You work in an agency, your client comes to you and says, "we gotta do something on Twitter!" How do you react? Reverse Engineering in a 2.0 World presenter Ryan Wolman suggests going back to the basics of what the client's brand is, what their objectives are and then deciding what tools to use. Wolman warns not to jump into the wet waters of social media with both feet until you understand why you're going there and what you hope to achieve.

Ryan shared with us some "ugly truths" about social media:

  • Most viral campaigns don't go viral.
  • Consumers aren't interested in watching your commercial online.
  • Subservient Chicken didn't sell any chicken (but that's not to say it wasn't valuable communication).
  • Most corporate viral stuff isn't effective.

Why the shortcomings? Wolman says it's because most brands are lazy -- effective communication takes work. How do you make it work? Here are Wolman's suggestions:

  • Understand that not all brands are cool. It's easier to create a social media phenomenon around Nintendo than around Tide. 
  • If you're the owner of an uncool brand, it's still possible to create a viral success, but it probably will mean stepping outside of your brand's comfort zone.
  • There must be something in it for your audience -- entertainment, prizing, reward points, etc.
  • Plan for a follow-up. If your campaign is successful, be ready to use your new audience in some way. Sign them up for alerts or subscribe them to receive next week's viral video. If you don't plan to follow up, your piece will fall flat and you'll have to start from scratch the next time. As an example of a campaign that fell flat, Ryan noted the bride wig-out video that rose to popularity a few years ago, but wasn't followed up. On the other hand, Dove's evolution video was part of a larger "campaign for real beauty" which is still alive and kicking two years later.

Wolman warned that clients and agencies must both understand that there will be delayed gratification for social media projects, but that this balances out positively with the measurable nature of interactive -- in the end you will know what worked and how well online better than on any other medium. He encouraged us all to share the numbers behind successes and failures with our teams so everyone can improve for the next campaign.  Wolman stated, "it doesn't matter how pretty something is if it didn't work."

The key takeaway from the session was this: know the brand, know what and to whom you're trying to communicate and then decide what interactive strategy will reach your goals. Viral videos may be cheaper than media buys, but if a viral video doesn't support your brand strategy, it's still money wasted.