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“One hit wonder” or sustainable success?

The point of this post: When looking at “success stories” in the adoption of new technologies, we have to think carefully about how repeatable they are.

“One of the most challenging things to figure out in the government space is which technology trends are fads versus real long-term trends,” said Green in an interview with ComputerWorld Canada.

Wise words. And they apply not only to technology.

I was thinking the other day about some of the Internet “success stories” that got a lot of media attention a while ago. They showed people with real entrepreneurial spirit taling a small investment and turning it into a large return through innovative use of the web. The media were all over them: “Look what you can do!” You know the type I am thinking of: the guy who traded up from a paper clip to a house, the guy who sold off a web page for $1 million (pixel by pixel), etc. Sure, they are great stories of success. But they have something in common. The success was based on the novelty. They are not repeatable. If you are planning a social media strategy, you don’t want to climb on that bandwagon, because it isn’t going anywhere.

Sustainable success isn’t built on novelty. It is built on meeting people’s needs. Someone had the idea “The web is great for connecting people, how about connecting old friends?” And thus was born Classmates.com. The site was almost immediately a big hit. There are still about 40 million accounts. But it wasn’t a one hit wonder. Just ask the people who jumped on the bandwagon (MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). The success comes from meeting people’s needs.

That’s more of a “new technology” than a “new use” example (although the distinction can be blurry). But there are plenty of examples of people creating and modeling sustained success through the use of Internet technologies. Justin Bieber is the most famous but by no means the only person to parlay YouTube success into a recording contract. There are a growing number of specialty shops that are moving their business online – either through eBay, their own websites or both. And, of course, the success of the Obama campaign in capitalizing on online efforts is well documented.

When we look at stories of Internet success (like the recent stories about the success of the Old Spice social media campaign) we need to think “Is this a novelty success, where we won’t get nearly as much following their example or is this really a best practice we should adopt?” In an innovative field like the Internet, it’s not always easy to tell the novelty successes from the best practices. But prudent use of our resources requires we try.

I can think of a few strategies. Time will tell of course (but we don’t always want to wait that long). I’ve already mentioned the “novelty or meeting needs” analysis. We can also try a few small scale projects before we fully jump on the bandwagon. If they show success – great! If each one does worse than the one before, it’s a good sign of
a novelty fad.

What do you think? Old Spice Guy social media campaign – novelty or fad?

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Andrew Krzmarzick

The Old Spice Guy campaign is replicable. A number of folks have dissected it and broken down its success factors…so we’ll be sure to see similar campaigns down the road.

Not sure that Justin Bieber is an example of lasting success, though 🙂


I agree. I love success stories but I find them more interesting when you hear the real story of how they succeeded. A lot of the solutions after success stories is how simple it is to – create a viral video, engage your network, etc. And I agree – some of those items are harder to do and sustain than others.

David Tallan

I also saw a similar video promoting a university library (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ArIj236UHs).

However, when I was talking about the Old Spice social media campaign, I wasn’t referring to the commercial (humourous and innovative as it was) but the idea of responding on YouTube in real time to comments. I wasn’t asking if a Right Guard Guy would be as successful. I was wondering if others started doing real time YouTube responses, would they be successful – because people really want real time video responses to their comments and tweets? Or was the deluge of interest in the real time responses just because of the novelty and if others started doing it they’d find it more or less ignored, delivering a lot less bang for the buck?

Kevin Lanahan

Gotta agree with Andrew. It’s all about having a plan and using the tools. We may not get a slick, funny government PSA out of it, but we can engage the public where they are.

I know my agency is having conversations on our Facebook page that we didn’t imagine when we started it. It’s not as dramatic/comedic as the Old Spice Guy, but providing infotainment and interactivity works.