While raising a million dollars for a good cause can hardly be considered a failure, Digital Death – the social media campaign which temporarily “silenced” celebrities’ Twitter and Facebook accounts to raise money and awareness for World AIDS Day – wasn’t a complete success; why not? The campaign was conceptually strong, big celebrities like Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake lent their names, and there were even artsy promo shots; Digital Death did a lot right, but it also made some critical missteps. Here are four lessons that we can learn from the campaign:
1)Â Social media is designed to connect, and while it’s playful and fun to base a social media campaign on disconnecting, it isn’t practical to work against the strength of the platform. The campaign was at its best during promotion leading up to the “blackout” because it used social media to create buzz, but the moment the campaign began, the connecting stopped and the problems started. When designing a social media campaign, it’s important to consider how the platform will play across the entire project, and how to best utilize social media’s strengths.
2)Â Social media has its own unique set of production values, and Digital Death proves it. The promo shots were exceptionally well done, and celebrities like Kim Karadashian, Lady Gaga and Ryan Seacrest are top echelon.
If Digital Death was a movie, investors would be cheering, but it wasn’t a movie. It wasn’t a telethon, an awards show, or a television program; it was a social media campaign. While social media values high quality images and established brands, it also values user friendliness, the opportunity to link to a larger community, and instant gratification. It’s key to understand the balance between different platforms in order to utilize them effectively and have the highest possible production value in each.
3)Â Social media is a tool; it’s not a magic wand. Three days into the campaign, Digital Death was fending off rumours of its “failure”, and fuel was only added to the fire when Usher broke his “silence” to tweet a birthday message to a friend. It’s easy to quip that the campaign’s major mistake was overestimating: it turns out people don’t care that much about celebrity’s tweets. In fact, Digital Death’s major misstep was underestimating. Many of the glitches suffered throughout the campaign could’ve been avoided by setting more conservative timelines. While social media campaigns have immense growth potential, when it comes to expectations, it’s best to keep them realistic over idealistic.
4)Â Even in social networking, simplicity prevails. The innovative concept of “killing” celebrities’ online presence was combined with a tongue in cheek metaphor: people will be more motivated to donate money to save a celebrity’s virtual presence than to donate money to save millions of real lives. The idea was very smart, but it was also pretty complex. Think of one of the most recent successful online campaigns: Movember. Participants grow a mustache to raise funds and awareness for men’s health; it’s simple and effective. Now, think about Digital Death. Celebrities disconnect from Twitter and Facebook accounts and will not reconnect until fundraising goals are reached to raise awareness for World AIDS Day; it’s just that little bit more complicated. This isn’t to say that social media can’t handle a great deal of complexity, but it’s also a medium that tends to emphasize the less is more approach. Twitter does, after all, limit people to 140 characters.