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 and 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.
But 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.