Barack Obama + Cuddles = ??????

With the conclusion of the G20 summit and APEC the week previous, there’s been no shortage of opportunities to play Word Cloud Mad Libs — Geopolitical Edition. As world leaders geared up for moments of great cooperation (and occasionally great awkwardness), we’ve been monitoring various conversations with our social listening tool for key takeaways from Brisbane. Here’s the Obama word cloud culled from the world wide interwebs:

Now, it’s not every day that we see the word “cuddles” in such close proximity to Barack Obama.  Upon further investigation (read: clicking on the word “cuddles” to dig into the tweets, comments and other sources of social convo), I discovered that koalas were being trained to cuddle with world leaders — hmm.  An Australian riff on China’s panda diplomacy, perhaps? In the lead up to the marsupials having their moment with Barack, Vladimir, Angela and frenemies, thousands of tweets went out of the koalas being groomed at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary:

I was pretty intrigued by the effort that might have gone into koala diplomacy training, but learned from early news reports that koalas are unfazed by power and are used to greeting dignitaries, from Pope John Paul II to John Travolta.  Who knew?  It turns out that preparing for G20 simply involved cuddling by humans for no more than 30 minutes a day – after all, mustn’t interrupt the 20 hours of sleep koalas need every day.  Nobody likes a grumpy koala, least of all the world leader holding one.

Was the hope that cuddling koalas during the summit would reset relationships and lay gripes and grudges to rest?  If so, the koalas were a triumph – and perhaps a little too effective. As Vladimir Putin and Tony Abbott spent some koala-ty time together, Abbott seemed to forget all about “shirtfronting” Putin (a rugby term for chest-bumping an opponent to the ground), as he had promised journalists after MH17 crashed near the Russia-Ukraine border. As a result, another field day on Twitter ensued with the koalas front and center.

So what have we learned here? With content and commentary created on a 24-hour basis, there’s no such thing as a one-off, standalone story anymore. News bites are threaded together in the most unexpected ways, and every day presents moments to get in on the conversation. If koalas can get in the middle of the continued political fallout from the downing of a passenger plane, it’s possible that there are unexpected but pertinent conversations happening around issues important to us and our brands – all we have to do is find them.

In short: an evolving social listening program is no longer a nice to have — it’s a must.  Just ask the koalas.