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Narrowing the Gap Between Idea and Action

  |  October 25, 2010   |  Comments

When it comes to social media in advertising and marketing, how do we stop theorizing and start actualizing?

We all spend a lot of time "ize"-ing or "ise"-ing. We try to "monetize" our work and to do so we usually spend a lot of money to "advertise" it. Creatives spend a lot of time "conceptualizing" new ways to do so and they're "incentivized" to come up with great ideas (as are all of us, hopefully!). There's a lot of "theorizing" about how to make all this work, but "actualizing" it usually isn't all that easy.

We use these words a lot, but we don't often think about what they really mean. Both suffixes imply action: "ize" is usually defined in terms of "to make" or "to cause" or "to do." If we "monetize" something, what we're hoping to do is make money with it. The "ise" suffix is often defined the same way, though some limit it to mean "to become or cause to become": "televising" something means more or less to "cause something to 'become' television," for example.

Why the grammar lesson? Because no matter what we may talk about here on the pages of ClickZ or in our conference rooms, the gap that's usually tough to cross is the gap between idea and action. In advertising and marketing (as well as just about every other human endeavor), there's a big chasm to cross between an idea and the results that it generates.

These days, that gap seems especially wide when it comes to social media. It's not that companies aren't participating in it: most businesses see it as something that's "moderately important" in their marketing mix and there's no doubt that there's been a huge uptick in spending on social media. But though there have been numerous case studies that pop up citing successes, I'd venture a guess (simply based on my own experience with clients and others I meet at conferences) that most of us are still searching for that magic bullet that's going to "monetize" our "socializing."

This past week, however, two stories caught my eye that really got me thinking about the subject. The first was a fascinating story about how some academics have figured out how to use the "mood" of the Twitterverse to predict the stock market with startling accuracy. I laughed out loud when I saw it and thought to myself (and later, I admit, tweeted) "At last! A way to finally monetize social media!"

Another story that caught my eye was one that came from an unlikely source: Gourmet magazine's "Gourmet Live" blog. It told the story of a restaurant customer who tweeted about his depressing fast-food burger he had to endure while waiting for his plane, attempting to cheer himself up by thinking of it as his "amuse bouche" in advance of his later meal at a fancy New York restaurant. This might have ended with a chuckle from his followers except that the restaurant noticed the tweet and surprised him with a gourmet lamb burger when he sat down to dinner the next day. A simple tweet converted into an astonished (and happy) customer and a PR coup for the restaurant.

These two stories are perfect examples of the kind of "out-of-the-box" thinking that all of us need to engage in when engaging in social media. And while the stock market/Twitter connection might be a new one to most of us, I'm sure that plenty of us have read about similar "why it's so important to monitor social media" stories (such as the second one I relayed) but few of us have actually taken the next step and done anything about what we learned. At least I haven't encountered a lot of it beyond good intentions and plans sitting on desks.

I'm not trying to criticize, though. There are a lot of good, practical reasons for the problems we all have crossing the social media chasm between idea and action and result. Resource issues. Personnel (skill-set) issues. Time issues. Process issues. A lot of good, practical reasons.

But I think it may also go deeper than that. Every day I'm struck by the parallels I see between the "Web 2.0/social media/mobile" world of today and the go-go days of the early dot-com era when we were all trying to figure out "this Web stuff." It took a decade before a lot of what we do today became "mainstream" enough that it just seems like a normal part of the whole marketing mix, and even now I think we've got a long way to go. This change, however, has been a change in mindset more than technology. It took advertising people a long time to see the Web for what it is rather than a mere "add on" to "real advertising" (read TV, radio, print, etc.) and for creatives to start thinking about interactive advertising as more than just some other (or lesser) form of print collateral or television.

We're engaged in that same mindset-altering process with social media (and mobile) today. We're beginning to understand that "advertising" in social media or mobile media doesn't mean just tossing blatant commercial messages in front of people. We're realizing that we've got a long way to go in order to develop the metrics that we (and our clients) need in order to know what to do and whether the investments are worth it. We've got a long way to go creatively, too.

Want to break out of the box and begin to change your mindset? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Don't think about mobile and social as "advertising." Ban the word in discussions about this stuff. Even if what you're doing is advertising, there's been plenty of social science that suggests that the language we use changes the way that we think.
  2. Think about social media as you would think about the weather. Scanning social media for your brand and trying to get a feel for what people are thinking can help you plan everything you do by helping you understand the "mood" of the market (here's a good list of tools to get you started).
  3. Try to leap the gap between the online world and the offline world as often as you can. My restaurant story above presents one example, but there are zillions of other opportunities for every business much like that one. Here's one suggestion: try picking up the phone to respond to a tweet (if you can) or, better yet, send a hand-written note. In our digital world, analog can really stand out.
  4. Consider the characteristics of the medium, especially those that it's really good at. A negative example of this is the continued usage of PDF files to convey information online. Not smart. On the other hand, check out what the University of Virginia is doing with their new mobile app. Why is it such a good idea? Because most of what it offers is stuff that people need when they're mobile.
  5. Ban similes, metaphors, and analogies in your creative and business thought patterns. If you find yourself saying that something is "like" something else, "except that…" then you're thinking about it wrong.

Now get out there and change your mindset! We've got a lot of "ize"-ing to do!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sean Carton

Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.

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