Madonna, Snapchat and the Art of Discovery

This is probably more of a thought than a post but two things struck me over Madonna’s release of her latest video on Snapchat:

    1. Good for her. The stigma of Snapchat being an app of unsavory content and mischief is old and tiresome. They have a userbase that exceeds 100 million with 1 in 5 U.S. social media users using it and 71% of all users being under the age of 25.
    1. Pioneering the Discover feature on Snapchat means some growing pains but could ultimately pay off. The assumption is Madonna released the video to stay relevant with Snapchat’s demographic. I think the strategy was more complex than that.

According to  a Consumer Trends survey by the Recording Industry Association of America, the 45+ age group is actually the largest music buying demographic. Madonna using the medium means reaching a new audience of 20 somethings while bringing a new demographic to Snapchat with Gen X. If she extends her relationship with the social network, using features such as My Story, Madonna could give unprecedented real-time access into her life, her tour, and her music all the while keeping this new demographic of Snapchat users engaged as she reintroduces herself and her relevance to new fans.

So when you combine those two stats, you kind of get tweets like this:

The learning curve for Snapchat isn’t easy, however, the value proposition delivered in the case of a brand (In this instance Madonna) releasing exclusive content through Discovery is compelling. Discovery’s UX is very simple and straight forward, and the experience feels both real-time and exclusive. PSFK has a great overview of the feature that I recommend checking out.

Gary Vaynerrchuck made the comment on a LinkedIn post that Snapchat is a media company now. I don’t think they’ve ever pretended to be anything other than that however. They just evolved. People are media just as media is media. On a platform that can scale content from 1 to 1 to 1 to many, Snapchat is proving that evolution doesn’t need to take place over a millennium.

How Tommey Walker Turned Detroit Into A Movement

I’ve referred to Detroiters as masochists. We’ve seen our industries collapse bankrupting our city in the process, with widespread corruption inside our local government to boot. We’ve been a national punchline for Congressmen and comedians alike. Yet there’s a certain je ne sais quioi in terms of Detroit’s public image and designer turned entrepreneur Tommey Walker perspicaciously capitalized on the very undefinable elements that make his label DETROIT VS EVERYBODY one of the hottest national global clothing brands of the year.

So as marketers, what can we learn from Tommey Walker? Well for one, he created a movement that every company, from clothing goods to electronics and automobiles should be envious of. While putting on my best Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point hat, I’ll attempt to explain how celebrities from Ricky Ross to Stephen Colbert to Keith Urban brought national attention to a fledgling clothing company with a small storefront in the heart of Detroit.

The Three Laws For Creating a Tipping Point-Like Movement

Law 1. Invoke Intimacy Through The Law of the Few

When Walker decided to open a storefront in Greektown, a historic commercial and entertainment district in Detroit, he did so in a small space on the third floor of a mixed retail/commercial building. His actual location was nondescript in every sense of the way, where if patrons weren’t huddled in to find a shirt in their size, you’d probably think you were in the wrong location. The message on his apparel was so powerful, and resonated with so many Detroiters, that it created the equivalence of a hipster scavenger hunt. You weren’t going to find DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY hoodies in your suburban Urban Outfitters store.  No, you had to work to be a part of this inclusive movement. His customers didn’t mind however, and considered it a right of passage to joining the cause Tommey Walker had created.

Gladwell refers to this as “The Law of the Few”.’s Ashley Crossman explains that “Gladwell argues that the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts. This is the Law of the Few.”

The three types of people who fit this description? They’re referred to as Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen.

  • Mavens are individuals who spread influence by sharing their knowledge with friends and family. Their adoption of ideas and products are respected by peers as informed decisions and so those peers are highly likely to listen and adopt the same opinions.
  • Connectors know a lot of people. They gain their influence not through expertise, but by their position as highly connected to various social networks. These are popular individuals whom people cluster around and have a viral capacity to showcase and advocate new ideas, products, etc.
  • Salesmen are individuals who naturally possess the power of persuasion. They are naturally charismatic and their enthusiasm rubs off on those around them.

Mavens include Detroit Free Press editor Stephen Henderson, who joined Colbert on the air to defend Detroit, presenting him with mainstream America’s first look at a DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY hoodie to open their conversation. Walker has been quoted on record saying the hoodie on Colbert was a watershed moment for the brand, increasing sales significantly online thereafter.

Connectors include rappers Eminem and Big Sean who took the clothing label and brought it to the forefront of society’s conscience in their own unique way, including limited edition SHADY VS. EVERYBODY apparel.

Salesmen include the DJ’s, musicians, athletes, and local celebrities who turned a t-shirt slogan into a rallying cry.

Law 2. The Stickiness Factor

Gladwell refers to the stickiness factor as a unique quality that causes the phenomenon to “stick” in the minds of the public and influence their behavior. Taking the concept of the stickiness factor further, Dan and Chip Heath wrote an entire book on the concept called Made to Stick. In the book, the Heath brothers create an acronym that best defines how one creates a sticky idea:

  • Simple — find the core of any idea
  • Unexpected — grab people’s attention by surprising them
  • Concrete — make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later
  • Credible — give an idea believability
  • Emotional — help people see the importance of an idea
  • Stories — empower people to use an idea through narrative

It goes without saying that Tommey Walker’s clothing label successfully indexes high on the stickiness factor.

Law 3. The Power Of Context

In previous interviews Walker mentioned that in his travels, he personally observed a lack of respect for Detroit. At one point in his life, he helped define Detroit rapper and fellow Cass Tech high school alumni Big Sean’s fashion style, only to see other musicians copy him without paying homage. The perpetual feeling of Detroit constantly having its back against the wall was easy to manifest into a mission statement. If I were to take a stab at it, I’d probably go with something like this:

By creating a brand that reinforces the spirit of Detroit: an attitude that conveys feelings of accomplishment, regardless of the objects that stand in the way of achieving one’s goals.

Gladwell refers to The Power of Context as the environment or historical moment in which the trend is introduced. If the context is not right, it is not likely that the tipping point will take place. When taking the bankruptcy, the political upheaval, the nation’s disparaging comments about the city and its people, there may have been no better time to turn a statement based on defiance into a national rallying cry.

What’s Next?

It’s a million dollar question. Walker’s sales continue to grow stronger, with recent expansions outside of his Greektown store, into the posh suburbs of Detroit. Tommey Walker is the type of entrepreneur Detroit rallies around. He has created a tipping point with DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY, developing a social purpose through The Power of Context, creating a social movement grounded in The Law of the Few, and embraced social outcomes through The Stickiness Factor of his messaging. It’s my opinion Walker is here to stay, and I can’t wait to see what he thinks of next.

In the meantime, you can count me in to represent my city:

Detroit Vs. Everybody

Saving Sears: How to Reclaim America’s Love Affair With An Iconic Retailer


Imagine a world where Steve Jobs announced the first iteration of the iPod and never evolved the product any further.

Imagine if Amazon stopped innovating after 1-click ordering.

Imagine Nike capping its success with the Air Jordan line of sneakers and never produced another line beyond the originals.

As preposterous as these examples sound, this is the conundrum facing some of the largest retailers in the world today. Somewhere in the planning process they closed their eyes, resulting in consumer indifference and a correlated sharp decline in revenue. Can these big box retailers be rescued or is the evolution of shopping forcing them to extinction?

Paradise Lost in a Parking Lot

There may not be a brand in graver danger today than Sears.  Yesterday, they announced they were closing their flagship Chicago location in April.  A multitude of experts – from marketers to financial analysts have opined on the 120-year-old brand’s woes. From the shuttering of stores to being cited for urban blight, Sears didn’t move with enough agility when marketing trends shifted and they’re paying for it, literally. According to Mamta Badkar of Business Insider, for the full year ending February 1, 2014, Sears managements expects a net loss between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion.

It’s gotten so bad that independent retail analyst Brian Sozzi all but closed the doors on the brand when he published a recent article that Sears exerts an extremely low retail capital expenditure of 0.9% (In contrast to Macy’s ratio of 3.4% in 2012.), complete with empty store shelves, randomly placed sales items without context, and mannequins wearing drab outfits that seemed to convey a feeling of submission to good fashion.

Sozzi’s drive to paint a dreadfully bland picture of the retailer may have stemmed from the company disputing his 2011 proclamation that,  “There’s no reason to go to Sears. It offers a depressing shopping experience and uncompetitive prices.”

Sadly, Brian Sozzi is right.

Despite the company taking exception to finger pointing, offering a rebuttal that included listing assets such as inventory, real estate and “valuable proprietary brands such as Kenmore and Craftsman”, consumers have failed to connect with a brand that once proclaimed that it “serves as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living.”

As Sozzi points out through editorial and photographs, a brand can be quickly undermined with a series of negative occurrences.

Substantiating this point, Scott Deming explores the concept of defining a brand n his book “The Brand Who Cried Wolf” through aggregated experiences – the collected impressions of a number of experiences. One bad experience can do more damage than a series of good ones. As Deming explains “After all, our ability to survive is connected not just to learning over time what’s good for us, but more important, to learn very quickly what to avoid.”

Despite a mountain of negativity, the retailer is attempting to reverse the shopper Diaspora with a creative way of both poking fun of itself while hoping to entice shoppers to once more give Sears a chance through an ad that made light of the ample parking available in the empty lots that surround their stores.  The ad is memorable but quite possibly for all the wrong reasons.  Highlighting the Kardashians line of fashion, one has to ask, is their declining star power a contributing factor for the lack of shopper’s attention? Their merchandise isn’t moving, leading to steep price cuts and further placing the brand out-of-touch with today’s shoppers. Why dress like Kim when you can wear Peter Pilotto and Christopher De Vos via Target’s collection?

I’m not exclusive to opining on the topic of Sears. As marketer Valeria Maltoni references in her blog post on the topic, when prompted with the question would you miss Sears? I can only assume most would shrug their shoulders and move on to the next retailer.

But it shouldn’t be this way.

A History of Greatness

To the surprise of a generation of shoppers, Sears was great once. Renowned for recording the changing scene in America through its catalogs, Sears was a pioneer upon its inception. Scoff if you like, but there would be no Jeff Bezos if not for Sears. Amazon may have caused a stir by delivering a Nissan recently, but the concept of buying anything through a catalog including automobiles started with Sears, Roebuck and Company. Between 1908 – 1912, Lincoln provided vehicles under the name “Sears Motor Buggy” for delivery via railroad. And in 1953, Sears offered a badge engineered Kaiser – Frazer sedan called the Allstate to its customers.

Sadly, that spirit of the entrepreneur has long been forgotten, replaced by an expectation that relevancy be based on their long historical relationship with consumers. However, the competitive nature of today’s retail environment casts a perception of lumbering old brick and mortar where nimble, insight driven online savvy shopping sites can flank anchor stores through hyper-aggressive pricing, instant rewards, and social shopping experiences.

In order for Sears to have a fighting chance at survival, they must think differently.

Reinvention or Reclamation?

CEO Edward Lampert has nothing to lose. With shareholders and media/analysts targeting his company’s demise, it’s time to take a radically new approach and part ways from decades past.  I’m a firm believer that the best ideas come out of the most desperate of times and Sears should challenge the very conventions of the shopper experience today.

My goal is to extrapolate the great ideas I’ve discovered during my due diligence on the topic of saving this once iconic brand.

Introduce a Culture Shift

I’ve admittedly never worked for Sears so I can’t comment on direct experiences as an employee of the company. I can however use social networks such as Glass Door to gain insights into the mindsets of those who have. Currently based on input from Sears employees, both current and former, Edward Lampert has an approval rating of 17% with just 31% of Sears employees willing to recommend Sears to a friend.

Conversely, Macy’s CEO Terry J. Lundgren has a 65% approval rating on Glass Door. Target’s CEO Gregg W. Steinhafel? A 72% approval rating.

Thomson Dawson pointed out in his piece on the retailer that “Retail knowledge is not the core problem for Sears – it’s the investment banker management culture that has over time sucked the value out of these brands. Profit has been placed above serving people with experiences they care about.”

This may sound familiar. In the early 2000’s, Six Sigma CEO practitioner Bob Nardelli led Home Depot down the long road to eliminate the company’s most valuable capital: its orange-apron employees. Empty aisles, deplete of passionate subject matter experts removed the one variable that drove Home Depot’s revenues for so long: trust. Trust equaled revenue and it was an unaccounted for, unpredictable asset that was quickly replenished once Frank Blake took the company over.

As Business Insider’s Paula Rosenblum explains in her article Home Depot’s Resurrection: How One Retailer Made Its Own Home Improvements, the home improvement retailer used the recession to retool its business, paying close attention to economic trends – targeting women more frequently verses contractors of past, and understanding the projects that most home owners were undertaking during hard economic times. Most importantly, they put a focus on helping people, going so far as sales associates assisting a customer through the purchase process all the way to the cash register. Is it laborious? Yes. Does it impact positive brand affinity? Absolutely so!

It’s been noted that the parts may be more valuable than the whole at Sears. Brands such as Kenmore Appliances, Craftsman tools, and Lands End apparel have stronger brand equity in the eyes of consumers than the parent company.  Sears needs to consider this a significant competitive advantage and reinvent itself through those three core brands. Focus efforts on areas of strength and diligently work to converting brand apologists into brand advocates. While it’s difficult to change the mentality of a part-time, sometimes transient workforce, the example to serve customers should be embraced top-down.

Take Craftsman tools as an example. With a reputation for being some of the best in the industry, Sears should take a page out of Home Depot’s playbook and offer how-to instructionals on the weekends. Consumers are keeping their cars an average of 11 years, and as such, are starting to find ways to keep their cars on the road while undertaking basic automotive maintenance work in their own garages. Sears has the opportunity to sell product (Craftsman tools), service (Sears Auto Center) and advocacy (Sears taught me how to change my oil).  Lowes and Home Depot haven’t infiltrated the automotive space yet. Sears still owns it and can continue to own it by making subtle shifts in their approach while putting their product, people and presence in the community front and center.

To reiterate, service is the differentiator – just look at Nordstroms, Zappos or Starbucks. In fact, preserving a culture meant so much to Starbucks that when Howard Schultz returned as CEO, he shut all of his stores down for three days to retrain his baristas and thus, through his employees, convey his commitment to the quality and consistency Starbucks built its reputation on.

I should walk into a Sears and be met consistently with the most knowledgeable, passionate experts in each respective department. That tone is set at the top but executed flawlessly at a local level.

Let Data Be Your Guide

It’s no secret Sears is transitioning from physical stores to online retail. That shouldn’t deter the brand from leveraging its stores in ways online-exclusive competitors can’t.

British design firm FITCH has gone through a reinvention of sorts itself over the last few years to adjust for what they refer to as a SPLINTERED customer purchase journey. By dividing the consumer experience into three areas: Locating, Exploring and Dreaming, they have identified a way to unify the customer experience.

This means assuring that marketing, retail and real estate teams work collectively rather than in isolation, or worse still, in competition with each other.

For example, I think we’d all be in agreement that today’s consumer is ‘always on’. The discovery of a new outfit no longer takes place in-store. In fact it may not transpire on a PC or laptop. It’s more likely to take place on a mobile device. In a cohesive SEAMLESS experience, a customer may begin their journey browsing their favorite fashion blog on their iPhone while on a commute. Through contextually placed content, Sears uses relevant cues (geographical, cultural, emotional, etc.) to entice our customer to click on a promotion for a new outfit. Based on geotargeting, we discover the outfit is on sale and in stock at a local location, which is five minutes and one bus stop away. Our customer is presented with an option of placing the outfit on hold and as an added incentive, is provided an offer for a percentage off if purchased within the hour.

Entering our local Sears, our customer sees a radically different yet intuitive layout in a store with a much smaller footprint. As they enter, iBeacon recognizes our shopper using  micro-location context, welcoming and informing them as to where in-store they can pick up their outfit. Unbeknownst to our customer, she discovers an up-and-coming local designer designed the outfit with roots in their hometown. The sterile mannequins Brian Sozzi shot photos of have been replaced with brand based installations that offer to share the story of our designer and the impetus behind their collection. There’s even a barcode scan option to share the video with friends.  All of this is designed to establish a direct relationship with the customer.

Prior to purchase, our sales associate is informed of our customer’s check-in and is prepared to offer accessories that compliment the outfit through an e-commerce suggestion engine such as Aggregate Knowledge, which compiles aggregate consumer data to analyze consumer e-commerce purchases.

Post-purchase, Sears social media CSR’s monitor for positive posts on popular social networks, prepared to share with the broader Sears online community. As a thank you for posting a photo of the outfit on Instagram tagged #SearsFashion, our customer receives a bogo coupon for their next purchase.

Believe it or not, this is not a pie in the sky approach. Marketing and advertising executives have been chiming in on the flat retail experience, voicing for a change in thinking. Lee Carpenter, CEO of Interbrand North America was quoted as saying, ”E-commerce brands use data to create a one-on-one relationship with shoppers that can scale through technology. This model must translate to physical stores, and blend together into an omnichannel experience with the brand as the consistent thread.”

It’s no longer about online verses offline shopping, it’s just shopping and Sears should be at the forefront of this amalgamation.

Conclusion – Be More Like Lewis & Clark

Large anchor stores like Sears are not and should not go extinct, but the business model that sustained them is out-dated. Today’s retail customer wants to be stimulated. They need retailers to offer them the breadcrumbs necessary to spark constant reinvention. Macy’s would call this “Magic”, Lowe’s would call it “Never Stop Improving”.  Sears needs to reach deep down and decide how it wants to communicate its values to its customers. This should be a time of rebirth for Sears and that means a deep dive into exploration – new consumer targeting models, new store layouts, new ways of achieving customer satisfaction. It’s never easy to evolve, and in the past Sears has opted to buy verses build, first attempting to acquire Home Depot in the early 1980’s and most recently an attempt to purchase Restoration Hardware in 2007.

After decades of remaining stagnant, we’re now at a cross section of DIY culture meets Americana. It should be cool to shop at Sears. They just have to give us a reason to do so.

Unapologism and the New Brand World


“iPhone 5C is beautifully, unapologetically plastic. Multiple parts have been reduced to a single polycarbonate component whose service is continuous and seamless.” – Jony Ivey, Apple

I’ve been obsessing over that quote since it entered into mainstream discussions amongst marketers, PR practitioners and consumers alike. Weeks later, during the debates between analysts as to whether the 5C is a failure (It’s far from being a flop.), a sliver of insight seems to have been lost on everyone: Apple’s ushering in what I’m deeming “The Age of Unapologism”.

Since Jony Ivey’s famous on-camera proclamation that plastic is sexy, there’s been a subtle paradigm shift in how brands are beginning to approach the positioning of their products to the public. After years of agency strategists encouraging brands to “co-create products with your greatest advocates” it seems as though brands are taking their power back without remorse. In a sense, I’ve relieved.

Like Social Media, This is Nothing New

Apple’s decision to take a stand with the 5C harkens back to marketing in the 90’s where brands would offer a market-led, superior value position to their customers. It’s hard to believe but one of the prime pillars of brand-to-consumer communication 20 years ago centered around quality, and with good reason. Quality is a “…concept laden with emotion, relating strongly to personal feelings of success, failure, self-esteem and meeting others expectations.”

When focusing on improving quality, such as in Ivey’s description of the 5C, it stimulates powerful positive feelings when it is associated with change, innovation, new possibilities, opportunity and break-through.

Admittedly, not every brand is Apple. But brands that have shied away in recent years from the very attributes they’ve built their reputations on, are hitting the reset button and embracing what they’re known best for.

Social Media forced brands to find their conscience. Unapologism will force brands to find their hearts.

The Controversy With Pixelated Pitchmen

If Bruce Lee were alive today, what would he command as a pitchman for top brands? For comparison sake,  Tiger Woods drove $78.1 million over the last year from prize money, endorsements, appearance fees and golf course design work.

Conversely, Oprah made $165 million dollars last year attributed to O: The Oprah Magazine, spin-off shows like The Dr. Oz Show and a radio deal with Sirius.

Lee was charismatic, drawing universal appeal across race, ethnicity and geography. Shrines built to his athleticism, it’s easy to imagine brands such as Nike making him the face of a “Just Do It” campaign. If I close my eyes, I could imagine the swoosh on the yellow jumpsuit, the voiceover with his famous quote “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

See, Bruce Lee was on brand. Drawing parallels to his personal mantra, “Just Do It” means don’t think, don’t ask, don’t talk about it, don’t regret it, just do it. The visual display of Lee’s 1″ punch at say 4700 frames per second, alongside this motto coincide with this notion. Lee could have been the ultimate Nike pitchman.

But what happens when you’re off brand? That’s the current controversy surrounding Johnnie Walker’s tribute to the greatest martial artist to ever live. Considered polemical by some, Lee comes to life, with a 3D image of his face superimposed upon another man, Hong Kong actor Danny Chan. The creative team worked diligently to recreate over 250 of his facial expressions.

The ad didn’t just require high precision – which it accomplished. it needed to be credible- which it also accomplished.

And maybe therein lies the issue. Johnnie Walker brought Bruce Lee back to life. The work so well done, it’s indistinguishable from the reality of the fact he hasn’t been alive for 40 years. For all intents and purposes, the advertisement should be a strong player in Cannes. So why are so many fans viscerally offended?

Because Bruce Lee didn’t drink alcohol.

Yet the brand found value in what Lee stood for.

Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon, hired as a consultant by the whiskey company,  has been vocal in defense of the likeness in the commercial, referring to it as a tribute. Additionally she mentioned to the South China Morning Post, that alcohol wasn’t shown in the 90 second ad and that her father “…did not have a problem with people who drink occasionally…He was never knocking drinks out of people’s hands if they were having an enjoyable time…”

Lee isn’t the first to be enshrined as a digital copy of one’s self. There was ConAgra’s attempts at resuscitating Orville Redenbacher, and Coachella bringing Tupac out on stage to perform with Snoop Dogg. Even Michael Jordan got to play one-on-one with himself during a Gatorade commercial.

However in those instances, belief wasn’t suspended, it was just on brief pause. Johnnie Walker, in my opinion, brought Lee back from the grave to help them sell whiskey. More so, they used his likeness to sell whiskey while speaking Mandarin – Lee’s native language was Cantonese.

Brands need to be reminded that the stewards of the brand can be as cherished by the public as the brand itself. Johnnie Walker uses Lee’s infamous “Longstreet” monologue as inspiration for its voiceover,  concluding as the digitized Lee stares intensely at the camera to “Be water, my friend”.

While the ad is based around these famous lines, using the theme of the power of water as a parallel for the glory and stature of the icon, it’s easy to see another link in a twist of unintended irony, between water and pixels.

Running water never grows stale. Let’s hope that the same can be said for the future of advertising.

Social Media and the Hierarchy of Trust


This morning I walked through my typical online regiment before starting my day. Looked at Outlook, browsed my Facebook updates, looked at Twitter and scanned Reddit. It was a post on Reddit however that stuck out like a sore thumb.

Another brand lay victim to the Internet.

No, I’m not talking about that company who is welcoming Pitbull to Kodiak, Alaska with open arms (and a really warm jacket). There was another, who I’ll spare further embarrassment by naming them. All you need to know is they had a naming contest for a product and it went awry when they didn’t monitor the responses fast enough. Based on the names submitted without filters, by this morning their site had offended:

  • Senior Citizens
  • An ethnicity
  • America

Easily containable had someone been monitoring but they weren’t,  and before you could say “meme”, it was on the front page of a site that reaches 2 million unique visitors per month.Laugh if you like, but before you decry that you’ll never fall into the same traps as previous brands, let’s come to a mutual understanding: you will. Unequivocally without question, if you’re working for a Fortune 500 with multiple facets of your marketing/communications organization, there is little doubt that at some point someone will commission a small program unbeknownst to you that will cause a similar kerfuffle. The challenge is, can you mitigate it. Here’s how:

1. Understand Your Hierarchy of Trust

Yes I just dropped your new favorite soon to be social media cliche but hear me out. When I worked for RAPP under a joint venture called Measure2x (measure twice, get it?), we had an opportunity to partner with our big sister company to develop a strategy on how Pharma could leverage social media. In my role I was fortunate to work with complete braniacs when it came to strategy and analysis. One such colleague, Mark Kaplan, had developed a really simple graphic that conveyed what we were pitching. Based on a pyramid, we showed that the lower on the base you were, the less trust you had of your community. Conversely, the higher up you were, the more trust you had.

Examples? Well on the low end, think of an engagement that required your community to work with existing content – maybe it’s a photo voting contest or a like gating engagement on Facebook; ultimately the purpose of base pyramid tactics is to mitigate as much risk as possible while still offering a level of engagement.

In the center of the pyramid you have moderate inputs. Tactics such as submitting ideas into a queue where you still control publishing. The words are authentically part of your community yet you’ve established rules for assuring those voices adhere to whatever requirements were necessary for visibility.

At the top of the pyramid I look at campaigns that bring unfiltered engagement to the table. You as a brand create the destination and your community provides the content.  Or, probably more appropriately, your brand creates the content and your community provides the destination.

2. Publish Your Rules of Engagement

Take lessons from your creative colleagues. How many times have you seen a Creative Director aghast when a photo of a product you sell was shot wrong. Regardless of what you think, there is a reason why that Creative is freaking out: the brand. He/She lives it, eats it, breaths it…and you’re messing with it.

Same rules apply for social programs. Publish and merchandise across your organization. Make sure your company knows where you stand on running programs that may inherently lead to situations of discomfort and then explain how you’ll mitigate them. In a bottom-pyramid scenario, you can argue that unless you have a critical mass large enough, you may need to use disruptive tactics to build awareness of your program. This is fine and dandy, but you still should think strategically on your approach. Hell, a SWOT works if you really need to think through that awesome idea. Elf Yourself? Epic. F Yourself? Possible if you’re not careful.

3. Do Not Embrace Honey Badger. See Something? Say Something

I lived in New Jersey. I took a train to Manhattan every day for more than half a decade. Everywhere you looked you’d see signs in and around Penn Station that if you noticed something suspicious, don’t keep it to yourself, tell the authorities.

Same applies for social marketing. If you see the slightest instance of mischief about your brand’s related to a campaign, don’t just sit on your hands, notify someone. Set up Google Alerts, create a twitter column dedicated to your campaign, keep staff glued to moderation. Whatever it takes, watch it like a hawk. If for whatever reason you decide to let your community engage without your involvement to an owned brand page or application, you need to be prepared to respond in the chance things go awry.

Last but not least, you never want to be in a position where, as a redditor put it today “Oh god – we invited the internet and they showed up. WTF do we do now?”

The Internet is awesome. Just have a plan before you jump into the fray.