jason oke

If you’re not in awe, you’re not paying attention.

The grammar of social media

For a social media presentation I’ve been looking at how different brands use twitter. One of the most revealing comparisons I came across is Hillary Clinton’s campaign vs Barack Obama’s (yes I’m Canadian, but I’m also kind of a US political junkie).

They’re both on twitter, and both use it well – regular updates, often a few times a day, along with calls to action and links to interesting press coverage or videos. Of course I’m guessing neither one of them is actually doing the updating, it’s likely an aide or intern in their campaigns. Which is a shame because the idea of a future POTUS whipping out their phone and saying “hold on, I just HAVE to twitter this” is kind of funny.

But there’s one big difference: if you sign up to follow Barack Obama’s updates, his campaign immediately signs up to follow you. So now he has over 33,000 followerers – and also follows over 33,000 people. Hillary Clinton doesn’t follow anyone – she has 4,000 followerers, and follows 0 people. Now there are clearly some demographic differences there (Clinton supporters tend to be older, Obama supporters tend to be younger, more tech-savvy, and also more loyal and enthusiastic) but I’m guessing that a big part of the difference is explained by the fact that Obama reciprocates the act of following.

It’s a small thing, and I’m sure most people realize that it’s a token gesture: he and his campaign aren’t actually sitting there reading each of our updates. But it’s an important gesture that shows he understands the grammar of social media. Clinton is basically using twitter as another broadcast medium; Obama is using it as a tool for connecting with people on an individual level.

In any social media, there’s an important psychological trigger that happens when someone subscribes to follow your updates – it’s validating, it’s rewarding, it makes people feel in some small way that they matter. In this case it also creates its own word of mouth, because it changes the conversation from “I signed up to follow Hillary Clinton’s updates” to “Barack Obama is following me on Twitter!” – really, which one is someone more likely to say?

Obama’s act of reciprocation also has one other side effect: because twitter shows thumbnail images of the people you follow on your page, Obama’s page now has a huge sidebar of images of people which makes the page feel more grassroots and more like a community. It makes it seem more like you’re joining something.

Does your brand understand the grammar of social media? In another post I’ll share a bit more from my presentation.

Filed under: Social networks, Trends

The herd at poolside

I’m on vacation right now (hence the recent lack of posts) but was sitting by the pool at my hotel the other day and noticed something funny – some Herd/Duncan Watts behaviour in action.

The pool attendant brought out a cart of new towels, and I watched various people come up and grab them. The first person chose a towel from the second pile from the left in the middle rack.  As you can see, almost everyone afterwards chose from the same pile. A few people changed it up by taking one from the piles immediately on either side. A brave handful chose from the piles immediately above and below Рand the rest of the piles, more than half of them, remained untouched.

Even though Mark and Duncan’s arguments are very persuasive, sometimes I find the idea of trendsetters and key influencers to be hard to let go, because it makes intuitive sense and has become so ingrained in the conventional wisdom.

But all of the arguments about influencers and trendsetters kind of fall flat when I see an example as simple as this one. Was there something inherently cool about that particular pile of towels? Was there something aspirational about that first person who chose from that pile?

Two things to conclude: people just like doing the same thing that other people are doing. And I’m a geek who really should relax more on vacation.

Filed under: planning, Trends

PSFK NY conference 2008

Last year’s PSFK conferences were by all accounts great events and well organized (sadly I couldn’t make any of them). And you can’t beat the price – while most industry conferences are in the thousands of dollars, PSFK keeps it at a few hundred.

The first PSFK conference of 2008 is in NY – and the speaker list is typically inspiring. There are still tickets left but they’re going fast. I can actually make it this year, so if you’re there, come find me.

Filed under: Trends

Politics & the herd

The current US election cycle makes an interesting analogue for learning about brands and communication, because we get to see in a very short period of time a system with substantial advertising, quickly evolving candidate brands, and the ultimate measurement system, a public vote.

As an op-ed piece in the NY Times points out today, the outcome of the Iowa primaries a few days ago had little to do with the level of advertising spend. Mike Huckabee won the Republican vote over Mitt Romney, despite having been outspent 6 to 1 in TV advertising. John Edwards finished a close second despite being outspent 3 to 1 by the winner Barack Obama, and more than 2 to 1 by the third place finisher Hilary Clinton. The op-ed writers (political pollsters) conclude that advertising is less important than – wait for it – personal conversations: “we have to recognize the power of individuals to influence one another.

The writers make it sound like this is some huge discovery, which is kind of amusing. Someone should send them a copy of Herd. Still, if anyone is struggling with clients who still default to heavy TV spending it makes a nice soundbite for your next media planning discussion.

Filed under: ads, Current Affairs, Trends

RSS Follow me on Twitter.

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

Do Some Good


  • 43,110 visitors

Creative commons license


These are my views. Do I even need to explain that? They're not those of anyone generous enough to pay me money. They're just mine. Unless maybe they're yours too. That would be nice.