Thursday, September 06, 2007

More about “Participatory Marketing” and YouTube: Leveraging Reputation and Authenticity Through Social Network

...People articulate their identity by creating self-presentations, which include endorsements of various objects of material and symbolic culture—favorite music, TV shows, fashion items, video games, beverages, etc. YouTube and other online social networks are very successful in scaling up self-presentations and mobilizing forms of "joint attention", enabling their users to pay attention to each other and learn what other people like or dislike, and discover with whom they are most "alike". These features provide a ground for creating novel advertising strategies that could leverage the “wealth of the network” and capitalize on lateral conversations between users and on users' reputations...

One of the main challenges for advertisers is to create a sense of authenticity, which affirms the content of the ad as genuine and validates the voice of the advertiser as credible. In any kind of rhetorical discourse, not just in advertisements, people attempt to authenticate both their message and themselves as the source of the message. People authenticate their messages by providing relevant information and using various rhetorical tools to construct persuasive arguments. Their credibility, however, also depends on their existing reputation with their audience, as well as their ability to do impression management while engaging their audience. Advertisers have a serious problem in validating their credibility, due to their status as a paid agent, rather than an authentic speaker.

New media have created a new participatory culture and changed the ways people create and share knowledge. The traditional “top-down” models of knowledge production and dissemination are being replaced by more distributed models which consist of user generated content that is collectively arbitrated through lateral conversations between users. The following YouTube video illustrates how those emergent "participatory cultures" may affect the issues of authenticity and reputation in the relation between advertisers and consumers:

YouTube and other social media have empowered users who have grown skeptical about the top-down creation and distribution of information. Consumers nowadays seem to require a different relationship with advertisers, a relationship in which they will be a partner in a dialogue rather than a "target" of the advertisement. YouTube has a large and diverse community of users who seem to be very passionate about the things they care about—their political views, favorite TV shows, music, ideas, etc. Participants in YouTube also seem to take pride in performing their expertise and sharing the knowledge they create. They have strong opinions and they can be very creative in expressing them.

Here are two ideas for advertising strategies that attempt to leverage these features of the YouTube community:

1) Dialogue with participants: Repurposing of professionally made ads
In addition to watching sophisticated InVideo ads, YouTubers could engage in a creative dialogue with such ads and re-appropriate them for self-expression. For example, YouTube could enable its users to re-purpose professionally made commercial videos and create remix and mashups. Although some of those user-repurposed ads may turn to be parodies that are critiquing the ad, a critique on YouTube means virality, attention, an enhanced product awareness, and not necessarily negative attitudes toward the product.

2) User’s reputation as a leverage of authenticity
People articulate their identity by creating self-presentations, which include endorsements of various objects of material and symbolic culture—favorite music, TV shows, fashion items, video games, beverages, etc. YouTube and other online social networks are very successful in scaling up self-presentations and mobilizing forms of "joint attention", enabling their users to pay attention to each other and learn what other people like or dislike, and discover with whom they are most "alike". Several online applications have already taken advantage of that feature. For example, a Facebook application ""ProductPulse"" enables its users to rate their favorite brands, movies, bands, or even TV shows in categories like “love it/hate it/want it/need info”. Users can also check out what products their friends are using and get recommendations and original reviews from the whole productpulse userbase... Furthermore, all rated products have links to online stores for "instant gratification" :-)

By creatively appropriating and applying these and similar ideas, YouTube and other online social network sites could create radically novel advertising strategies that would leverage the “wealth of the network” and capitalize on lateral conversations between users.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Participatory Marketing and YouTube InVideo Ads: Still Missing the Long Tail…

...YouTube has made an important step in creating a novel advertising model that presupposes an active and engaged user. In order to fully leverage the potential of user-generated content and the potential of YouTube as a networked community, YouTube will need to innovate even more and create even more participatory models of marketing in which users are not “targets”, but creative co-participants in product promotion..

A few days ago YouTube launched an innovative method of web advertising, “InVideo ads”, which consists of transparent animated flash “overlays” that are superimposed on selected videos. The method reflects a delicate balance between the demands for optimal user experience and the inherently intrusive nature of advertisements. Here is how YouTube introduced the InVideo ads to their community:

“…Today we're offering select partners the ability to incorporate YouTube InVideo ads into their content. These are animated overlays that appear on the bottom 20 percent of a video. If you're interested by what you see there, clicking on the overlay launches a deeper interactive video ad that we think is relevant and entertaining. (The video you were watching is temporarily paused.) If you choose not to click on the overlay, it will simply disappear, so that you're in full control of your YouTube experience...”

NewTeeVee showed screen shots of YouTube experiments with InVideo ads already in May and the recent version seems to be more animated than the previous one. I saw the 20th Century Fox's The Simpsons running on Warner Music Group video and must admit that the ad was pretty non-intrusive. In some ways it was actually funny and enjoyable to watch Homer Simpson running over the screen, and it felt almost like a parody mashup produced by a teenager who wants to amuse his friends.

The InVideo ads invite the user to engage at a deeper level than traditional web ads (YouTube claims they have five to ten times the click-through rates on InVideo Ads versus traditional display ads). YouTube realized that when their users start a video, they need time to get into it, and thus they delay the InVideo ad display by 10-15 seconds. If they interrupt or display ads before that window, viewers are unlikely to engage, and are more likely to abandon videos as they do with preroll ads. When a user does engage with the ad and click to expand it, 75% return to watch to the end of the video. Shashi Seth, YouTube Group Product Manager, suggests that the InVideo ads can be targeted based on user demographics (age and gender), location, day part, and content genre. In addition to being able to target users, marketers would also be provided with metrics on click-throughs and ad viewers, as well as YouTube community metrics (links, comments, favorites, subscriptions, etc.).

YouTube has apparently created a non-intrusive and user-engaging method of in-video advertisement that has received fairly positive reviews from advertisers, publishers, and some bloggers. However, many YouTube users have openly expressed their dissatisfaction and threatened to leave. Although some analysts argue that InVideo advertising will eventually alienate YouTubers and cause them to leave the site, in the short run, I do not anticipate a massive migration from YouTube, since so far only a relatively small number of professionally made videos are targeted with the InVideo ads. In the long run, however, YouTube will have to find a way to monetize user-generated content from the long tail of DIY videos. Such videos are often of low quality, and overlaying them with professionally made InVideo ads may not be as appealing to viewers or advertisers.

YouTube has made an important step in creating a novel advertising model that presupposes an active and engaged user. In order to fully leverage the potential of user-generated content and the potential of YouTube as a networked community, YouTube will need to innovate even more and create even more participatory models of marketing in which the users are not “targets”, but creative co-participants in product promotion (e.g., “word of mouth” marketing). The opportunity seems to be to engage their audience of videomakers not merely as consumers of brand messages, but as authentic producers and viral distributors of them. More about participatory marketing in my next post.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

High School Students Bullying Teachers On YouTube

This video, shot by a student at a Beijing school a week ago, shows a boy approaching his teacher and slamming the man's hat down over his face before returning to his seat. Later another boy throws a plastic bottle at the teacher as students in the classroom burst out laughing.

The video was subsequently posted on a blog and picked up by numerous websites. In China the video has flared a public debate around youth’s morality. For older Chinese, the incident was a painful reminder of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, which saw similar scenes of students humiliating and beating up their teachers. On YouTube the video achieved significant popularity – over 600,000 views, 30 honors, 222 times favorited, in less than a week.

A few months ago I observed another popular YouTube video in which a high school student mocks and humiliates his teacher. The video was also widely viewed and made it to the national news:

School pranks are not a new phenomenon, and indeed they are often performed on teachers who have limited authority and low status at their work places. Bullying almost always entails public humiliation and YouTube supplies a massive audience of people who appear to be amused by watching others being humiliated. And so does FoxNews by putting it on national television!

Another example of teacher abuse comes from Italy:

In a series of two videos, high school students can be seen "touching" and "fondling" their teacher. The young teacher didn't seem to react despite the obvious sexual abuse. Consequently school authorities construed her passivity and lack of resistance as indications of her approval and encouragement for groping behavior. As a result, the teacher was suspended. Without knowing all of the circumstances of the case, to me the teacher appears dissociated and emotionally flat -- a response typical for survivors of sexual abuse when they are being repeatedly victimized.

YouTube enables us to record, play and rewind events in which we participate. It also enables us to share our experiences with thousands and millions of people, and make them even more meaningful and interesting. As a result, YouTube enables greater visibility of behaviors that typically take place behind closed doors. Now we can see what is happening and what can happen in high school classrooms, because teenagers record events on their mobile phones. YouTube has not invented school pranks and bullying, but has made those practices both more visible and more public. The above reviewed videos make us more aware of the abuse that is taking place in schools and of the hazards of the teaching profession.
What we cannot see in a three-minute YouTube video are contexts, circumstances and trajectories of events. And yet on the basis of a three-minute video, people’s lives have been ruined and their careers destroyed. The fact that so many people have seen and applauded public humiliations of private persons at their work places is even more worrisome than the acts of abuse themselves.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

When “Long Tail” Meets its “Head”: Politicians and/or Citizens on YouTube

Two weeks ago Senator Hillary Clinton posted on YouTube her video “I need your advice”. In the video Hillary is asking Americans one of the "most important questions" of her campaign and calling on voters to choose her official campaign theme song. The video is aimed to reveal a more jovial side of Hillary, as she is joking about the contest and her ability to sing in public. It has meanwhile received over 500,000 views as well as comments and video responses.

One of the respondents to Clinton’s video is James Kotecki, AKA "EmergencyCheese", 21, a recent graduate from Georgetown University. Mr. Kotecki has been recently featured on ABC News, as a young political vlogger who provides tips and pointers to the 2008 presidential candidates about their Web videos. This is what he had to say about Hillary Clinton’s video discussed above:

In recent days we see more and more of the leading politicians on YouTube. One interesting question certainly is whether and how social networking sites like YouTube can and will change the political landscape for the upcoming election. YouTube seems to be a very potent medium, due to its large audience and community, as well as the possibilities associated with the video mode of representation. And yes, YouTube and Google have already figured out their potential role in the 2008 presidential election! YouTube has launched a section for presidential candidates called “YouChoose”, as well as "CitizenTube", a channel in which a YouTube hired “News and Politics” professional editor creates political content and picks interesting clips from around YouTube to share with others. Further it has also been reported that YouTube has struck a deal with CNN to co-sponsor the first of six Democratic Party-sanctioned debates of the 2008 race.

So obviously both YouTube and the presidential candidates seem to be interested in each other, but we still have to see who is going to benefit from this relationship and what the winning strategy will be. I have already written about celebrities such as Paris Hilton or Tyra Banks who attempted to use YouTube in order to promote their shows. Sometimes such attempts worked well, sometimes they failed. The stakes of the presidential campaign are however much higher and presidential candidates should be aware of the risks involved in using media such as YouTube since their official videos are competing on YouTube against funny video mashups that ridicule or criticize them. Parodies of Republican politicians such as George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, or John McCain are notorious, but the list is long and includes democratic presidential candidates as well. These video parodies may have been produced by teenagers as a DIY style of bedroom production, or by professionals hired by political opponents. In any case they are more interesting and funnier and more likely to attract viewers than politicians’ official vlogs. Indeed, it is not surprising that YouTubers largely prefer a mashup parody of John Edwards’ haircut fixing (around 658,855 views), over his most popular official video (around 371,814 views). The truth is that presidential candidates do not fully understand and utilize the potential of YouTube. As suggested by James Kotecki, politicians’ vlogs are not very interactive. They are too scripted and formal and lack the impromptu charm of bedroom broadcasts of YouTube celebrities such as “boh3m3”, “thewinekone”, or “TheHill88”. However some presidential candidates, and among them Senator Clinton, have already made improvements. Her newest video “Pick My Campaign Song: Round 2” is a good example of a more interactive approach. In the video she engages in a dialogue with those who responded to her request to help choose campaign song by creating a funny mash up of most interesting responses. A step further toward even greater interactivity would be to directly address and acknowledge her respondents by their names.
But on the other hand, more interactive videos may prove counterproductive as perhaps was the case in the recent French presidential election. In his discussion about the role of participatory media in French presidential election, Colin Delany quotes Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s thesis that Ségolène Royal's ' participatory citizen-centric strategy has failed to win a majority at the polls among other things also due to her campaign's emphasis on citizen participation. Both Delany and Gobry argue that this strategy “backfired entirely by undermining her perception as a leader and by leaving her dependent on a fatally unrepresentative group of voters”. Although politically and culturally the US and French elections are not easily comparable, Delany’s discussion should caution presidential candidates about some of the risks that online campaigning could entail.

Here are some additional thoughts about the potential and the risks in using YouTube in presidential campaigns:

Social networking. YouTube is not only a video sharing site, but also a social networking site, so if presidential candidates want to become members of YouTube communities, they should be leaving comments, subscribing to other people’s videos and getting local celebrities to subscribe to their videos and/or put them on their contact lists, as a form of “celebrity endorsement”. But on the other hand, the “Long Tail” may not be so enthusiastic to embrace its “Head” and attempts to recruit them (which are probably already happening!) could backfire. Both politicians and YouTube celebrities may be renounced as “cheaters” and lose their online and/or offline reputations. As we know previous attempts of various commercial entities to recruit YouTube celebrities to migrate to their websites, or to promote their product were exposed and condemned by the YouTube community. For the presidential candidates the main risk is to lose their authority and their credibility by having to depend on amateur teenage stars.
However, in some cases YouTubers can successfully meditate the participation of presidential candidates and actually increase their own and the featured presidential candidate’s online and offline reputations. A good example is again James Kotecki who invited presidential candidates to a “real conversation” and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel stopped by the 21-year-old's dorm room for interviews.

Performing authenticity and identity. YouTube is citizen media, inhabited by users who negotiate their reputation by creating and sharing content (videos, comments, profile pages, etc.), and who see themselves as an alternative to mainstream media. However, presidential candidates are not really citizens, but public personas, who have access to mainstream media and substantial monetary and social capital. They are YouTube users, but they also “use” YouTube in order to boost their popularity and reputation outside of YouTube. This by itself raises suspicion in the eyes of other YouTube users who embrace authenticity as one of the main values of their community, especially if presidential candidates pose as if they are citizens or our friends. For obvious reasons politicians cannot perform “authenticity” in the way teenagers who broadcast from their bedrooms do. However, politicians should act as sincere as they could in creating their self-presentations on YouTube and avoid pretending to be younger, more jovial, or more ordinary—they should perform their “real” identities of public figures who aspire to lead the nation and demonstrate qualities that such leadership requires.

Forms of expression and cultural conflicts There seems to be a cultural conflict between “serious” videos produced by politicians (even when they attempt to be jocular!) and the dominant cultural practices on YouTube such as parody, “lampooning”, and “spoofing”. Furthermore, my observations of how American youth express their political sentiments also indicate that music video mashups are a more engaging form of expression, than direct addresses and “talking heads”, suggesting that the music video form could be a very compelling format in YouTube presidential campaigns. Although music video has been primarily associated with youth culture, with the maturation of the MTV generation music video has become a rather pervasive marketing device for multigenerational audiences.
Additional forms of cultural conflict may happen around the norms and rules of engagement. “Hate” speech often goes unpunished on YouTube and forms of manipulation and cheating are sometimes but not always exposed. For example, an anti-Clinton video mashup has eventually been linked to the work of a supporter of rival Democratic candidate Barack Obama, but that discovery did not have much of an effect because the video had already been downloaded by multiple users and had become the most popular video tagged “hillary”. Although presidential campaigns are notorious for dirty tricks, those may be even less transparent in online media such as YouTube. Paradoxically although YouTube makes certain behaviors more visible, like in the case of LAPD’s "tazering" of a UCLA student for example, it makes less transparent the source of information and the process of authoring. As a result, those who break the rules of fairness may never be identified.

In order to avoid those risks presidential candidates may decide to keep a rather “low profile” on YouTube and participate minimally. Following the strategy of the newly elected French president Nicolas Sarkozy they may decide to invest in the traditional forms of political campaigning if they believe the hazards of backfire are too high, but this is very unlikely to happen. Politicians and their advisers, like the rest of us, seem to be absolutely seduced by the potential of social media to reach both mass and “niche” audiences. However in order to fully leverage the power of YouTube as a social medium, presidential candidates' online campaigns should be decentralized and mediated by other YouTube users who would promote presidential candidates that they support, by creating content and engaging in conversations with other YouTubers. In other words, presidential candidates should not just be talking to YouTubers, but mobilizing YouTubers to talk for them. However in order for this to happen, presidential candidates should pay more attention to political conversations that are already happening on YouTube (e.g., the Iraq war, the issue of net neutrality, etc) and address those issues in their YouTube campaigns. After all, the YouTube phenomenon demonstrates the power of media to engage millions of people to create content if they are given an opportunity to express their beliefs and passions, and share them with a large audience.

Friday, February 02, 2007

YouTube vs. Main Stream Media: Kissing Cousins or Feuding Siblings?

In my daily of observations activities on YouTube I noticed a rather strong presence of texts produced by so-called Main Stream Media (MSM), mainly TV. This feature seems to be quite prominent especially on ”the most viewed” page and contradicts some predictions that were made during the big YouTube ascend (i.e., Summer/ Fall 2006.). During that period both MSM journalists and some bloggers have suggested that YouTube would displace or even replace MSM. That was the time when CNN and BBC started to show user-generated videos during their regular news broadcasts. For example in July 2006, as part of its coverage of the war in Lebanon, CNN showed some YouTube that were taken by Lebanese citizens. Furthermore, even more recently a very influential blog on social networking, Mashable has reported that 32% of frequent YouTube users say they watch less TV due to their youtubing activity.

However, just from looking the list of the most popular videos, TV watching even among heavy users seems to be still “alive and well”. The most viewed video today is the video that features Kevin Federline’s rapping for a commercial. Federline is some kind of versatile celebrity, a musician, a model, a dancer and a wrestler (!) and also (or even better) known as a former husband of the pop superstar Britney Spears.

Next to Federline on the most viewed list are two videos, both “grabs” from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The first video features Stewart’s interview with Bill Gates promoting his new product “Windows Vista “. The second video is taken from the sequel that follows Bill Gates’ interview. The sequel features Stewart’s comment on how and why (!) B. Gates had left the show on the other day so abruptly. In addition to those two I found more Bill Gates videos that are also grabs from various news broadcasts and talk shows.

Finally on the most viewed list I also notice two videos featuring Tyra Banks, an ex model whose a “not flattering at all” bathing suit photo has been recently published in a certain magazine. The two videos were uploaded by TyraBanksShow, apparently an entity created by Tyra and/or her agents. The videos are in fact trailers for her upcoming show in which she allegedly wears the same bathing suit and confronts “haters” of all kinds…

While watching these videos, my stream of thought drifts away from the reflection about the relation between YouTube and MSM. The videos make me think about the kind of knowledge and the quality of information that are created on YouTube. I wonder how significant is the information that Kevin Federline has produced a commercial or that Tyra Banks proudly weighs over 160 pounds! Has YouTube become just another kind of repository for TV shows and celebrity mythology? Are YouTube contents merely entertaining or there is something else going on there as well.

In the continuation of my essay I am going to explore the second possibility and look for some less obvious characteristics of constructing knowledge on YouTube. I will rely on my analyses of YouTube videos, comments, and interviews with some YouTubers. My data collection is still in progress and below are just my preliminary thoughts.

It seems to me that however trivial the above discussed pieces of information may sound (especially to readers who are used to more academic contents), they might prove relevant for facilitating youth’s participation in public discourses. YouTube serves as a massive public space, populated by people of many ages and diverse cultural, ethnic and educational backgrounds. By uploading certain content (even if it is just a “grab” from a cable program), a user creates a statement of what is relevant, interesting or funny for him/her and invites others to comment and respond to that. In that way, what used to be a solitary of activity of TV viewing, confined within private spaces of one’s apartment, becomes on YouTube a collective activity of reading and interpretation. This allows for inclusion of knowledge and competencies of others, as featured in the following excerpt from one of my interviews:
“ … I am surprised to see sometimes what people put there…. I watched that same game, but I did not see the hand touching the ball, I mean really, I don’t think anybody saw it, but that guy saw it and post it on youtube… the guy is unbelievable, that level of detail, i think he must be a professional or something… i mean soccer player. he made me watch the game again“ (M, 20, unemployed designer.)
And yes knowing about celebrities and their lives is important for gaining access to participation and membership in youth peer culture(s). The following quote from another interviewee well illustrates this point
“ …I go to the most viewed page… Mostly I want to know whatz up whatz cool, like what was funny on the Colbert show yesterday, and it is just there, you can browse and look for stuff.. Awesome!” (M, 18, sales associate)

So in a way I argue that on YouTube no person stands by her/himself and no video on YouTube can stand by itself. Poststructuralists like Kristeva (1980) and Barthes have introduced the notion of intertextuality, which is the idea that each text is framed by and exists in relation to other texts. Each video is a response motivated by something that the viewer has seen/read/heard on YouTube and elsewhere. More specifically I refer here to Bakhtin’s notion of addressivity. According to Bakhtin, addressivity is the idea that an utterance “is always oriented toward an addressee, toward who that addressee might be… each person’s inner world and thought has its stabilized social audience that comprises the environment in which reasons, motives, values, and so on….” (Bakhtin and Emerson, 1999). In a similar vein each video on YouTube has an imagined addressee or audience and is motivated by another texts that were produced on YouTube and/or elsewhere.
Bellow are some more comments that my interviewees have provided about their viewing patterns on YouTube..
“… When I start watching YouTube, I cannot stop. Each video takes me to another video… It takes me to the author’s profile page… I like to click on related videos that YouTube gives you on the side, you know what I mean... There are always pointers to other videos“ (F, 19, student)
“ ..I often see more videos than I wanted.... Let’s say I saw that blasphemy video and then I looked the responses and then I looked those people … like their MySpace pages and subscriptions and their favorites… it takes a lot of time to understand what their true motives are…Like I watched that video about a girl who is incredibly skinny and she worries she is fat, but she decides to take a shot of her body….And u wonder what’s going on there.. And then I see the responses and all those girls who responded they all have some kind of eating disorder, I think it’s called BDD… like there is one girl who films the stuff she eats, loads of food, of everything and then she takes a binge… I mean they are total sickos, but u really need to look around to understand what is going on there.. (F, 20, media arts student).
These excerpts illustrate the viewer’s strategy for gaining understanding of the context within which the particular video has been produced and for identifying the targeted audience. They also express the interviewees’ ability to critically evaluate and reflect about information they gather.

I think that Henry Jenkins' idea of convergence (Jenkins, 2006) is very useful in understanding the relationship between YouTube and other media. YouTube is highly unlikely to displace other media including main stream media. Through convergence of media formats, contents, and personas, YouTube changes the pattern of television viewing, enabling a higher degree of audience participation, multi-directional flow of information and collective sharing and knowledge building. As my notes also suggest navigating YouTube requires critical thinking, evaluation and intertextuality. I am not sure what are the long term consequences of youth ‘s engagement with new media such as YouTube. There is a growing sense of unfinalizability of knowledge which seems to be a creative and motivating force. Yet it also produces a sense of fragmentation and distrust ☹

More to come…