Slaughtering the Social Media Sacred Cow

Steven, if you can’t take the Heat get out of the Kitchen.

I asked a dear and knowledgeable friend to read my blog and give me her honest expert opinion…she did.

Tomorrow I’m realigning my career and applying for a job as a custodian.

No no, not really, the feedback I got was invaluable. After all there’s not a lot of point in asking someone for the plain unvarnished truth and then carping when they give it to you. More importantly without someone honest enough to shine a revealing light, how would I ever find my potholes to mend them?

One of the things she pointed out (yes there was more than one, but lets take this one bitter pill at a time shall we?) was that I had slaughtered social media.

Did I?

Yes.  Am I sorry?

No. It was begging to be slaughtered.

In the last few months the conversation about social media has reached a crescendo of epic proportions. Some people are frantically dashing about trying to divert ad-spend before their opportunity to ride the crest is lost. Other’s allude to vast fortunes being won and lost, “Social media is the only way to communicate meaningfully with the market… Ignore it at your peril” they cry. Some hail it as the new holy grail… any other media being simply a waste of time. Others still… proclaim it’s already dead and buried.

I don’t think any of these things are true. As my dear editor (not really but I wish she was) pointed out… social media, is a platform. Quite right, I agree wholeheartedly and in my opinion that’s precisely the way social media should be viewed.

So are newspapers, television, radio, out of home, the internet and a whole host of others… they’re all platforms.  Arrows in the marketers quiver. I tend to think of platforms as being vehicles that create and exploit an audience opportunity.

Why is it that a full-page ad in the New York Times costs more than one in the Overton Weekly Mail?

Simple…. The NYT is an authoritative voice, a global opinion leader, an institution and has a daily readership numbering in the millions. The same is true for flighting a 60 second spot with a national broadcaster during the Super Bowl it’s all about audience opportunity. How many readers, how many listeners, how many site hits and clicks and how relevent to the marketing objective is it?

If you own a small independent hardware shop in Overton? Your going with the Overton Weekly Mail ’cause you’re not going to get much ROI advertising in the New York Times

Clearly how we use the various platforms to meet specific marketing goals is the wonderful game we all know as the media mix.

Why then would it make sense to ignore an audience opportunity presented by a global conversation, that involves millions? Especially one that is technology driven and therefore, easily segmented, quantifiable and accessible? Simply put… it wouldn’t.

Let me be clear. I do not think that social media is irrelevant or a waste of good advertising budget. On the contrary I think any marketer worth their salt would be foolish indeed if they ignored the available benefits …but it’s an arrow in the quiver it is not the entire arsenal.

I think the difficulty with social media is that it is unwieldy, it’s unstructured, unpredictable and while it’s accessible, it resists most forms of manipulation…vigorously. Consensus  is its life’s blood

With other platforms there is a measure of consistency. There is always the business section, the lifestyle section, the sports page etc, television and radio programmes are aired according to a schedule. Mainstream websites are easily found, navigated and their owners offer similar products and services day after day. On top of that, most media owners can cite you audience demographics, circulation and cost per thousand, rank and file. Not to mention people like AMPs, Nielsen, Google and a score of research firms.

Here’s a scenario…

Imagine you attend a conference, it’s been billed as a must see for your industry, all of your competitors will be there. You register, no programme or agenda is given to you (strange you think, maybe they’ve run out) you enter the hall and take your seat. After several rounds of throat clearing, coughing and nervous shuffling, you realize, as do your 2000 fellow attendees that there are no speakers either. All the equipment… but no one doing any talking. You turn to the person beside you ask them hesitantly if they know what’s going on? “No”, they reply

Being polite you ask them the usual “Where ya from ?” and “Whaddya do?” They tell you they’re from Snowflake, Montana and they manufacture Thingamabobs. “No kidding” says you; “My company sells Thingamabobs we’re the biggest distributors east of the Rockies”. At which point the bald guy in front who’s been listening in, turns around and says; “Holy smokes! You guys make Thingamabobs? I’ve been thinking about getting into them?” He stands up and hollers; “Hey Stan! C’mere, I’ve found some people that do Thingamabobs”. His partner in the lime green shirt, four rows over joins the conversation. You all head over to the coffee table and find 3 more interested people.

This is now happening all over the hall, people are forming groups and joining conversations, the nervous silence has been overtaken by a buzz of voices, you notice that some people are wandering around listening in, to try to find their conversation.

Eventually somebody walks up to the podium and says; “Hey are you guys interested in hearing what I know about cheaper ways to make Thingamabobs”. “Sure”, says one of your crowd. He does a quick 10 minute presentation.

Spurred on by the warm reception the last speaker received, another person gets up on stage and says I’ve got done some really good research into the whatcha-ma-call-it market would you like to see it?

And so it goes for the rest of the day, one speaker follows another presenting whatever they think is a worthy contribution. All the while side bar conversations continue to flourish

The long and the short of it? Yes there was a conference. Albeit one that was unfamiliar, unexpected, certainly unorthodox, at moments uncomfortable and at times irrelevant,

But…

You had a great time, you met 200 people, half of whom are keenly interested in buying Thingamabobs, you learned more about new products and services in 5 hours than you have all year and you have two solid prospective deals in your hand.

Was it worth it? You betcha and anyone in Thingamabobs who missed it is an idiot. They’re having another one in September, who the hell knows what it might end up being about, but you’re gonna be there.

Welcome to social media.

Would you give it a miss…not on your Nelly.

But you may have to listen to a lot of conversations before you find yours. If you can’t…you might have to get up on stage and start one.

Xross That Line

Cheers Steven

Oh…. If you need a good contact that really does understand social media you might want to talk to the folks at Radian6? Failing that… let me know I have a wonderfully knowledgeable friend… but don’t ask her to critique your blog unless you have an ear for the truth.

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