Here’s vibrant proof that some folks still don’t understand social engagement: McDonald’s (@McDonalds) mucked up a social conversation on Twitter recently, and then their own social media director, Rick Wion, demonstrated an embarrassing lack of awareness, when he tried to explain the whole thing away. One particularly shocking phrase stood out for me: “…With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned…”.

How many times do I have to say this
?! Social Engagement is NOT a “campaign”, it is a commitment, and sometimes commitments require weathering rough spots in the relationship; forging through together; learning to listen as much as talk; and – should some control be necessary – controlling in an invisible manner that can never be resented. By admitting that (a) McDonalds continues to desire control of the social media landscape within which it operates, and (b) it considers Twitter conversations as nothing more than advertising campaigns, their Social team has exhibited a McRoyal lack of awareness, with cheese. That the brand thinks it can openly control social engagement initiatives, and then impose “contingency plans”, when the outcome doesn’t match their projection, demonstrates not only a lack of experience, but a mentality that will consistently fail to leverage the potential of social engagement, until said mentality changes. A good social strategy is a responsive and flexible one, not a rigid and controlling one.
So, let me repeat: As I first said in 2007, and have repeated each and every year since: Social Engagement is a COMMITMENT to connection and bidirectional relations. It will not work to its full potential if it is treated as an advertising or product marketing CAMPAIGN tool. Gone are the days when you could blatantly push or pull the consumer in one direction or another, without any regard for their own instincts. The power of marketing has transformed in to one of influence, rather than impact. That’s not to say you cannot use social tools to support, and even push forward, certain marketing campaigns.  It’s simply that there are too many variables at play within the social ecosystem for a brand to want to control things all the time. How long would you stay married to a spouse who was *always* and obviously controlling? “Leveraged influence” and “moderated transparency” are the buzzwords today.
“…All right stop.
Collaborate and Listen.” – Vanilla Ice

Moderated transparency
One must be prepared to let the consumer peek behind the curtain a little more than previously, and even fiddle with some of the levers. A smart brand will create levers with which the social community can interact:
Leveraged Influence
A brand should always have a vision and an objective, and all strategies and actions should be manifest and pursued within the context of the brand objectives. Properly managed social engagement can help to strengthen the brand vision and more effcieiently attain the objectives, both internally and externally:
  • Inspire employee and consumer evangelism and sharing
  • Challenge dormant employees, distributors, and consumers to reengage
  • Educate and redirect potentially hostile influencers
  • Instill brand values without imposing them
  • Crowd-source creative opportunities at little to no-cost
  • Empower stakeholders to truly feel a sense of part ownership in the brand’s success
  • Boost ROI
  • Advertise incrementally (no need to invest tens of millions if there’s no pick-up whatsoever)
  • Blend resources (social brand engagement is not just about marketing, it’s about engaging (thus the term!) the whole ecosystem of stakeholders in a manner that brings them closer together, and able to more effectively enhance the brand value. It could be a matter of activating a previously dormant employee population, creating a more tight-knit community out of a global sales force, or bringing end-users closer in to the fold, so that an offering can benefit from their insights, and presell itself in the process.
  • Year-round presence – social engagement is a full-time enterprise, thus the need for commitment. However, while a conventional marketing campaign requires aggressive “full-bore” tactics, a social strategy can be far more leisurely, and thus far more manageable. The community will hold the brand up alongside the social team, so long as everyone is playing well together.

Oh, and one more thing…social engagement brings humanity and humor back in to the mix. That’s never a bad thing.

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As a co-founder of the New Media Council, and long-time member of the Producers Guild of America, I am sometimes able to benefit from certain opportunities that make me fall in love with filmmaking all over again. This morning was one such opportunity.

Tonight marks the 23rd annual Producers Guild Awards, precursor and controversial bellwether to the Oscars. A select few members of the Guild are able to attend a breakfast gathering, on the morning of these awards, to meet and hear from the Producers of each nominated Feature Film. It is an intimate and convivial get-together, and always illuminating.

Despite the assumption by many that Producers focus mostly on the fiscal value of a film, when pondering which box to mark on their voting ballot, the conversations this morning were only momentarily focused on financing, and largely concerned with the creative and operational processes of bringing a story to the screen.

What struck me almost immediately was how collaborative and connected to one another these producers had been on these projects, during the past year: Kathleen Kennedy was the impetus for both War Horse and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, while Spielberg catalyzed the realization of The Help. Amusingly, everyone on the panel credited Brad Pitt with some aspect of their production, even though the actor/producer was unusually restrained in his remarks re. friend George Clooney (strongly involved in two of the nominated films).

Even more compelling were some nuggets of wisdom and info dropped by individuals, during the course of conversation:

War Horse

When asked why he made the movie, Spielberg answered “I made the movie to get to that scene where the German and the Geordie free the horse from the barbed wire together”.

8 horses were used to portray the central character in the film, with two (“Abraham” and “Finder”) carrying the heavy acting load.

Midnight In Paris

Woody Allen‘s scripts are largely devoid of stage directions. Just dialogue. The visual is only revealed during production. More startling still is the fact that Woody Allen doesn’t write a thing until full financing is obtained. This film was made for $18 Million, all of which was obtained on his name alone. Only when the money was in the proverbial bank did Mr. Allen begin the scriptwriting process, which consisted of well over a month of “just thinking”, followed by 4 short weeks of longhand writing, and then typing up the draft (which Woody had to do himself, since nobody else could read his writing). Unlike most of the other productions, Woody Allen’s films have no rehearsal whatsoever, and every scene is shot on location (no studio shoots).


Casting drew strongly from Kristen Wiig’s compatriots at the Groundlings Improv company, and the original script was strongly augmented with rewrites culled from improv rehearsals. These revisions were themselves then altered dramatically in production, where additional improv took place. In essence, the film worked with 3 scripts as a result: two written, and one unwritten. The resulting 1,200,000 feet of film shot is testament to the production’s desire to capture the very brightest moments of performance and storytelling.

Each producer had favorite scenes in their respective film. Some examples:

  • Jim Burke particularly enjoyed when George Clooney’s character in THE DESCENDANTS, Matt King goes into the ancestral family home and opens the curtains, letting in the light, and showing us the family photos, thereby giving himself and us an insight into his place in the family history.
  • Ceán Chaffin was deeply impressed with the final scene in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, when Rooney Mara’s character, Lisbeth Salanader, realizes some important truths, and the actress silently shows everything going on in Lisbeth’s mind, in that painful moment.
  • Brunson Green’s favorite scene in THE HELP was at the end, where the main character is about to walk into the room to be fired and confront Hilly.
  • Graham King’s favorite moment in HUGO was when the scholar, Rene Tabard, goes to George Méliès’ apartment and screens the film for his wife.
  • Grant Heslov was struck most by the restaurant kitchen confrontation scene between Ryan and George in THE IDES OF MARCH
  • From an acting perspective, Brad Pitt especially enjoyed the trading scene in MONEYBALL

Two particularly telling comments came from Mr. Spielberg. In response to a question as to whether any of the producers would now consider shooting a silent film, given the success of THE ARTIST, Spielberg admitted his surprise and delight at that film’s success, saying “I didn’t think silent film was possible in the 21st century, until The Artist” – testament to the fact that we never need lose opportunities for learning, no matter our experience.  Later, when asked what he looked for in submissions, Spielberg strongly decried any notion that writers should submit supporting materials (Sizzle reels, previz, storyboards) when pitching their work. Spielberg asked that he and his fellow producers be given enough credit to fill in the gaps with their own imaginations, which would always be far superior to whatever one might supply in the way of pre-visualizations.

When compared to this evening’s upcoming glitzy and impersonal gala affair, attended by thousands, I think I and my peers got the better part of the deal, as we spent a relaxed morning in the presence of some very talented and unquestionably devoted stewards of creative storytelling.


  • Gary Lucchesi (President, Lakeshore Entertainment)


  • Thomas Langmann for THE ARTIST
  • Barry Mendel for BRIDESMAIDS
  • Jim Burke for THE DESCENDANTS
  • Brunson Green for THE HELP
  • Graham King for HUGO
  • Grant Heslov for THE IDES OF MARCH
  • Letty Aronson for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
  • Brad Pitt for MONEYBALL (Producers  Michael De Luca and Rachael Horovitz were also in attendance)
  • Steven Spielberg for WAR HORSE (Producer Kathleen Kennedy was also in attendance)
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I was recently interviewed on a nationally syndicated radio talk show, and we ended up chatting about Facebook, Twitter, and other social engagement oppportunities. Here below is the audio of that interview:

If you don’t have Flash, you can listen here.

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