Sunday, December 2, 2012

Don't put a scarf on that cat just yet!! Consider your objectives and intention before tactics.

(Image credit: The Oatmeal)

In a comic entitled “How to get more likes on Facebook”, The Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman pokes fun at the increasing  inundation of requests for “likes”, “follows”, and provides a simple solution:

“Put your energy into making things that are LIKEABLE…create things that are hilarious, sad, beautiful, interesting, inspiring, or simply awesome.”

Ok, Oatmeal.  That sounds simple enough, but how do you know what’s likeable?  Some people love posting pictures of their babies and cats and every meal they ever eat, while others find these so redundant that they’re comical.  Some people even develop apps to filter out the things that other people love because they find these same "likeable" things to be tiresome and irritating.  While I agree with The Oatmeal, what he’s suggesting is a tactic, and it won’t be very successful without the back-work: Doing research, defining objectives, determining your audience, and developing key messages.

Perhaps I think that the best way to win the love of the whole internet is to post a picture of my cat in a jaunty Christmas scarf, and he will be widely adored and spread goodwill among all. Okay, Anastasia, slow down there, you’re jumping to tactics already, and you have no plan.  Let’s do some research – who is the whole internet?  No, who will I actually reach?  Is it just my friend pool on Facebook, and what do I know about their personal preferences around Christmas, cats, and scarves?  Or should I use another social media platform?  Wait a minute – what is my objective?  What do I want to accomplish here?  Do I want to spread laughter and goodwill? Send a heartfelt message to friends and build community?  Raise awareness of cats that aren’t as lucky as mine, and perhaps promote a local shelter? 
And let’s be serious here – I’m not going to reach the whole internet, so who are my audiences?  At what time of year are they most likely to be thinking about Christmas, cats, and scarves?  Is my cat even the best spokescat for this message, and is the scarf really necessary?  What values are held by my audience, what will resonate best with them?  Alright, I’ve read about the whole internet and the subsection that I want to reach, and I know what I want to tell them, I have a few key messages here, and an objective for raising awareness for the local shelter.  Maybe I should run this by a focus group of trusted friends.  In the end, what I say (with my cat picture and accompanying text) will need to be informed by this preliminary work if it’s going to be successful.  Determining your objective is like setting intent, and communication without intention is unlikely to result in any desired effect.

When I’m not busy contemplating cats and knitting them scarves, I work in a teen clinic at a local high school.  Recently, an education campaign aimed at youth called “Heads up?!” rolled through our clinic and many others.  It included videos, posters, and free condoms at teen clinics.  Last year, along with the condoms, they were also giving away free t-shirts, and I recall that the t-shirts were a big hit with the students. The slogan also seemed to resonate with the students, so from what I've seen, that aspect of the campaign was a result of successful background work and planning.  However, this year, they planned a draw offering a pair of tickets to the Twilight premiere.  I can't speak to its effectiveness as a whole, but this was widely met at my teen clinic with dismissal and derision.  After the first day of watching students snickering at this paltry offering, I asked some of my other colleagues who work with teens what they thought.  They generally agreed that the campaign missed the mark, demographically, and that the Twilight movie would appeal to a much younger group of students than those who were coming to the teen clinics.  I also wondered if there might be a difference in the interests of the 13-19 year olddemographic as a whole, and the subset of that demographic who are accessing teen clinics and becoming sexually active. Regardless, from where I'm standing, it does look like the tactic of offering Twilight tickets as a prize that would appeal to the youth missed the mark of their intended demographic, and as a result, the campaign lost some credibility as being fun, relevant, and relatable. 

While overall, Twilight may be likeable, it’s not likeable for all, and the same goes for Christmas cats in scarves.  Although content may be king (or queen), it still needs to be relevant, and that can’t be known without prior research, knowledge of the audience, and clear objectives and intention. Without the back-work, how will you know if your message is really, truly, likeable?

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