October 21, 2010

Method Planning – a more human approach to social media

James Woods tries his hand at The Method behind the counter

Something I’ve been thinking for a while is how similar planning for online communities has become to method acting, where immersing oneself in the conversations in buried forums of fanatics could be thought akin to doing a James Woods in The Simpsons or, more seriously, De Niro’s planning for his role in The Godfather Pt 2.

Method Planning would simply tackle being as human and instinctive as possible when creating/joining conversations and engineering spreadable content for them (particularly transmedia). This would be through a more natural understanding of the reasons (sensory, psychological, emotional) behind doing so from within the relevant online social bear-pits – The Method.

Robert Downey Junior’s character in Tropic Thunder parodies the method

Smart peeps such as Faris Yakob have pointed out this week how consumer decisions are made more at a subconscious level – that stuff that’s inaccessible to the conscious mind and how this renders typical market research wrong. Elsewhere it was interesting to also see Neil Perkin stress how we all need to talk more human – again all stuff that requires us to dig deeper into the consumer and a broader cultural context.

I thought about it in my own experience on the other side of the fence having been a member of an Arsenal forum for 10 years. I’ll spare you the infinitely unfolding examples here but at a deeper level Arsenal’s comms were often infuriatingly insensitive to the way we talked and what content we’d like to spread amongst ourselves.

Instead, like a lot of brands, they play up to the trends of content based on what’s most ‘liked’, tweeted and gains the most traffic on the website. All that number whoring which only encourages the language Neil talks about.

The convenience of social media has given us an ace opportunity to adopt more of a Strasberg school type approach to becoming the consumer, not just the crowd-sourcer, broadcaster, auditor, listener and responder.

Brands increasingly have to see themselves through the eyes of others, much like any person who self-mediates themselves before they join a conversation with a post or a tweet.

A planner himself being a part of a reaction in a community (internetually speaking) can generate the best reaction, when he sees and can almost formulate the crowd reacting to each other.

How could you ever not do that most effectively without being the herd online, being more naturally attuned to their reactions to evoke the best possible outcome to your communication?

I blogged back in February how it can also make you the spreadable influencer via research from Digg, which shows how those who become an influential and interesting member in an online niche are rewarded.

How can agencies encourage planners to activate their interests online regularly and on a longer term? I’m sure there’s plenty of examples of planners lurking in a herd they aren’t really interested in for an insightful nugget, feeling that the surge of conversation is cattle prodding them, then licking their wounds and saying “thank you very much, that’s my lot.” I’m also sure there’s examples where they’ve taken something from it that’s very useful indeed.

For ad folk, being active in these communities has perhaps been shrouded by getting caught up in the sharing information amongst fellow pros on Twitter/blogs (maybe something we’re all guilty of), campaign stints and the client’s increasing control over the long term social comms with fans.

Maybe I’m proposing “it’s not how many tweets or followers you’ve got, it’s how many forums or niche social networks you’re in” and that which gets planners out of “their ivory tweeting towers and down into the filth and the fury of it all.”

I searched to see if a comparison of method acting to planning had been made before and was surprised to find a wonderful buried post by Rock ‘n’ Roll Advertising that dates back three years. Whereas I was thinking of it purely virtually through the convenience of joining lots of forums and networks, the author offers more of a IRL alternative.

And this GREAT definition, where the author replaced acting/actors with planning/planners, characters with brands and performance with communication. The definition and 10 thought starters go:

Method Planning is a planning technique in which planners try to replicate in real life the emotional conditions under which the brand operates, in an effort to create a life-like, realistic communication. “The Method” typically refers to the generic practice of planners drawing on their own emotions, memories, and experiences to influence their portrayals of brands.

Next up was to try to come up with some tools and tactics to come closer to a TO-DO list for Method Planning.

This could be the first 10 techniques of Method Planning:

1. Do a Cindy Sherman!
Become the target group, dress and behave like them. It’s not observing but experiencing through an active involvement in the crowd. I, realize this can be a bit hard and very weird if let’s say – you are middle aged male planner searching for the golden nuggets amongst young female cosmetic users in Asia– but probably still worth a try. If Cindy can, you can.

(See more on the woman that can make even David Bowie “chameleon envious” here: or

2. How may I help you?
Let’s forget all the explorations on how our messages, propositions, promises, reasons to believe fit into the realms of a specific crowd. Let’s instead find the utility angle. How could a brand improve our daily lives? What’s interesting? What’s helpful? What’s could be improved? Are there any existing online/offline utilities that could need the scaling from partnering with big brands?

3. La Source
How did they hear about a certain phenomenon or brand? It’s all about drawing a media pattern recognition map. How does the specific crowd work? What are the dynamics? Where are the touchpoints where the brand is welcome and effective? And where does the crowd want the brand to keep out and decide and discuss for them selves?

4. Lap observing
A really simple way of getting to know your target group, market, product is to simply spend a day or two in the production facilities, in the back of police car (I remember one specific law enforcement campaign as the result of a creative team doing just this), hang out with a certain crowd, be part of the new product development for a little while, do a stand-in for the personnel in a retail outlet etc. etc. This can be done more or less biased having a set of questions or totally non-interrupting.

The Staufenberger Repository had a great example of a creative team doing a project with this intention (see more here and

5. CyberStalking (no resemblance to this sad phenomenon
It’s hard to truly understand peoples cyber life’s if you haven’t been to Second Life, Myscapce, Flickr, Youtube and all the other social networks and communities. The easy thing to do is creating a profile and become a part of the fun – off-course steering out of the obvious immoral places for a thirtysomething to be.

6. The Cause
John Grants brilliantly coined term marketing enthusiasm should also go into The Method Planning fieldwork. Ask what they really care about in certain categories and areas both internally and externally? Opinions wherever they come from, are highly inspiring.

7. Do the real life Water Cooler
Stand right there in the spotlight of informal chat – from the infamous water cooler, to the stadium seats, the café corner, in the smoking areas, in the bus and off-course let’s hear what the cab driver has to say. Let’s hear what they talk about and what they think about what we’ve done communication wise in the past.

8. Find the Internet Zeitgeist
There are lot’s of online resources to tap into the cultural zeitgeist. The likes of Digg,, Stumbleupon, Bloglines, Flickr, Youtube and off-course Google (and Google Zeitgeist) are all great resources of what’s top of mind in people lives. I remember doing a an experiment on brand affection some time ago looking at how many people had posted pictures and tagged brands on Flickr and it was indeed correlated to high scores in brand temperature measurements like Lovebrands and Brand Asset Valuator.

9. Prototype the product/service/communication
There is nothing more honest than standing with the actual center of attention in your the hand – whether is product or service – talking to people. Preferable having the thing explored outside of the unnatural frames of the focus group room and instead using people’s natural surroundings to create a realistic context.

10. Do the WHAT IF?
I’m a big fan of this method both as a standalone tactic and a way to ask question for several of the other techniques. Something always comes out of asking this way in my experience. One WHAT IF? leads to another and suddenly you are in another place.

What can we add? What’s changed since these? Definitely volume. We’re no longer talking about the 100 members of a sweets forum who may occasionally talking about Skittles in a sub-forum – we’re talking about the 11 million+ fans they have on Facebook which has allowed us to gain more of a representative sample to embed ourselves in.

Let me know if you think method planning is useless/has legs which we should explore more online, or even if you have any good examples of doing any of this.

Thanks for reading, @adamabnab.