Sheep 2.0, Wool in Scottsdale creates a Social Media Phenomenon.
By Patricia Brusha, one of the Chicks
Thursday, 16th August 2007
I love a good story; I think most of us do! That has been one of the benefits of what is referred to as Web 2, we get to hear the stories and take a role in adding to the conversation.

It's real people expressing their thoughts, opinions and pictures in an uncensorsored environment.

There is something extremely attractive about listening in on real peoples conversations; it almost allows us the guilty pleasure of eavesdropping or gossiping without any of the ramifications!

From an online marketing standpoint numerous companies have tried to orchestrate a conversation when the underlying message is really an advertorial. Funny as sophisticated as many of the web 2.0 dialogues have developed, those that are participating in this online dialogue can almost always smell a rat. There is a distinct and unique difference between marketing and the conversations that are creating what we now refer to as Social Media.

Though I will give these blog-atorials credit as they can be much more engaging than the traditional marketing messages we are used to. I applaud the advertisers who recreate their message in an unassuming way. As an online marketing consultant with a focus around the Travel vertical, I am amazed daily how the industry is promoting travel through such social communities and under the guise of a typical traveler.

Occasionally an icon rises above the advertising chatter and becomes an idol and viral marketing mogul without premeditation or warning. Enter the Mondrian Sheep of Scottsdale. This Sheep is a marketers dream, or is it? It actually provides an interesting case study on how social media networks can move from a smoldering ember to a roaring flame so quickly, and it leaves marketing departments scratching their heads trying to analyze why they couldn't come up with it themselves!

Everyone is trying to enter the social media networks and putting a tremendous amount of thought and energy on how to "spin" it in a positive way for their products or brand. But isn't that just the opposite of why social media has become so popular? For once we have the ability to hear what real people are saying and what a marketer have to realize is someone's negative or derogatory comment can actually be perceived as positive by others.

Let's take the example of the Sheep. Apparently as my investigation has uncovered, the Mondrian Sheep was part of a public renovation at the Scottsdale hotel and was placed in the lobby. This extremely expensive alpaca wool sheep was meant to be sat on and low and behold started to attract gorgeous woman who wanted their picture taken with the sheep!

Night after night the unassuming sheep was the center of so many pictures and became such a local social buzz that someone, (and so far we have not been able to expose the culprit) created a My Space page for the Sheep. Sheep saying of course "it aint easy being fleecy."

Suddenly this furry inanimate creature had a voice… and a following. I first came across the sheep myself when a friend sent me a link to its myspace page. Hysterical, reading the comments and looking at the pictures, I immediately had to share it with a number of my friends who share my bizarre sense of humour. At this time the "sheep" already had 54 friends within the first two weeks of having a myspace account. This was a little depressing to me as I had recently joined facebook and was feeling a bit like a loser with only 5 friends.

Mondrian Sheep's friends have more than doubled with a tremendous amount of photos and comments uploaded. Beyond being humorous, this Sheep has uncovered two major things for me. First, the Scottsdale Mondrian Hotel (a Morgan's Hotel Group property) looks like an absolutely beautiful place (referred to as a "Modern Urban Resort" how fun!), and I will be sure to visit or stay there when I go to Scottsdale. You can be assured that I will recommend going to visit "the sheep" to anyone I know traveling there as well.

Secondly, someone has now uploaded a trailer for a new movie coming out called "Black Sheep." At first I thought it was a joke, how random that a new movie about killer sheep is being released this summer, and the trailer is on the Mondrian Sheep's myspace page. What a great example of social media becoming a forerunner in online advertising!

So what is the moral of this story? Social Media and user generated content is just that - it has to be initiated and perpetuated by real people. That is what makes it so interesting and powerful. As the owner of the "brand" you cannot bury your head in the sand or be afraid to allow everyone to be a critic, they will be anyway - so why try and stop it?

Most importantly, let social media take a natural course; you can start or engage in a conversation, but don't try to control it. Finally, if you try too hard to use social media as a new marketing medium, be careful not "To pull the wool over anyone's eyes," or you may be perceived as a sheep in wolf's clothing!

About A Couple of Chicks:
Patricia Brusha is co-founder of www.acoupleofchicks.com offering a non-intimidating approach to online Search, Marketing and Measurement. A Couple of Chicks offer Search Engine Optimization, Search Marketing and Web Analytics services with a focus around Travel and Tourism.

Patricia is also the Co-Chair and Co-founder of the Canadian Online Tourism Marketing Conference – Online Revealed Canada, which is in its second year, and expanding into six regional online marketing education forums to be held in major cities across Canada over the next 12 months. Visit www.onlinerevealed.com for more information about upcoming Conference and workshop locations.
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