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As the entire media system is about to completely fracture, did Fox make the right move by jumping into the social media fracas? Here are four simple rules to live by.
News Corp. recently launched a social network for weather junkies. But is there any merit to it, and what can we learn from how Fox is leveraging the social sphere? Let me dissect why this is a bad idea — or maybe not a bad idea — and provide four simple checkpoints for your social media programs. Then, I’ll tell you why I might be completely wrong.
The bad idea
Has our industry gone so far off the deep end of the social networking hype that THIS is what someone comes up with? Are there really that many weather junkies obsessed with the daily machinations of planet Earth that we need a social networking site for 40-year-old losers who still live in their parents basement? This is one of those sublime examples of just because you CAN do it, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
I can just see it now, some luddite at Fox talking about social media and the great way they can drive stickiness to the Fox site. Another luddite probably pitched that idea three years ago as a weather site where users could comment on the weather… and it was laughed at. But attach the “social networking” moniker to it, and all of a sudden it is shiny, new and pretty. It was a crappy idea then, and now. It’s a crappy idea that leverages social networking. So it’s a shiny piece of nothing. The market is simply not there.
Maybe not so bad of an idea
But is it really a bad idea for Fox? You talk about the weather when you have nothing else to talk about. It’s the safe topic of conversation instead of politics, religion or sex. It affects everybody. But is it really that important to users or advertisers? Ahh… now I’m starting to get a little bit of the logic. In a country where the average IQ barely registers above the average spring day in San Francisco, it’s the perfect topic, requiring the intellectual capacity of belly button lint. Even those who watch Fox News or pro wrestling can carry on a conversation about the weather. But how many people are actually passionate about it? And where is the need for yet another weather site?
I thought Weather.com, AccuWeather and WeatherBug pretty much had a lock on the digital weather business. All of them have great products, and seriously, if you’re a weather junkie to that extent, you’re there.
So what is Fox doing, and why is this rant against them off the mark?
Four simple rules for social media efforts
If you are a brand and thinking about diving down the social media well, be careful, you need to change the way you think about conversations with your consumers. Advertising is a one-way dictatorship. You decide what you want to communicate and dictate it downward. Kim Jong-il is the most successful advertiser on the planet. Well, him and any major religion. Advertising works great in a closed system, and for a while here we had the benefit of that closed system. You could convince people that cigarettes were healthy, your weight loss drug works and will make you look like a model, and that nothing we do affects climate change. Oh, wait, there are still some hold-outs on that one.
The multi-way conversation enabled by social media changed all that. The whole media system is about to completely fracture. PR, advertising, etc., it’s all going to change. No longer is your company shielded from the conversations that happen. So what should your brand do? There are four simple rules to profitably leverage social media:
1. Be true to your brand
2. Be honest with your consumers
3. Leverage the assets
4. Start small
Fox, or any major media outlet, for that matter, has transformed itself over the years due to sensationalistic practices. Sensationalism sells. Who cares if the facts are only lightly checked. If it bleeds, it leads. But from a more altruistic standpoint, Fox is merely providing its consumers with information about what’s going on in the world from its viewpoint. Weather dictates so much in our daily lives, from how we dress, to how we travel, to how we interact with the outside world. It is a daily checkpoint, and it’s essential content for news services.
Adding social networking components to weather may not change the daily ritual much initially, but as weather systems continue to cause destruction, there is this innate voyeuristic primal force that makes you unable to look away — the same rubber-necking phenomenon that had people glued to their TVs watching Katrina devastation.
News organizations are cutting back staff left and right. They need to start leveraging the social infrastructure of those unpaid fleshpods out there armed with digital cameras and video. And in reality, pictures or footage gathered by the local populace is pretty unbeatable. Individuals do it for ego, and that is a powerful motivation. This is a classic 1:9:990 rule. Only one in a thousand will actually provide footage, nine in a thousand will provide commentary on that footage, and the rest of the 990 will be rubber-necking voyeurs. So, if you only need those five, maybe there are enough weather junkies out there to fuel a social media weather site after all.
Holy crap, it may work
So, how did Fox do? It is being true to its brand as a news service. The commentary it provides may not be entirely honest, but pictures and video from consumers don’t lie. Fox is essentially leveraging both its assets, and the assets of the social brain cloud of the fleshpod army, which saves the company a boatload of green. This provides Fox with incredible economies of scale, efficiency of news weather gathering, and exclusive content assets it can leverage for its other properties. And the site is a very simple concept that can be scaled to other assets Fox may have if it works. The general news could leverage the same infrastructure as can its bevy of other media properties, including movies and TV shows, and so on. By doing it just for weather now, they do not bet the ranch on the concept and can tweak it before scaling to the media empire. If it ever remotely works, the ROI will be through the roof due to the retention and frequency improvement from exclusive content and the media Fox can leverage throughout its empire. I mean, they do own MySpace, so they know a little about social media.
In a way, I’m surprised that it’s Fox that launched it. I mean, for a company that regularly denies global warming even exists, let alone admits that humans could be potentially accelerating it, doesn’t it work in their favor to believe the opposite here? I mean, global warming is going to wreak havoc on the weather systems of this planet, making for more devastating hurricanes, more violent tornados, and more sensational weather. Perfect for this concept. At what point do we transition from referring to these events as “acts of God,” and start referring to them as “acts of man?”
It will probably come from the insurance companies first, not wanting to pay for “act of God” claims. Ahhh… capitalism. Hey Fox, want to come over to the other side of the global warming debate? You’ll make lots of money!
ranty rant signing off…