If this sounds like a mildly interesting but trivial factoid, consider that Aleksandr Orlov is a meerkat—a small, furry mammal usually found in "mobs" in the wilds of southern Africa.
Aleksandr runs a Web site called CompareTheMeerkat.com, and is very concerned about the large number of visitors coming to his site who, instead of wanting to compare meerkats, are looking for "cheap car insurance" site CompareTheMarket.com.
Needless to say, Aleksandr is an invention of Compare the Market and their agency partners at VCCP. But the brilliant campaign they built around the meerkat and his friends has captured the attention of millions of Britons.
Spend a few minutes catching up on Aleksandr around the Web, and it's not hard to understand why:
On Facebook, we learn about his fruitless effort to expel the "mongooses" from his yard.
On Twitter, we can track the routine catastrophes of running the CompareTheMeerkat.com Web site, always wrought by Aleksandr but blamed on Sergri, the dependable if slightly frayed IT director.
And finally, of course, there is CompareTheMeerkat.com itself, with its simple but clever functionality that allows visitors to actually compare meerkats.
In all of these mediums, Aleksandr is eager to interact with his fans, amusing them with oddly twisted answers to even simple questions. It's telling that in Aleksandr's Twitter feed, there are far more replies than original messages.
But bringing together a great story, an engaging character who shares our most human traits, and the ability for people to engage with him one-on-one through social media is something entirely different.
Aleksandr illustrates how, in the new marketing landscape shaped by social media, great content is still king, but the threshold for "great" has gotten harder to reach.
In today's unique landscape where conversation is the medium, content must be compelling and engaging. It must also connect with people on the basis of a mutual interest. And if it isn’t genuinely news-making, it must be entertaining, amusing, frightening, valuable, or some combination.
After all, conversation is only possible if you have something to talk about, and not just for a moment in time. But take compelling content into social media and engage people in the right way, and they'll be glad to chat.
For marketers, the value is obvious—positive word of mouth, increased awareness, depth that isn't achievable in a 30 second spot. And most importantly, a valuable relationship with customers—or any stakeholder—that goes well beyond the sale, product, service or issue.
Read more of the Edelman blog on Fast Company.
Marshall Manson is Director of Digital Strategy for Edelman's London office, and a leader in the field of online strategy, communications and reputation management. Previously, he was Vice-President of Online Advocacy in Washington, DC. Marshall advises a host of clients that span industries on digital strategy, online reputation management, crisis management, advocacy, engagement and viral marketing. You can reach him on Twitter @marshallmanson.