criteria – award shows that cite executions – or new criteria that have yet to be established?

I asked a few folks who spend a fair amount of time in the social space, or who think about it, for their opinions.  Here they are.

Ben Kunz, Director Strategic Planning, Mediassociates

As I think we’ve discussed before, I believe “creativity in a social media age” is about two major shifts in how memes are seeded and spread in the public. First, marketers can shapeshift the channel — beyond the message. And second, marketers can create a more-human brand.

The “creative” channel shift is obvious. We’ve gone from three networks to the “hundreds” that Jack Trout worried over in 1969 to thousands of cable companies to millions of blogs … to social media. It’s as if singular nodes in the mindhive of humanity were suddenly connected, and the ability to manage (or manipulate) those connections is here at last. We see laborious, ugly attempts with companies such as IZEA (yes, I dislike them more than Starbucks with no Wi-Fi) who try to buy influence among the threaded connections; not just by paying for posts or tweets, but with link-spamming-jamming tactics such as contests to retweet, comment, or reblog crap as long as you spread the message in a chance for a prize. We also see more authentic approaches, still a form of paid manipulation, with Tyson doing goodwill “cause marketing” creating networked contests in exchange for manipulating the network. Others don’t pay to get in, but create shocking buzz to try to seed the memes … CP+B with their secondary shock effects are a good example, or all the hyper-sexed-shocking “viral” seeds planted by agencies on YouTube. What all have in comment are “creative” attempts to manipulate the infrastructure of the communication system, not just the message. It’s somewhat easy to do in the short term, but very difficult to do in the long run … the viral rise and fall of such campaigns is short. Skittles lasted but a moment. And each new attempt to create authentic, genuine buzz tends to be a one-off success, because uniqueness is the driving force of creatively spreading throughout a channel.

The second “creative” more-human brand is most interesting. Yes, Scott Monty gets too much press, but he is the best example of a staid, stodgy old brand (Ford) becoming a human I somewhat care about. Dammit, if my wife needs a new minivan, I will feel guilty now if I do not test drive a Ford. (And from a Toyota family, that is a revelation.) The ability to recast a cold hard brand into a warm human face is a miraculous change, yet it takes immense creativity to pull it off. By creativity, I don’t mean a brand position or message or high concept, but a creative use of a real team of humans to get on Twitter and other channels and present themselves as the real heart of a brand. It’s creativity with a shitload of effort. It’s risk and human souls. Perhaps that’s the most creative endeavor of all.

John Winsor, Author, Crowdsourcer, Entrepreneur

Creativity in the age of social media is all about sparking and participating in conversations. Success is making something go viral. Ideas must not only be great stories that want to be shared but also are shareable. In this new age creativity has been unshackled.  No longer does the elite own it; it is now a commodity. It’s what you do with it and how you communicate it that counts.

Scott Karambis, Director Brand Planning, Amalgamated

Creativity means that everyone and anyone can participate in the power of collective inspiration that was once exclusive to artistic communities.  It means creativity no longer need be a “vocation” or a “calling.”  It can be a behavior.  We’ve long been saying that everyone is creative, but the structure and roles didn’t change, so we didn’t really mean it.  Now, social media has enabled a true democratization of creativity.

CC Chapman, Partner and Creative Director, Campfire NYC

Creativity doesn’t change, but it certainly evolves. In today’s world I think we have even more tools with which to get creative. When it’s done right it invokes a reaction in the viewer (or now the participant).  In the past creativity was solid and stagnant. You created it and people reacted to it. Now you create and it can evolve, continue, be built upon, torn down, mashed up or remixed. The creative process in social media isn’t something that ever ends.

Mike Troiano, President, Holland Mark Digital

I think it goes way beyond marketing communications. It’s about driving the top line with ideas: product ideas, content ideas, channel ideas, distribution ideas.  It’s about insight and understanding what people really need.

You can think about a matrix where the x-axis is what people need, and the y-axis is what people know they need. If people need it and they know they need it, they’ll tell you. So listen.

We’ve spent the last 50 years in the lower quadrant, getting people to “know” they need stuff they really don’t. I think great creative people will live in the upper right quadrant in the age of social media… figuring out what people do need – products, content, connections, even emotions – before the consumer even realizes it.

Nick Pipitone, Creative Director, Jigsaw

There are new aspects of the online experience that are being created all the time. How the consumer interacts with a brand, how a company speaks to its customers, and how customers can contribute is always changing. The creative challenge is to contextualize it in a way that makes all three aspects work seamlessly.

Alex Bogusky, CP&B

Creativity is the same thing it was before social media. But I could never define it then and I wouldn’t want to now.

So what’s your take?  Got a definition of creativity in an age of participation, crowdsourcing, and social media?  If so, please leave  a comment. And as always, if you like the stuff you find here, subscribe either by RSS or email.  There are buttons for that on the upper right of this page. Thanks for stopping by.

44 comments
schultzybeckett
schultzybeckett

Both are  closely interrelated only  a  creative  person  can  undestand  the  needs  skills  and responsibilities  reqired  in  the  social  media  field because  being creative  means that  u  r having  an  extra  mental  edge  over  the  othe  people so  one  is able  to  comprehand  the  problems  and  situations  in  a better  manner

Schultzy @ http://fourquadrant.com/

Help Desk Management
Help Desk Management

Creativity is generally thought of as self-expression; but if you unravel the process a bit, you'll find something much deeper and more profoundly transformational at its core. The true creative process is born of a deep inner yearning to be used in a way you, yourself, find resonant with the good, the true and the beautiful. It's often felt as a strong pull you simply cannot ignore... a compelling magnetism that draws you deeper toward the realization of your inborn potential. It's something we all long to experience because we instinctively know it makes us feel alive and connected to something greater than ourselves. Without it, the world seems mundane, ordinary and tedious.
.-= Help Desk Management´s last blog ..Importance Of Help Desk Outsourcing And A Thing To Consider =-.

Debbie Lattuga
Debbie Lattuga

I think that creativity is the approach you need to take with social media. It's and evolving media, and what worked last year may not work this year. So you've got to be flexible and change.

Gary Vaynerchuk speaks about 'Twitter' in his book "Crush It". For the last 2 years, he devoted a lot of his time to Twitter, but feels Facebook is the up and comer. All because of the deeper relationships that can be cultivated.
.-= Debbie Lattuga´s last blog ..Make a Collage Vision Board =-.

Bruce DeBoer
Bruce DeBoer

If asked how social media will change creativity, my auto-response is nearly identical to @bogusky so I’ll change the question thus permitting my more typical long form answer: "How is creativity going to be applied with the emergence of social media."

Please forgive me if this sounds remedial but I’m a photographer not a marketing guy. Additionally, I hope this isn’t simply a restatement of what everyone else said, but I think the strongest response to the new-ish media landscape is to inspire communities with our own creativity and invite them to participate any way you can. To do this we'll need to broaden our thinking about where we find our own creativity and who we let participate.

The goal – as I see it – is to present our creativity in such a compelling way as to inspire individuals to engage their network. This sounds similar to “old school” approaches because it is, albeit with a tweak here or there.

My new mantra is "message follows motivation". I think the difference is in the bandwidth with which communities are able to broadcast their response. If we lose the opportunity to inspire individuals to speak our message and ignite their community, someone else will.

Furthermore, I think it's important to understand that the creative pie is getting larger while simultaneously being divided into smaller slices. The orchestra has added more players but at the same time the orchestra leader is more important than ever.

I believe over a relatively short time the newness will feel familiar. Excite opinion leaders with greatness so they add your value to theirs. The biggest challenge is to learn the new channels.
.-= Bruce DeBoer´s last blog ..Create Intangible Satisfaction – Rory Sutherland =-.

Len Kendall
Len Kendall

I don't know what creative expression does for other people but for me personally...

Creativity is evident to me (past and present) when I am put into a mindset of wishing either I had created "it" first, or having the mental and physical capability to do so at all.
.-= Len Kendall´s last blog ..Social Media Savvy is a Cheap Commodity =-.

Tony Long
Tony Long

To be creative in the age of social media involves mastering the speed of inputs that surround you, which therefore suggests more emphasis on synthesis and less time for evolution.

But don't despair: original thought can still derive from cut-and-paste methodology.

Arafat Kazi
Arafat Kazi

"Getting others to tell their stories" is awesome because in my very limited experience, I've always believed in creating involvement. This is also an integral part of grassroots development. By "grassroots development" I mean any crowd-sourced or crowd-powered activity which benefits the greater population. Your Timberland website linking to jobs is an example of that. I feel that no social project will be really successful over the long term unless there's some sort of social improvement motive built in, because of the intrinsic nature of social media.

That being said, I think that the holy grail of advertising or of any creative industry really, is the work of the solitary genius or team of geniuses. I'm not saying that we should emulate Ogilvy sitting at his desk getting drunk and writing about Rolls Royce. What I mean is that the crowd didn't, couldn't, write Paradise Lost, or invent the Marlboro Man.

Social media at its best is like the apotheosis of focus groups and market research, though this is an imperfect analogy because social media is much, much, _much_ more. But the genius, what the genius does is come up with a hidden, secret treasure, an insight that NOBODY ELSE KNEW. And that's what changes the world.

I think that that needs a lot of courage, even insanity. And true genius of course lies in finding that secret treasure and inciting the mob to storm the Bastille or engage with a brand. But it's indefinable, this creativity thing. And the crowd will always need visionaries.

I get this way whenever I watch a Twilight Zone episode, because Rod Serling engaged in every one of these conversations before any of us.

David Saxe
David Saxe

Agreed on the misuse of manipulate.

Did Gary generate a new idea or did he simply identify a problem? I'm sure many before him realized this problem but either lacked the motivation or creativity to do anything about it. Seems to me that the creativity is in the solution (not just the execution, but the solution itself).
.-= David Saxe´s last blog ..It’s Not About You. Make Sure We Get That Message =-.

David Saxe
David Saxe

in our context and put simply, I would say that creativity is the ability to manipulate emotion.

The emotions we encourage are too many to count but the one response I fear the most is indifference. In the current networked age, our stories may be the same but they're a lot easier to ignore, so the legs are just as important as the body. Though Ben's comments are intriguing. If we're too focused on the legs (how we're carrying the story) maybe we're compromising authenticity.
.-= David Saxe´s last blog ..It’s Not About You. Make Sure We Get That Message =-.

Sam Reid
Sam Reid

Maybe one can take a step back to get a wider view of the question.

Content people choose to share and respond to has an intrinsic positive glow. This can be either because it has a practical use, is simply entertaining, or a bit of both. If a brand is involved, they'll receive part of that glow, and this is the reward, to be part of the positive conversation & not the owner of it.

People become fans of culture not advertising so perhaps creativity in social media is the ability to produce content which is culturally relevant. Maybe we need to look beyond the skills of traditional agency staff and incorporate the wider talent spectrum?

Sam Reid
Sam Reid

Maybe one can take a step back to get a wider view of the question.

Content people choose to share and respond to has an intrinsic positive glow. This can be either because it has a practical use, is simply entertaining, or a bit of both. If a brand is involved, they'll receive part of that glow, and this is the reward, to be part of the positive conversation & not the owner of it.

People become fans of culture not advertising so perhaps creativity in social media is the ability to produce content which is culturally relevant. Maybe we need to look beyond the skills of traditional agency staff and incorporate the wider talent spectrum?

Scott Karambis
Scott Karambis

Intriguing collection of responses, Edward. Strikes me that the conversation might be sharpened if we differentiate creativity in service of a brand from creativity that is not. Creativity as a human drive is, by definition, boundless. But--Alex's evasiveness notwithstanding--as a commercial act, as a product in the market, creativity has a historical specificity, as particular as detergent or cell phones or life coaches. One that is evolving before our eyes. And I think you've hit on a crucial element of this evolution with your definition, Edward. Happy capitalists might see this decentralized production of creative work as a source of accelerated growth (and lowered costs). A dour Marxist, however, might argue we have outsourced the work of ideological reproduction (aka reification) to the consumer's themselves, who seem happy to do the work for us.

c_b_
c_b_

Your post and the comments are all invigorating. What I love most about creativity in the social media realm is that we (marketers,advertisers, brands, etc.) may give birth to an idea but it's the community that sculpts it into something truly inspirational. Even better, we have to constantly top their final work when we brainstorm our next campaign concept.

Todd
Todd

Think it's tough now, wait until robots outnumber humans. Ever try selling beer to something that has aquaphobia?

Mariano
Mariano

Wow. How appropriate that you should mention "getting others to tell stories for us." I was thinking to myself a few weeks ago that it would be great to be able to create a free clinic for small businesses in my area to help them learn and express how they could use social media for their business. Got a great turnout for the meeting, and did a couple of interviews of owners on what they got out of the clinic.

So I took the interviews, did some minor editing, and put them up on my site. I feel great mostly because I'm getting these businesses to really think about how they can use social media and then sharing those ideas with others. I actually hope I can make it a series that will evolve with the stuff that's available on the web.

The key is to make the interviews short and hopefully get just one or two businesses out there to think, "hey, that's a great idea, I should try that!"

Thanks for this post, makes me feel I'm on the right track!
.-= Mariano´s last blog ..The Web and You Presents: Small Business, Big Voices =-.

MDavid Low
MDavid Low

Wonderful presentation today, had most of Toth in attendance for it. Thank you for your unique perspective.

Keith Miks
Keith Miks

Edward, great presentation... Really enjoy seeing this POV and several agency thought leaders adding to these kinds of discussion. Talking about it, experimenting with it and jumping right in seems to be the better ways to creatively innovate social media. Basically, by being conversational however we can becomes the online creative conversation to gain new perspectives and insights outside of our typical day.

Mel Exon
Mel Exon

Stick 'define: creativity' into Google and this is what you get as the top two responses:

1. "the ability to create" (er, yes)

2. "Creativity is a mental and social process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts..."

It's obvious stuff, but a reminder that creativity at its heart involves the generation of something new. Plain and simple. The responsibility for that has not gone away, just because we now operate in a wonderfully networked world. Creativity still involves sparking, curating & fueling fantastic conversations and stories about the brands we work with.

The beauty of social media? That sort of currency can't be bought, needn't be bought. Real creativity combined with some smart propagation will earn it. Or to put it another way, the proof of creativity in an age of social media is viral (an over-used and abused word, but one I just keep coming back to time and again these days).
.-= Mel Exon´s last blog ..Mary Meeker’s Economy & Internet Trends Presentation 2009 =-.

scottRcrawford
scottRcrawford

...is about finding our most passionate users where they experience the brand in full-on lust, then enabling them with the things/platform they need to share the love. To serve is to lead.

Rich Nadworny
Rich Nadworny

It's like what the supreme court says about pornography - I know it when I see it.

Seriously, creativity is the ability to make people think and feel new things. That's what great art, movies and literature do.

And it's what marketers strive to. The need for creativity hasn't gone away just because the 30 second spot is less relevant.

Trackbacks

  1. […] – most provocatively, this challenges a one-dimensional interpretation of what commercial ‘creativity’ means online. Whilst we’d be the first to leap on the figure of c.20% of respondents looking for “entertaining or interesting” interactions with brands, nonetheless we still need to broaden our definition of creativity when the rest are looking for something else entirely. We can’t put this better than a statement Ben Kunz recently made about the nature of creativity in a social media age on Edward Boches’ blog: […]