First published July 2013 Singapore
On my Facebook feed the other day I saw a comment from someone which read, ‘Social Media – too much media, not enough Social’.
It triggered some thoughts I’ve been having recently about the evolution of this whole ‘Social Media/ Social Marketing’ space. Now, I’ve been around a while – to give you a clue I remember quite distinctly the first time someone used the word ‘internet’ with me.
So it doesn’t feel that long ago that I heard the first mutterings around Social Media. I remember too the advertising industry’s desperate attempts to dismiss it and try and protect their own back yard. Unfortunately I also lived through the times when we had Social Media ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’ – a few of whom I think are still around in various guises. You may know one or two.
I think the notion of expert and guru grew out of the perceived fluffiness of the space – a sentiment very prevalent in the early days. Some people were keen to elevate themselves above all the talk of consumer engagement and consumer dialogue and inject some veneer of science or method into that fluffy new world. Calling themselves ‘expert’ was their way of trying to get some visibility – some credibility.
The newly self-appointed experts and gurus for a while got away with things hiding behind perceived knowledge that, in some cases, didn’t extend much beyond being able to talk confidently about what a Twitter ‘re-tweet’ was. Numbers were part of the game then but only in the sense that more was better. This party was brought to a premature end when pesky people started to ask them if they could generate ROI and, even more scarily, if they could measure it.
Since then I’ve seen things evolve considerably with agencies proposing very detailed ROI models and even linking these models to things like those awfuly boring business things like revenue and profit. My oh my!, how far we’ve come and in such a short time.
But we should be mindful that we are all still basking in the infancy of something the shape of which in ten years’ time few of us can possibly imagine let alone be even remotely confident of guessing.
And I do wonder if, in our current phase of talking numbers and returns, we’re perhaps forgetting some of those important fluffy roots. I recently heard a very successful CEO, whose current business is heavily integrated with Facebook, dismissing tweets from people who talk about what they had for breakfast. “I don’t have time for those people who take pictures of their lunch and tweet things like, “I just got out of bed’” he said disparagingly. Those were not his exact words but I think I’ve pretty much nailed the sentiment.
Hang on though – isn’t it exactly the fact that people want to share things like that that means social media platforms exist? Whilst most of us might be a lot less banal we’re all coming essentially from the same place. It’s about being recognized for who we are. In dismissing the ‘what I had for lunch’ tweets, I distinctly remember that same CEO saying that he used Twitter as a way to curate his news intake.
To me the fact that someone is sharing his or her lunch with their friends is far more interesting – far more social and truly indicative of what drives Social Media than the person who simply subscribes to feeds to get their news. (I’m talking about the behavior of course and not the actual details of the lunch being the interesting thing!)
We have now moved from our obsession with the fluffy world of dialogue and engagement and “It’s a 2-way medium, you know” to a position that I think is an overreaction and over compensation to that fluffiness. There is a worrying tendency now towards too much focus on all the numbers and a danger to look at Social Media, indeed the whole social space, as just another aspect of marketing that can be subject to the kind of rigor and reporting that other business activities.
With the new obsession around click streams and the various Digital Engagement measuring algorithms we must not forget the roots and foundations to which all social media platforms owe their popularity.
It is precisely because people want to tell other people what they had for lunch that Social Media is what it is. Whilst measuring the success of our initiatives and those that we do on behalf of our clients is very important we must be mindful that those numbers that mean we’re able to report success and show nice graphs on presentation decks only happen because of those fluffy sentiments that have existed long before anyone said ‘internet’ let alone ‘re-tweet’.
When you’re gleefully reporting on a fan uptake of X or a TAT (Talking about This) figure of Y don’t forget that however much you might be excited about your ROI the reason you have your ROI is because people wanted to share, to be recognized or to further define their virtual selves.
These fluffy things have been true for millennia and don’t look like they’re disappearing anytime soon. So, in planning your next digital engagement do think about what the client’s business objectives are and thy they’re probably interested in something to do with money rather than ‘view’s or ‘like’s.
But most importantly think about those people you’re hoping to engage. They’re not interested in your client’s business objectives. They don’t even see themselves as video ‘viewers’ or page ‘likers’. They do, however, sometimes like to share the most banal of things. They like to laugh and smile too. You need to understand all this and suck it up.
I’d like to conclude by letting you all know that I had rice, some vegetables and sweet and sour pork.