Come on – That’s not Social Media

A profound lack of understanding of social media is being used to support the reluctance of agencies and marketing companies to fully embrace it.

I was passed along a link to a post on the brandgym blog titled “Social media yet to show me the money”  and I felt the need to comment.

The argument calls social media a fad which is sexy but yet to deliver. The argument is based around the following 5 points.

  1. Engagement is not new.
  2. Engagement is a means to and end not an end in itself.
  3. That the thought that interruption marketing is dead is an oversimplification.
  4. That it is penetration not loyalty that drives growth.
  5. The point the writer regards is a killer is that people have no appetite for participation.

Without addressing each one of the points I must point out that the argument is a straw man, although probably an unwitting one. It confuses social media with using social media platforms as a media channel to carry advertising messages.

To briefly clarify then, we need to understand that all marketing is about spreading ideas.  My brand is an idea and that choosing my brand is a better choice than choosing your brand is also an idea. Brands and ideas only exist in the minds of people.

Interruption marketing is the process of interrupting people doing stuff with a message which if repeated often enough is expected to change attitudes. The people interrupted could be people driving down a road interrupted with a billboard, people catching up on the racing results on the newspaper interrupted by an ad or people watching football being interrupted by a banner or a branding message.

This works when people are prepared to be interrupted, when they trust the source of the message and when the message is unchallenged as the only real source of information on that particular idea (product, service, brand, category etc). None of these conditions hold true any longer.

The emphasis in social is connections. Its how ideas spread through massive networks of connections that needs to be understood.

When you run an ad on facebook you are doing interruption marketing, tightly targeted mind you, but interruption none the less, Google Adwords are also interruption but they make up by being incredibly relevant based on keywords. If you run a “viral” youtube ad once again you are attempting to interrupt. The Old Spice man is an example of using digital media to extend an interruption marketing campaign.

When you are operating in the social realm you are doing something completely different, you are engaging in the conversation between people who are talking about your stuff or things like your stuff. You are providing them with the tools to help them talk about it and you are facilitating that conversation.

Your objective is to engineer some kind of new discourse around the idea, not to get gather meaningless hoards of facebook fans or “loyalty,” as the point is correctly in the blog post, loyalty is more a personality characteristic than a brand one.

Interruption marketing is certainly not dead and will continue to play a role in social campaigns, the growth in social is slow to begin with and can be helped with traditional announcement awareness provided by broadcast communications.  But interruption is extremely expensive and pretty ineffective for the reasons mentioned above, we can compensate but make it even more expensive by buying bigger and bigger audiences so that the we can successfully interrupt more albeit at still a low percentage.

Contrary to the view stated by the brandgym blog, social is not a “nice to have” add on to the media plan – its the core element for the simple reason that people trust people they “trust” and act on the recommendations and the opinion of their peers and less on the self interst of brand messages. In this world the media plan now becomes the “add on” to support the launch and facilitation of that conversation. Its likely to stay a huge budget item not because of its effectiveness but the opposite.

It’s kind of obvious that the bulk of people in any social network will not generate content. People fulfill differing roles in society, some are discussion starters, some are question people, some are answer people some are bridges or connections but most are followers, but that does not minimise the impact of the people they are following, they form tribes around ideas and the conversation is between people as it moves between online to face to face and back again.

The final reposte to the claim that social media has yet to show the writer the money is to suggest that he ask ex Egyptian President Mubarak what he thinks. Time magazine names the protester its person of the year 2011. The movements it referred to, the Arab spring, the Occupy movement, the Russian unrest, slutwalk and many others beside are all social media enabled movements. None would have happened in 2011 without social media and some like the Occupy movement which spread around the world in a few weeks would never have happened at all.

Advertising agencies and marketers need to start facing the overwhelming evidence, instead of doing the ostrich thing.  To remain relevant they need to start trying to understand how ideas spread in a world where media is no longer only a source of information but a site of coordination.

Picture by Roads Less Travelled Photography

Posted on February 15, 2012 at 2:52 pm by Walter Pike · Permalink
In: Advertising, Marketing, social media · Tagged with: , , , ,
  • Dale