“Social” Comes First, “Media” Comes A Distant Second—If At All

A lot of clients have their knickers in a twist over the profound changes brought on by the rapid adoption of Social Media like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, et al.  They want to know how to leverage these new media: what it takes to make a fan page or develop lots of followers by tweeting.

Courtesy of http://kyanmedia.com/about

Courtesy of http://kyanmedia.com/about

Unfortunately, the only people who consider these networks “media” are marketers— that woman in your book club who just friended you certainly doesn’t think that way.  To most users, these platforms simply provide a convenient way to maintain personal relationships in our increasingly time-starved lives.

Recently, the clipboard set at Yankelovich has been making the rounds with a presentation on Millenials and Social Media that echoes this perspective.  Their research suggests social networks present a unique forum for personal engagement that is very hard for brands to penetrate effectively.  Despite their surging popularity, Yankelovich contends that the social media provide lousy environments to sell people on brands.

For the most part, I agree with those findings.  Most brands do not offer anything particularly unique or compelling to consumers; few boast the passion-stirring qualities of a true badge.  But some do.  Two million fans signed on to follow Adidas Originals on Facebook.  Nike+ created their own network of runners and as of last January, they logged over 200 MILLION miles.  Tony Hsieh, the hyper-connected CEO of Zappos has 821,000 dedicated Twitter followers, an impressive number but still far behind celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal (1.35 million), President Obama (1.5 million),  and the shameless Ashton Kutcher (2.3 million).

Notice that none of those examples could even remotely be termed a ‘parity product’—each is unique and singularly devoted to something (a team, a lifestyle, policy) that millions of people can share.  The same can probably not be said for something more prosaic, like say the Swiffer.

Moreover, each of these successful social media brands deliver something unique to people: advice, insider perspective, first looks.  That is unique content people care deeply about, and passion has always created and defined social groups.  If your brand legitimately demonstrates and champions some passion that excites a group of people in your market, you stand a good chance to earn positive returns on social media investments.

But if your brand does not, you can and should still leverage social media, but instead of trying to talk and lead, watch and listen.  Twitter makes it easy to aggregate what people say about your brand and Facebook users are notoriously public with their opinions.  Flickr posts feature tags and comments and combing through Amazon customer reviews provides refreshingly unvarnished consumer opinions.  The Social Media provide a constant real time focus group for any savvy brand.

So, should every client be in Social Media?  Definitely. 

Should every client be there with Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts?  Not so much.

Because this forum is far more “Social” than “Media.”  Here, you don’t buy followers or purchase a captive audience.  You can’t demand attention; you have to earn interaction.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79