Will the House of Cards Stand?

Netflix released House of Cards Season Two this past Friday. Like other avante garde TV series from disruptive non-traditional networks, it created quite a stir. But does the show owe its buzz more to Netflix’s strategy of releasing a whole season at once than people actually watching the program?

Let’s be clear, Netflix generates a ton of publicity through its whole season release strategy (hat tip: Andy Sternberg). Even President Barack Obama is excited about the Washington drama.

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Given that word-of-mouth driven online buzz fuels as much if not more viewership than actual network promotions today, one could argue that House of Card‘s PR strategy, while buzzworthy may work against it in the long-term. Without a weekly episode, the program can’t maintain buzz through a season or a year.

Also what if competitors decide to follow suit and release whole seasons at once? Beyonce followed a similar surprise strategy with her most recent album. Will other television producers follow suit? Certainly, the strategy looses its sheen when others partake in the same approach.

But I don’t think Netflix has too much to worry about on that front. I’m not sure other networks will be quick to give up their weekly fix of viewer driven buzz. Let’s take a deeper look at some data.

Chatter versus Viewers

House of Cards Comparison

The above Google Trend analysis shows that other relatively well known newcomers from non-traditional networks are far outpacing Netflix’s House of Cards when it comes to search. The blue line is the TV show House of Cards, yellow is PBS’s Downtown Abbey, red is AMC’s The Walking Dead, and green is HBO’s Game of Thrones.

When people want to find out more about the show, it’s clear that the latter three shows are all benefitting from season long buzz with spikes depending on specific episodes (the massive green spike is the infamous Game of Thrones Red Wedding episode). House of Cards‘ social buzz and media hype is not translating to people seeking out the show through conventional search.

Tweet Chatter

The above chart measured the shows’ official hashtags on Sunday via Hashtags.org. the three shows that were active that weekend — House of Cards, Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead.

House of Cards enjoyed steady traffic compared to the spikes enjoyed by its competitors. In total, it doubled Downton Abbey‘s tweets for Sunday p.m., and achieved about 2/3 of The Walking Dead‘s. However, Monday traffic saw a significant drop, in spite of the federal holiday.

HouseDrop

House of Cards word-of-mouth buzz is not sustaining. I imagine as the weeks pass and the season release buzz fades, #houseofcards chatter will continue to lessen while its competitors will chug along with their weekly spike.

You can infer how the numbers might work out over a period of months. The other shows benefit from weekly releases in the overall cumulative total, while #HouseofCards will level out until its next season release.

It’s not that House of Cards isn’t a good show that may grow in viewership with more seasons. But its release strategy seems to be more of a gimmick than a sustainable method that can be applied across the entire media market. We have seen PR generate tremendous buzz in the past without producing business results. This might be another example.

Even Netflix may recognize the House of Cards release paradigm is not sustainable. The video on demand service will move to a gradual release strategy with its first kids program, Turbo Fast.

It doesn’t help that only 29 million people subscribe to Netflix with more than 20% of subscribers living abroad. But then again, HBO ony has 28 million.

The difference? HBO lets non-subscribers buy individual episodes as do PBS and AMC. House of Cards requires a Netflix subscription, which limits access to those who might be interested in the show sans the full service commitment.

What do you think about the House of Cards buzz?

So You Are a Marketer

Imagine this conversation.

“So, you are a marketer,” said the prospect. “In your mind, what makes your company stand out?”

“That’s right,” says Marketer X. “I have one of the most followed blogs in the business, I’ve written x book on marketing, and I have an extremely well followed Twitter account. That’s why brands like xx, xx, and xx trust my company with their digital marketing.”

“But your website doesn’t offer a responsive design,” said the prospect. She swipes her iPhone and shows Marketer X a painfully small rendition of Marketer X’s company blog/website. “Why not?”

Unfortunately for most marketers (and PR pros), they won’t have a chance to defend themselves because the prospect won’t give them a meeting.

This is the curse of digital. When you become wed to the medium, you must evolve with it. And though many have built businesses around digital, they are struggling to adapt to the mobile revolution.

You, see I wrote a blog post for Gravy analyzing top marketing and PR bloggers for their responsive design and social network presence. What I thought would be a quick research exercise turned into a three-hour odyssey. Many, many of the top voices in the business don’t offer a responsive, adaptive or a mobile specific website design.

This is in spite of smartphones outselling computers. Heck, mobile is driving 31% of all web traffic today, and that number will only grow.

The marketing digirati disconnect occurs in spite of blogs regularly citing how important mobile is becoming. Or that marketing consultants use mobile media throughout the day to maintain social networks. Or that they regularly sell digital media strategies.

It was shocking moving from site to site. Whether the website failed to offer any mobile design at all or a cheap WP Touch plugin bandaid — which was great in 2011, but not OK for 2014 — I left surprised.

Perhaps many of the voices offering marketing savoir faire are really just strong in social media with a grounding in a more traditional discipline. But like big data and the analytical skills it requires, mobile presents a new domain that’s often simply batched in as part of the overarching marketing mix. That’s a mistake.

The Necessity of Offers a Mobile Friendly Site

Mobile is not a new wrinkle. People interact with media differently using smartphones, which in turn requires new communication approaches.

The contextual marketing revolution that everyone is talking about pivots off of mobile location. It requires relevancy and a strict approach towards permission-based marketing. Further, to succeed you need to understand geofencing and how distance triggers different behaviors.

Many methods that work on a computer or even a tablet, don’t translate on a mobile phone. Here are a few examples: Long text pieces, a lack of rich media, comment centric media, and generally small calls to action (e.g. links and small buttons) that aren’t easily pressed on with a finger.

Instagram, Snapchat and Vine are rocking it in large part because of their simple nature and rich media formats. These types of short rich media posts work well on mobile platforms. Further, Twitter’s renaissance has as much to do with the rise of smartphones as it does with Jack Dorsey’s return to the helm.

Moving forward, 2014 is the year of separation. Clients will start qualifying vendors by their ability to deliver a mobile experience. And while most social media marketers don’t feature a responsive design for their consultancy, enough do. Part of qualifying marketers will include an analysis of their own mobile offerings, including responsive or adaptive website design.

In the post social media revolution era, talking responsiveness is cheap. Sites speak louder.

What do you think? Is a responsive, adaptive or mobile-specific site a must?

Image by Seron.

Social Results Will Stay Small

Social Integration CMO Survey
Chart Source: CMO Survey

If you think small, you stay small. That’s why companies and brands that treat social like a unique practice — a box within the larger whole — will struggle to achieve results and intangible outcomes.

Building seemless customer experiences should take the fore in all strategies. Yet according to the CMO Survey, the integration gap in companies is not closing, in spite of years of research showing that cross-tactic coordination produces more sales.

The struggle to achieve ROI and real business impact with new media strategies is a direct result of focusing on individual tactics. Rather than simply discuss integration, an easier approach may be to consider building from the customer’s viewpoint.

Customers don’t care about social, in-store, mobile, content marketing, white glove treatment for influencers, or any of the other strands of spaghetti you see strewn across the marketing blogosphere wall. They don’t care about integrated multi-channel approaches either.
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Beating the Algorithm

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Image by MUMA Monash

In the old days of “influencer relations” (you know way back when in 2009), PR professionals targeted the magic middle and top tier bloggers, which triggered larger blog coverage, and then more often than not traditional news media.

Since then digital media companies straddled the space occupied by both traditional journals and the top tier of bloggers. They use algorithms to detect hot news stories before they trend in the blogosphere, then break the news before traditional players and bloggers alike.

Specifically, Mashable, the Huffington Post, Forbes, Google and the others use algorithms listen to chatter on the social web. When hot trends bubble up they source the content provider, assign a reporter, or in the worst cases use narrative science — computer-based news writing — to break the story first.

This effectively takes power away from PR executives to affect the news cycle through traditional influencer outreach, and in turn, empowers the crowd to determine stories.

Some news outlets use the crowd to validate top stories, too. Validation is embodied by shares on social networks and comments.

For example, USA Today features stories on its web properties based on the posts that get shared the most. The old assignment editor loses weight in these scenarios.
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The End of the Social PR Revolution

Soup Lines
Image by OakleyOriginals

In building the program for xPotomac (February 25th), I sought to address a sea change in media evolution. That change spells the end for the social PR revolution, a marketing movement embodied by brand-led conversations over the past seven years.

We are currently experiencing a throttling of branded, online grassroots power. Specifically, it’s becoming harder and harder for marketers to be seen with branded earned media and social updates.

This evolution is best evidenced by the increasing role of owned and paid content placement (as discussed, content marketing is the 21st century nice description of advertising), and social or native advertising.

Other signs evidence this change, too. Social search and stronger policing of black hat SEO by Google has put a premium on paid search again. Facebook’s use of Edgerank to force companies and individuals alike to pay for attention is another harbinger of this fate.

The rise of big data and the forthcoming wearable computing revolution — themes that run throughout xPotomac — will cause a further throttling of online grassroots pipes.

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The Advertising vs. PR Debate Won’t Exist in 30 Years

Scott Blackmun, Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin, Heather O'Reilly, Christine Brennan
USOC Chair and Olympic Gold Medal Winners Scott Blackmun, Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin and Heather O’Reilly are interviewed by Christine Brennan.

Last Thursday night, USA Today celebrated its 30th birthday in grand fashion at the National Portrait Gallery. Media and Washington luminaries gathered to witness the introduction of the new multimedia USA Today, and discuss the future of media 30 years from now.

Olympians, politicians and even a budding rock star took the stage and weighed in from each of their profession’s perspective. Many focused on how technology was blurring the lines between in home and mobile, between small and large screen, and print and multimedia.

The conversation continued in a special section called USA Tomorrow with luminaries like Twitter and Square Founder Jack Dorsey discussing convergence of media and technology.

That was the big take-away for me, how convergence will force more fluid communication between people through media, even in politics. As this great discussion continued, I could not help but think about our side of the business, the dark side. Marketing.
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