On my Facebook feed the other day I saw a comment from someone that 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.
It doesn't feel that long ago that I heard the first mutterings around social media. I remember the advertising industry's desperate attempts to dismiss it and try to protect their own back yard. Unfortunately, I also lived through the times when we had social media "experts" and "gurus."
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 dialogue and inject some veneer of science or method into that fluffy new world. Calling themselves "experts" was their way of trying to get some visibility - some credibility.
These newly self-appointed experts/gurus 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 "retweet" 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 asking 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 boring business things like revenue and profit.
But we should be mindful that we're all still basking in the infancy of something the shape of which in 10 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. Not his exact words but that was the sentiment.
Hang on though - isn't it exactly the fact that people want to share things like that, that social media platforms exist? While 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, that same CEO was saying he used Twitter as a way to curate his news intake. To me, the fact that someone is sharing 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.
We've now moved from our obsession with the fluffy world of dialogue and engagement and "It's a two-way medium, you know" to a position that's an over-reaction and over-compensation to that fluffiness. There's a worrying tendency now toward 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 subjected to the kind of rigor and reporting like 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's precisely because people want to tell other people what they had for lunch that social media is what it is. While 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 mean we're able to report success and show nice graphs on presentation decks only because of those fluffy sentiments that have existed long before anyone said "Internet," let alone "retweet."
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 why they're probably interested in something to do with money rather than "views" or "likes."
Most importantly think about those people you're hoping to engage. They're not interested in your clients' 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 find that fluffy filter for your brand that people will be attracted to.
I'd like to conclude by letting you know I had rice, some vegetables, and sweet and sour pork.
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Carl Griffith is the head of digital with Havas Worldwide in Singapore. He oversees the strategic elements of projects and brings extensive digital experience to tackle the broader business challenges of clients to ensure digital is fully integrated into our work. Carl plays the lead role in supporting one of our global clients in designing and implementing a comprehensive digital offering that includes a content-rich website, sophisticated online tools, and complimentary mobile applications. Involved in all aspects of the work, he’s happy building wireframes one day while defining and designing the analytics and reporting strategy the next. Carl has lived and worked in Singapore for eleven years and now calls Singapore “home”.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT