How Brands Participate in the Conversation at OMMA East

For the last two days, as most interactive marketers know, there have been two dueling interactive marketing conferences taking place in downtown NY about 5 minutes apart from one another.  The OMMA East event, sponsored by MediaPost and the Mixx Expo 2.6 event sponsored by IAB this year decided to choose the exact same days to hold their events rather than overlapping or separating as they have done in the past.  The result was many folks attending one event holding a bag from the other, many with two different name badges hanging around their necks and lots of conversation about what was at each event between marketers.  Most agreed that the OMMA event was larger and more attended, however the Mixx event seemed to feature many more actual clients (rather than just agency and industry folks).  The interesting positioning of the Mixx event was that it as the "official interactive event of Advertising Week."  As such, the event certainly drew many clients used to working with advertising agencies and had many panels focusing on ways of using online video and case studies.  The OMMA event, in contrast, featured numerous sessions on the finer points of interactive marketing – including search marketing and email marketing.  I spent more time at OMMA, mainly because I was part of the panel discussion titled "Rules of Engagement: How Brands Participate in the Conversation" and moderated by Pete Blackshaw from Nielson BuzzMetrics.

In our panel, we discussed the opportunities and pitfalls of brands getting involved in the conversation, shared some views on who is doing it well and who isn’t, debated where this new effort should fit within an organization’s marketing function, and how blogs should and shouldn’t be used to help a brand participate.  Some highlights from points that I shared from our experience in working with clients were:

  1. There is no "ideal owner" for social media initiatives within an organization, but there is definitely a first mover advantage where the individual with the passion for doing something with personal media often becomes the internal champion and leader of the effort.
  2. The "rules" of engagement for brands involve a three phase approach of listening, participating and leading.  The interesting nuance of this phased approach is that it is not necessary for every brand to become a leader.  For some, simply listening or participating may be the ideal solution to engaging in the conversation.
  3. A blog is not always the answer.  There are some situations where brands may realize far more effect from participating in existing dialogue than in launching their own blog – and though it may seem like the default way to have your own voice in the conversation, sometimes it is more important to find other ways to participate rather than adding just a soapbox online for your own opinion. 

In the two keynote speakers for OMMA on the first day, Rishad Tobaccowalla of Denuo and Ross Levinsohn of Fox Interactive Media (FIM), there was a highly relevant contrast of approaches that offers an interesting example of how brands are participating in the conversation.  Rishad started with an interesting (and somewhat controversial) view of the industry and in particular the terminology we have all become accustomed to.  In doing so, he demonstrated the kind of new and visionary thinking that has been a hallmark of his personal reputation and something that anyone who has heard him speak before would find very familiar.  Ross, in contrast, painted a very basic picture of the online industry — and struggled to convey FIM as an innovator and a company who "gets it" by repeatedly referencing his purchase of MySpace and the popularity of the Simpsons (not to mention is $6 billion dollar pocketbook to purchase anything else he wants).  In doing so, he pointedly sidestepped the real question … how FIM would do with keeping the popularity of MySpace on the rise while still adding advertising and trying to gain further revenue from the site.  Yahoo has set the example with their cautious approach to integrating a large brand into conversation by only agreeing to do smart ad campaigns into Flickr and having yet to do any significant advertising on del.icio.us.  FIM, on the other hand, wasted no time in commercializing MySpace and has plans to do more.  How brands participate in the conversation will continue to be a question of vital importance as social media continues to draw more attention from marketers.  Who are some other folks that are getting it right (or wrong)?

Note: This post is also published as a part of my ongoing contributions to the Digital Media Wire blog.

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