Ask the Expert: Using social media to delight & provoke, plus how studios know whether to cast Ashton or not

Part 2 with Scott Montgomery, (see Part 1 here) this time about social media mayhem and his new firm that tracks and analyzes entertainment buzz, 

RS: Tell me about social media’s place in the branding equation? Who’s using it right? Do you think it works better for smaller or larger companies?

SM: Well I know how companies are doing it wrong. There is nothing more obvious than planted comments to a planted glowing review of a product in a planted blog. I don’t know, maybe that fools somebody, but I think it’s pretty transparent to all but the newest of newbies who would still use the word “newbie” in conversation.

It’s not surprising that, right now, most of the branding successes in social media are directly related to enthusiast brands, those that can offer value through social engagement, and those that are creating a bit of controversy. Google, for example, wins in social media not just because they engage in it, but by the fact that their innovations are worth tweeting about. I can’t tell you how often we’ve seen Google Wave as a trending topic on Twitter, not because of active seeding, but because their tactics have got people talking – releasing controversial videos of Wave in action, beta-testing by invitation – that sort of thing. I’m certainly not ruling out some kinds of seeding, but it’s all more powerful if you devise your product’s strategy to be inherently “political”. By that I mean, create things where the audience has a reason to take your side (or at least a side). Let your product efforts, promotions and events be retweetable.

Guys like me sometimes get a bit of stick because we sing the praises of social media to a background chorale of “where’s the ROI?” I believe we do create mass movement in behaviors. But as in any medium, it pays to harness the energy where the mass is, and not necessarily via a custom community. You don’t have to be a huge company to do it. A few weeks back, a motivated Facebook group succeeded in making an old Rage Against the Machine single 2009’s Christmas Number One. Now, Christmas Number One is a big deal in Britain (remember Love, Actually?) and Jon and Tracy Morter were disgusted that for the last few years, whatever won on Simon Cowell’s X Factor automatically went to number one at Christmas. Did they build a custom website to vent? Nope. They went to where the mass was – created a Facebook community and translated online behavior into real-world results – results that have a real economic impact on all the players in the controversy.

If Jon and Tracy from Essex can do that, shouldn’t a company with resources be able to move online behaviors to real-world action too? You just have to create something that makes people care.
Back here at my agency, we recently won an OMMA award for best standalone video for Microsoft – a review of the History of the Internet  by some of the odd characters who inhabit it – to promote the launch of Windows Internet Explorer 8. But it wasn’t the video itself that was unique (though it is kind of hilarious), it was the way we distributed it. IE8 was set to launch at MIX09 to a crowd of developers. The video preceded the launch, and we made sure the amused attendee had a url to share. As insiders, they were emotionally driven to distribute the link to everyone they knew. IE8 was a trending topic for a big part of the day, and chatter about the video was a big part of it. Getting the Windows community to download IE8 was a key effort for 2009 – motivating those downloads though harnessing social media was a big part of accelerating the effort.

RS:  Tell me about and the new way companies are using social media in their marketing mix
RS: Fizziology  is a tracking company we started in mid-2009 to take advantage of information that can be gleaned from what people post on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social media tools. Right now, we’re providing insights to movie studios and production companies, tracking what people are saying about movies as they approach release and upon opening – we’re consistently performing better than traditional tracking companies do.

So far I think it’s pretty amazing.A lot of companies are springing up here and there, trying to make marketing sense of this mountain of data – it’s becoming known as the Real Time Search industry (which I think is a stupid term). But almost all of them use some form of automated keyword scoring methodologies, and they just aren’t real accurate. In our world, “dude, that movie is sick” could mean something bad or good, but you can’t know that from a prejudged keyword algorithm. We actually read and score a statistically significant number of the total volume of chatter relating to a person, entertainment property or brand, and treat it like the world’s fastest, most honest focus group. So we believe we know more about the tweeting public’s intent to take action than a lot of our competitors.

Just recently, and we reported this before anyone else, we saw that the movie The Blind Side was going to significantly overperform reported estimates. Turned out we were right. And we knew The box office for Saw VI was going to be a lot weaker than estimated – we saw very high negatives in the chatter and correlated it with a lower than expected “intention to see”. We could also see the way the interest shifted in Where The Wild Things Are after opening, as people realized that it wasn’t a kids’ movie.

As we move forward, we’re building a database in which we can compare the behaviors of these entertainment properties by genre and seasonality, and we’re building it so we can make comparisons as the public’s usage of social media evolves.

We’ve been asked to track individual actors for insights about how the public might respond to them if they’re cast in a certain kind of role or with other actors. That’s a valuable insight for studios, casting agents, even the actors themselves. We are also beginning to apply the same model to brands.

Every marketer who’s even paying a little attention knows all this sharing is a goldmine for understanding public sentiment about all kinds of things, but there’s no clear gold standard yet. We think our methods give us a good shot at being that.

About Scott Montgomery

One of my favorite people in the world, and the man who teaches me so much about branding and advertising, is Scott Montgomery. Scott is Principal and Executive Creative Director of Bradley and Montgomery,  which has made both traditional and very untraditional advertising, branding and communications for clients like JPMorgan Chase, VH1, MTV, Knoll, Microsoft and many others.

He is also founder of, a firm that tracks and analyzes social media chatter for entertainment companies so they can tell if their movie or TV show will be a hit or a flop.

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