Archive for June, 2009

Media was Always Social. Scale is what’s changed.

Being in the media field I’m inundated with content discussing Social Media.  Social this.  Social that.  Perhaps this is why Ad Age’s Matt Jones’ article “Why I Hate Social Media” grabbed my attention.  Here is an excerpt:

People are interesting. Ideas are interesting. Stories are interesting. Real stuff is interesting. Brands are interesting (or, at least, some of them are). Even ads can be interesting. But media? Media just connects those things. It’s a conduit. Media is not interesting. Not even the “social” kind.

He’s right of course.  The only people who really care about the developments in social media are the people making the developments.  Yet the mainstream media, me and my peers, and brand marketers everywhere seem to perpetually be drawn to the discussion of the thing rather than how to make people, ideas, and stories interesting.

Part of the problem is media insiders DO find these stories interesting.  The collapse of long revered brands, the rise of other brands, the guerilla warfare of platforms looking to outsmart their competitors IS interesting on one level.

The problem is it creates an artificial distinction between US and THEM.  To debate the validity and longterm viability or Twitter misses the fact that Twitter’s long term existence doesn’t really matter as much as the ability to share, distribute, and openly harness an API to create meaningful applications which will undoubtably continue regardless of Twitter’s future.

Media hasn’t become social.  It always was.  I talked about the latest Dukes of Hazzard episode with anyone who would listen in 1980.  My mother sent me newspaper clippings all the through my college career (for example – don’t use Bean0, it is made with penicillin! [I’m alergic.]) The difference now is that media is social with SCALE.

Advertising trained the social out of marketers

011206 Smoking Bicycle LargeI was just at a conference for PR/communications/advertising educators on new media hosted by Edelman.  The exchange was lively and the sessions were really strong and prompted the thinking that follows.  That said, please understand I am  still thinking this through.

For decades, PR and advertising classes taught people how to broadcast.  This required skills that took natural communication and repurposed it for a mass medium.  In many respects marketers had to train the social OUT of their communications.  The focus was on how to communicate with a group that can’t talk back.  Now, educators have students who understand the latest (mostly social) platforms as well as anyone.  The skill the students (and all of us) now need to learn revolve around how to make large causes, companies, and brands conversational in response to the new technologies that permit conversations at scale.

Who were the great marketers of previous centuries?  In many cases, the great marketers were people who could capture the attention of a crowd and jump start conversation and action.  Until relatively recently (say 120 years ago,) successful new businesses engaged a crowd in a new and meaningful in the streets of each and every town.  Or they inspired action through prose.  Politicians relied almost exclusively these two tools to get elected or to inspire legislation.  They went on tours through their district/state/country to get their message out and then relied on newspapers to take that message to people who couldn’t attend.  Events like the World’s Fairs, city markets, etc attracted crowds of people to see and experience new ideas and concepts.  From those hubs, people took the ideas and spread them to their social graph.

Other successful marketers were able to inspire others to spread their ideas and products for them.  Whether paid or volunteer, the ability to mobilize a crowd of people was an essential component to many of the great businesses of the past. Marketing was about taking the message viral.

Much of the media innovation that has occurred in the past 300 years has created efficiencies in the delivery of a message.  Newspapers and Magazines provided effective ways to spread a message to people asynchronously.  Radio and TV allowed people to leverage their communication skills to ever larger groups of people.  As this happened, marketing became less social.

We now enter a time where technology demands marketers relearn the skills we marketing professionals have largely trained out of ourselves due to the requirements of scale.  Successful marketers must harness groups of volunteers to spread their message digitally and in person.  Marketers can choose to spread ideas through open platforms rather than push them down closed and expensive distribution channels.   You can buy reach, you can earn reach, and in most cases you do both.

Does this resonate?  I will admit it is not yet a firmly held conviction but the seed of a thought that feels right to me.  What am I missing?