It’s Always Darkest Before the Torrent of Retweets

Posted by: in Analytics, Austin Social Media, Communication Strategy, Facebook, Insights, Social Media Insights & Trends, Thinking Creatively, Thought Leadership on February 5, 2013

How did @Oreo’s SuperBowl blackout tweet get so popular?

It’s likely you’ve already heard that this simple tweet from @Oreo garnered more retweets (over 15K one day after the game) and attention than all of the multi-million dollar ads of SuperBowl XLVII. Perhaps you’ve read about how they were prepared to act at a moment’s notice by positioning their Oreo executives and legal counselors with their social media agency, which enabled them to produce creative content and get the go-ahead just minutes after the power outage interrupted the game. Certainly, this was excellent execution for a brand that had purchased a SuperBowl ad since it set up a social media listening and response center that was available during the game and able to produce clever and captivating content.

Yet, what was it about this social media play that “worked” so well?

What we as marketers are always vying for is attention. And everything is vying for everyone’s attention all the time, more and more frequently.It used to be said, “Knowledge is power.” Today, though, 79% of Americans use the Internet at least monthly (84% of those go online daily) with 50% of U.S. adults owning a smartphone and 19% a tablet (both growing quickly). As one of those in the lucky 50%, I can tell you I no longer rack my brain trying to remember some bit of arcane knowledge or argue with friends about trivia. I pull out my phone, and I Google it wherever I am. So, in a world where everything the Internet knows is literally at my fingertip, I ask: is knowledge still power? (Ok, I’ll give you trivia isn’t exactly power. Experience, understanding and mastery of a subject is very different from simply Googling a topic, of course, but I trust you see what I’m getting at.)

The basis of the idea that knowledge is power might arguably be that knowledge or “information” was something that was once relatively scarce, costly and difficult to obtain. At one time, nearly only monks in cloisters had access to hand-copied books, so there was essentially a tiny elite of educated people who had access to knowledge. The printing press democratized the book, thus radically expanding the number of people with that access. Arguably, this didn’t change significantly until the advent of “The Information Age,” which brought a shift from industrialized production to digital means of production. But what of the new Mobile edition of “The Internet Age?” This has further democratized access to knowledge to the extent that vast quantities of information are essentially free.

We have moved on to a moment now where we are, in fact, so continuously bombarded by information that what is most scarce is actually our attention. We are so busy, so distracted (“Squirrel!”), so consumed by the unending stream of news/entertainment/e-mails/multi-tasking/social media/ring tones/second screens/etc. that something must be radically different from everything we’ve grown accustomed to before we’ll grant it our attention.

Except sports…

It may have been precisely the thrill of seeing how The Big Game was going to turn out that drove such a large number of us (about a third of Americans) to collectively focus our attention on the SuperBowl this year. And there we were, captivated by a thrilling match that was going somewhat against the odds-makers’ predictions, when the power went out… a perfect opportunity to fill a huge void where so much attention was being focused. Oreo wasn’t the only brand that tried to fill that void. In fact, Twitter reported that within 4 minutes of the power outage, brands had started to bid up the term “power outage” in Twitter’s search. While some viewers may have clicked over to Animal Planet’s PuppyBowl, the power outage quickly became the most tweeted moment of the game. Seeing the tide surging, smart brands tried to find a way to quickly ride the wave.

Oreo may have had the cleverest content of the bunch, but in the end that content worked because of the CONTEXT of the situation. They capitalized on the fact that so much of our attention was focused on the same thing at that moment. Sometimes it may not be about having the most captivating, innovative, funny, or heartwarming content, but instead about having the best-positioned, solid content at the right place and the right time that makes the thing go viral. Either way, we’re now in “The Attention Age,” and there’s no going back.

Agree, or disagree? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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