Sunday, October 25, 2009
Reach, Sentiment, and "Balloon Boy"
All impressions are not equal, so it is important that metrics-obsessed marketers take care to consider subjective sentiment along with objective measures of scale. The difference between reach and sentiment can be demonstrated by assessing the impressions and attitudes generated by two recent newsmakers--Balloon Boy and Jaycee Dugard.
There isn't much that connects the stories of Falcon Heene and Jaycee Dugard, other than the way their stories captivated the hearts and attention of the nation. Heene, known as "Balloon Boy," was thought to be trapped inside an experimental balloon that became untethered, resulting in a chase watched live on cable news nets by almost 5 million people--double the usual number of viewers. Dugard reentered the national consciousness for the miraculous story of her safe return, eighteen years after she was kidnapped at the age of eleven.
These two news stories received terrific attention in the media, generating high awareness via sustained and repeated impressions. They have been featured prominently on national TV news, hit the front page of newspapers, and set the blogosphere and Twitterverse on fire. As a result, Falcon and Jaycee both became household names.
But even though the reach of these two hot stories are similar, the popular sentiment about the two couldn't be more different. Richard Heene, Falcon's dad, reportedly staged the balloon stunt in an attempt to land a reality TV show deal; instead he faces jail time and the loss of his children, and his reputation has been vilified everywhere from Twitter to editorial pages. Meanwhile, an outpouring of interest and goodwill continue to shower Jaycee Dugard; her story has been called "an inspiration" and her recent People magazine cover story is expected to be one of the year's best-selling magazines.
The backlash against Heene is so great that it may impact the use of children in reality television programs; conversely, Dugard's recent People cover story has resulted in an increase in news stories about and interest in horse therapy. Public sentiment about Heene and his stunt is so bad that many are blaming the media for covering the story in the first place; public sentiment for Dugard is so positive that Oprah for the first time ever asked her producer to get on the story and arrange an interview.
This certainly is an extreme example, but it effectively demonstrates how scale, in and of itself, is a pretty ineffective way to evaluate results in Social Media (or any marketing, for that matter). Tallying blog mentions of a brand or counting the tweets of a branded hashtag is nowhere near the same thing as measuring the impact of Social Marketing programs on consumer perception or purchase intent.
Marketers must be careful not to become Richard Heenes, attempting to spark buzz in any way possible in the mistaken belief that impressions matter and the end justifies the means. As Mr. Heene found, any Social PR is not good Social PR.