As we approach 2010 and the new decade, I decided to revisit this essay, one I originally wrote and posted in June of 2008. For much of this decade, social media as an idea, term or simply a phrase, has been willfully bandied around by agencies, social media “consultants” et al, as if it was the cure-all for any brands’ online presence. White noise engulfed common sense; nature, particularly how humans behave in society, was hardly ever considered as marketers embraced what they considered, the white hot future wrought by technology. That lack of consideration of human behavior on the web when it came to an online brand strategy, I believe, was an early mistake that really muddied the waters.
Just this week, in a post titled “Texting Isn’t The Distraction, Driving Is: A Parable For Social Business” Stowe Boyd wrote:
“In the social business context, this is similar to the acceptance of the personal element of social networking online, the acceptance that human life is lived in specific connections with other specific people, not in some generalized business context where workers are interchangeable parts.
Management often responds to the adoption of social tools the way that public policy has responded to texting while driving: they make it illegal to be social while working.
The far-sighted response will be to make it easier to gain the benefits of social business, and to rethink the organization and management of work around human nature instead to [sic] persisting in trying to ‘rise above’ what makes us people in the first place.”
That last paragraph, linking human nature to the benefits of social business, is a good jumping off point as any for how to discuss an online brand strategy with clients. Social Media has often been offered as a panacea, or a “solution” to a “problem” that doesn’t actually exist. Good strategy requires that hard questions be asked of how people, when using the social web, will interact with your brand. What would they naturally do?
What follows is the original post with changes or updates marked as so – [Update] or [Edit]. 18 months is an eternity on the web, but on re-reading this it seems, that with regard to social networking, change has been incremental at best. After all, we are still debating the difference, if there is any, between digital and traditional agencies.
These days the advertising and marketing world is all abuzz with phrases such as – Social Media, Social Advertising, Facebook Ads, Mass Media Networking Advertising…..etc, etc.. In the last two weeks I have been a panelist at the L I S A seminar in Portland and the Hawaii MusicTech Conference in Honolulu. L.I.S.A., which is an acronym for Lessons In Social Advertising, was aimed at marketers and advertisers who haven’t yet worked out how to advertise effectively in social networks. It focused on topics such as ‘What is social advertising?’ and ‘How do you get young people to recommend your brand?’ The Hawaii MusicTech panel discussed how musicians could effectively use social networks such as Facebook and MySpace to reach an audience and communicate with them. Two sides of the table as it were. One group wants to advertise, or push, their messages to a mass audience, while the other wants to create a network of like-minded people who hopefully will pull content such as free MP3s and then “evangelize” on behalf of the musicians by spreading messages by electronic word of mouth.
To understand and embrace social networking is to place the idea that says “technology makes this possible” to one side and embrace the idea of the basic human need to stay in touch with other like-minded people at all times. As Clay Shirky says “The desire to be part of a group that shares, cooperates, or acts in concert is a basic human instinct.” Think about rock concerts for a minute….. Those “experts” that take a position on social networking and advertising come at it from a technological point of view, as in “technology has created the means for everyone to be connected and to stay in touch.” I disagree with that statement because it removes nature from the game. It is entirely natural for humans to want to interact as often as possible as we are all social animals. Cities are no more artificial (technological) than the hives of bees, therefore the Internet is as natural as a spider’s web. People who believe that technology is driving our online interactions are missing the point, as John Gray, professor of European thought at LSE has written – “we ourselves are technological devices, invented by ancient bacterial communities as a means of genetic survival.” Bottom line – social networking,  on and offline, is as natural as apple pie as we all want to be as connected as possible – we can’t help it.
To some, online networks might be seen as mere antidotes to boredom at work, school or college, yet these new social networks do more than simply transmit one-way information about their members, they can change behaviour by propagating moods. These days we can all share “news” really fast, even about ourselves – for example, my Facebook or Twitter status might say “I’m heading to the beach in Waikiki…” and the mood that simple statement makes might become very contagious.
The Internet confirms what we have all known for a long time – the world is ruled by the power of suggestion but in the case of social networking it is often “influencers” that lead the suggesting. Then suggestions might become “group think.” John Gray writes – “in evolutionary prehistory, consciousness emerged as a side effect of language. Today it is a by product of media.” [Update N.B. - I prefer the straightforward use of the word media, especially re the social web] So, the question currently being asked by companies and advertisers is “how do we market and advertise to social networks?” Having to ask that question suggests the rocky ground that online advertisers are standing on.