Last night Oprah posted the above tweet asking her followers to watch OWN, “especially if u have a Nielsen box.” The tweet has since been deleted without explanation (another mistake), but as expected it garnered plenty of criticism. I first saw the post when somebody I follow retweeted it and immediately knew Gary Vaynerchuk would be all over Oprah for her poor social media strategy once again, and as always Gary didn’t disappoint.
First Gary called out Oprah’s Nielsen box tweet…
Then he noted that the tweet and other replies were so “nuts” that it had to be hacked and continued to tweet about it over the course of the night. He even ended up getting a reply from Oprah’s assistant who confirmed it was actually Oprah herself tweeting from her iPad last night.
Now, love him or hate him, Gary obviously knows the social media game. And sure he can get a little “twitter cop” on others sometimes, but he’s hardly Darren Rovell on that count. So is he right and Oprah is just really bad at twitter? After all that preface, that’s what I wanted to take a quick look at…
My initial reaction to the Neilsen tweet was that it was dumb, misguided, awkward, etc. But what if the Neilsen box part was just a joke? Ok, then it would be pushing her product, but a little pushing is ok sometimes (and inevitable). The problem here is that Oprah’s carefully cultivated public persona is so entrenched that she can’t make a joke like this (if that was even the intention) and get away with it. I can, and do, attempt bad jokes that fall flat and it’s no big deal. But I don’t have a million followers and millions more who know me as TV Oprah…
What about the replies Gary called “nuts”? I looked at them and also thought some of them seemed weird and/or ridiculous coming from the Oprah we’re used to. Writing in text speak, feisty replies, weird humor, controversial opinions, etc. OMG Oprah, she’s just like us! So given that it was confirmed that these replies really were made by Oprah herself, what’s the lesson? On the one hand, she’s doing what Gary would tell her to and interacting directly with her fans. She deserves major props for that. At the same time, she’s not really of the social media generation and she seems a little lost. On top of that, she has a public persona built over a long career on television that may or may not be exactly who she is in real life, or at least not on every night in a hotel room in Georgia watching the Grammys and playing with her iPad. I’m hardly an expert, but if I were advising her I’d tell her to continue jumping in and managing her own account, replying to fans, sharing her opinions, etc., but to realize the world is watching and she needs to be on her game 24/7 if she does so. Not to say she should lose the authenticity, but someone like her can be authentic AND raise the level of discourse if she harnesses the power of twitter effectively and fine tunes her voice like we all know she can (and I’m not an Oprah fan or anything…).
More interesting to me is the question from the title of this post of whether Oprah would make it in today’s world if this sort of rough around the edges (or “nuts”) person we saw on twitter last night is her real persona and the Oprah we all know was just an elaborate artificial construction. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but there’s no doubt this less perfect Oprah would be on more prominent display in today’s world and that authenticity across social media platforms would be necessary to build a career even one hundredth the magnitude of what she’s achieved. So would she just be another mediocre snark blogger/tweeter?
I don’t think so. Maybe the written word just isn’t really Oprah’s A game. Maybe Oprah of today would focus on video blogging or podcasting and build from there. There’s a lesson here that I think Gary would agree with and it’s to know your strengths, choose the best medium to exploit those strengths and then develop a strong, authentic and consistent personal brand. Oprah’s brand equity is so strong that some stray tweets here and there won’t hurt too much, but it’s time for her to up the consistency and deliver her best at all times because we’re all watching to see what she’ll do next (or at least Gary will be and can tell the rest of us!)…
And no, I can’t really believe I just blogged about Oprah. Next time we’ll lok at Maury, Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake and Montel Williams. And stay tuned for a super special analysis of Judge Judy and The People’s Court coming in March. After all, I am a lawyer…
About a month and a half ago I moved from New York to Montreal, but this weekend I made a quick trip back to NY mostly just to see some friends again. Though I’ve tried to keep in touch with people on the phone, gchat, facebook, and so on, there really is no substitute for hanging out and talking in real life. So I saw some really great friends who I miss, ate some food that I miss and, though I was now a tourist, still stayed as far away from Times Square as possible.
It was a really fun weekend, but looking back it made me think a little about how social networks and apps are developing to close the gap between artificial online interaction and the power of the real life interactions I felt this weekend. With this in mind, I see three arguably distinct categories of social networks that I wanted to explore: information sharing networks, interactive networks and meetup/activity networks.
Information Sharing Networks: At its core facebook is what I think of as an information sharing network. People share photos, links and status updates with each other. Twitter is another obvious example. A more niche example might be foodspotting. Path bears mentioning because it’s basically an information sharing network as well, but its focus on closer friends and more intimate updates is a focus that I think is trying to capitalize on the feelings that normally result from real life interactions like those that hit home for me this weekend.
Interactive Networks: What’s a big part of the success of turntable? I think it’s pretty clear that the fun and engaging user experience and design are a huge factor. Turntable gives users the ability to experience music together. You can find a room you like, follow DJs (just other users), chat and dance to show appreciation for a DJ’s choice. It’s not real life, but it’s much realer than iTunes or Spotify (even with the facebook integration, which I touch on later). There’s a community, there’s discovery and learning, there’s an added dimension of pure fun. That’s what you get hanging out with good friends, and turntable was able to capture a lot of that magic in a simple and engaging product. Shaker is another great example, since in their own words “Shaker brings social networks to life by allowing people to interact in real time in a shared environment, making the online social experience of hanging out with friends and meeting new people, feel natural finally.” A lot of the Zynga games have a similar quality and add a similar element to the facebook experience. On a smaller scale, old-school message boards or even something like fantasy football leagues have many of these qualities as well.
Meetup/Activity Networks: This is where the social web intersects head on with the real world. Here, the social network serves in many ways as an activity planner and facilitator. I want to shout out at least one Montreal company, so Training Mobs is a good example here. Through Training Mobs, users can find and share group workouts. You can meet new people or just organize and keep track of activities with existing friends, but either way the site is encouraging real life interactions. Meetup is of course the most obvious example here.
I love information sharing networks as much as the next guy who spends way too much time on facebook and twitter. Hell, I’ve even been planning out a possible niche social network as a startup of my own, but I think a lot of the changes we’ve seen come to facebook and twitter can largely be explained by a desire to harness some of the satisfaction we get from natural, offline shared experiences.
Facebook may never be a substitute for having dinner with your friends, but the ability to share a wider range of activities with the new additions to the social graph, the ability to watch movies friends are watching, listen to music with them and chat while doing so clearly moves the facebook experience much further into the realm of what I called an experience network. Third party products like Shaker and social games built on the facebook platform only further reinforce this movement.
Similarly, twitter’s new design with the prominence of terms like “connect” and “discover” encourages users to connect with more people and experience events like political debates, sporting events and breaking news together as a community. Experiencing events in real-time and following the reactions of others has long been a strength of twitter and its trending topics, but the new new twitter verbiage makes it even clearer that the company wants to encourage the type of interaction that traditionally was reserved for smaller groups of close friends hanging out together or talking on the phone.
Incorporating real life meetings into a social network is still a little more tricky and somewhat more rare or subtle. A lot of people clearly use facebook to create and invite people to events and check-ins and/or foursquare integration can create new opportunities for real life interactions, the roots of which can be traced back to facebook. Because so many people share real-time updates on twitter and also link their foursquare and twitter accounts, it too can lead to unplanned interactions in this way. Another example is that you can also use twitter to send a message to a business while in their establishment which can lead to great new experiences. Tweet at a chef while at their restaurant or before you head over, for example, and if they have time they might come by to chat or send out an extra dish for you to try. Your real life experience is improved because of the social network.
The key is that all entrepreneurs with social products need to think about how to harness the best parts of real life social interactions as part of their UX and feature set, how to encourage and improve offline experiences and then how to best bring those offline experiences back onto the social network. There’s no substitute for great friends and I’m thankful for mine in New York and elsewhere, but the more social networks can create opportunities to interact, learn, discover and just have fun together online like we do in person while also improving our experiences offline, the more successful and powerful they will become.