Dec
22

My Jerry Maguire Social Media Moment

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Consumers and marketers have had what I’d call an “understanding” since the dawn of time. A quid pro quo as it were. You the consumer will accept a degree of marketing and salesmanship in exchange for a quality item or service of sorts.

Since consumers aren’t really the easiest bunch to please and can be a bit leery, marketers have had to resort to a mix of surprise, delight and entertainment to woo us. We are accepting of this to a degree. For marketers, the number of mediums in which to communicate to consumers has grown seemingly exponentially. Social media has become but one of those mediums.

With the advent of the Internet and expansive growth in technology came this thing called social networking.

Us as consumers would find refuge in such a place. It would be where we would begin to part with disruption marketing. It would be a place for us to network on our terms, to exchange memes, to showcase our intellectual or professional prowess, our banal activities, pictures of our kids on the beach or of us in a video getting stuck in a drier. Whatever it was, it was ours to engage with as we saw fit on our terms on our time.

Yet something happened. What was supposed to be ours became theirs.

The second we attributed analytics to it we missed the point.

The “Accidental Billionaire” Mark Zuckerburg instead of defending us, the 500 million people he quite literally owns, he now barters.

A friend of mine once equated Facebook as a TV channel, “where I can see what my friends are doing whenever I want.” At 500 million people, it’s more than a channel, it’s a network (as in television). But just like most networks they’re equally as perplexed about how to ensure their ability to deliver effective marketing to its audiences which is of course largely the basis of its valuation.

Do we blame investors? Of course they seek monetization but should it be at the expense of the relationship with the consumer?  It’s impossible to imagine Facebook ever going the way of the dodo but Facebook’s valuation as I’ve said is based largely on the backs of 500 million people and how much advertising revenue can be extracted from the company.

This is why I love Twitter, if for no other reason than Twitter seeks to wait as long as humanly possible to decide on monetization. They seek to find a balance between monetization and consumer experience. LinkedIn I believe successfully did the same thing.

Instead of looking at Facebook and discussing what’s going on behaviorally with how we communicate with one another or our relationship with privacy or lack thereof, companies see 500 million people and think dollar signs.

We forget about what’s important about social media. And shame on us for even conceiving of the term. It’s about “social” and us marketers being so high and mighty attempt to rob you the consumer of the “social” aspect and consider it a medium, where we can what? Not contribute to the conversation but interrupt the one you’re having.  Gee, sounds a lot like TV.

Over the past few years people have used the buzzword of this being the “social economy” when the reality is we should be calling this the era of the listening economy. If only we’d actually do it. Facebook recently mined our status updates for memology. But honestly did anything useful actually come out of it other than HMU (hit me up) is the new BRB (be right back)?

Facebook has become a place of information overload. Whoever knew the brilliance of brevity in 140 characters?

Perhaps, just maybe if we would actually listen, we might find ways to contribute to conversations. This is yet another reason I believe Twitter continues to thrive. It’s a place where not only do people exchange memes but people are inherently nice. You post a tweet seeking advice about something in Paris and someone in Sheboygan, WI offers up a solution.  It’s a place where you’re essentially listening first. The ones that shout the loudest on Twitter seem to get tuned out the most and much like television advertising or banner ads fade into the background.

Perhaps we can learn something from Google’s new 500 Billion Words project called “Ngram” which was featured in a cover article in the New York Times this week.

“’The goal is to give an 8-year-old the ability to browse cultural trends throughout history, as recorded in books,’ said Erez Lieberman Aiden, a junior fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard. Mr. Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, assembled the data set with Google and spearheaded a research project to demonstrate how vast digital databases can transform our understanding of language, culture and the flow of ideas.”

I’m of course well aware that there are myriad of research companies that mine “conversations” and customer comments.

Consider this comment from David Gehring in a comment to a blog post called the “Death of Market Research” by Forrester’s Tamera Barber.

“Additionally, we’ve recently been diving into social media market research using tools like NetBase’s ConsumerBase product to analyze the qualitative values found in the amalgamated ‘conversation’ happening online about our client’s brands and shows. When these “non-traditional” data sources are approached with a thoughtful hypothesis and the same scientific rigor as our more traditional research efforts, we are able to derive some very powerful insights. And these insights translate well into strategic as well as tactical brand and product strategy.”

Perhaps we’re on the right path.

It seems to me, if we take time to listen and observe what social media means in a cultural context then maybe we’ll find better ways to monetize the medium in a fashion which allows for a happy co-existence.

Your thoughts?

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