What ever happened to “You”?
You were on a roll. Just two years ago, You were Time magazine’s person of the year. When Web 2.0 changed everything, You were there. You did it. You turned the Web into the “interactive” medium we always knew it could be.
You changed the rules. You took control.
So what happened? Lately, it seems that marketing and advertising executives are either blind optimists or furrow-browed skeptics about social media marketing. Are we — the marketers, the bloggers, the people who read and post comments on blogs and message boards, the 2.0 digerati — overestimating our audience’s desire to interact?
In a Copyblogger guest post, Hoffman/Lewis advertising CEO Bob Hoffman insists we’re marketing to ourselves. (Et tu, Bob?)
Bob’s article is a must-read, especially for marketers who are self-proclaimed “Facebook addicts”, “Twitterholics”, or the like, because in it he claims that You, the aforementioned social web-savvy, are the only ones who actually know how — or care — to interact with content online. (He defines interactivity as “the ability to interact with the content of the medium, not just the medium.”) According to Bob, for most people, the internet is a passively interactive experience, like TV but with a mouse for a remote. The net effect is that marketers are living in their own web-savvy bubble and are now guiltier than ever of marketing to themselves.
While I agree with most of Bob’s piece, I wholeheartedly disagree with his conclusion:
Don’t kid yourself. As an online marketer, you are facing the same challenge that every marketer since the beginning of commerce has faced: How do you attract the attention of people who are actively trying to avoid you? The methods currently in our arsenal just aren’t good enough.
It would be lovely if the “social network/conversationalist” crowd were right and interactivity between marketer and marketee would evolve as a caring, loving relationship.
I’m officially skeptical.
Fair enough, but who ever said that social media marketing has to be a forced interaction? The problem isn’t that the methods in our arsenal aren’t good enough, the problem is that “social media marketing” is a misnomer.
Social media marketing should be a largely introverted activity, one where the marketer spend more time listening, researching, and refining their message than they do actually pushing one. It should be about creating environments, and playing in existing ones, where you learn juicy details about what’s actually important to your customer segments. Yet for most, it seems “social media marketing” has come to mean the tactics by which one goes about hunting down customers and annoying them under the guise of “friend”-ship.
Of course push marketing tactics don’t work well on the social web. They never did so well in Web 1.0, either. The problem isn’t social media. The problem is marketers putting tactics before strategy and expecting different results just because the technology and format are new. That’s what’s laughable.
In a recent interview with Josh Bernoff, co-author of the new book Groundswell: Winning In a World Transformed by Social Technologies, we discussed the need to put people before objectives, strategy and technology (just remember the acronym P.O.S.T and you’ve got it). Keep that in mind when considering these other stats about the online population* from the book:
*Figures represent percentage of online U.S. adults participating at least monthly.
Bob is right to a degree. Most people online aren’t involved in social media. But, as Seth Godin points out, the “who” matters more than the “how many,” and if someone is willing to give you free insights about your products, services, or brand, shouldn’t you listen?
Neil Postman, a notoriously cranky (and brilliant) theorist of the mass media era, came to mind after Bob outed himself as being “cranky” and “skeptical” about social media marketing. In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman defers to two other media skeptics, both famously crankier than even Bob Hoffman or Neil himself:
What [George] Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What [Aldous] Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
Orgy Porgy, Centrifugal Bumblepuppy, Stumbling your Friend Feed, Twittering your Facebook in public. Anyone care to explain the difference? Point is, Orwell’s vision came true in 1933 (16 years before 1984 was published) and Huxley’s vision came true somewhere between 2005 and last Tuesday.
We are living in a sea of irrelevance, but don’t let it bother (former person-of-the-year) You! The constant hissing of digital white noise only makes relevance that much more valuable a commodity. After a day of swimming through mental 2.0 excrement, even a fleeting sip of relevance tastes like champagne.
And that’s our job as marketers; to keep the campaign champagne coming.
Ah, but if only it were that easy. How do you know when to recommend a Sicilian Syrah blend, an earthy Chilean Cabernet, a crisp-and-buttery New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or maybe a reserve bottle of South African Pinotage? What if an ice-cold Budweiser will do? You’d look pretty stupid offering some fancy-pants varietal to someone who just wants a Bud.
And that’s exactly how social media helps us. It gives us new data to plug into existing methods. But as Postman warns, “there is a limit to the promise of new technology . . . it cannot be a substitute for human values.” Very true, especially considering that I lifted that quote from Wikipedia.
So I wonder, if Neil Postman were an “interactive” marketer, and still alive today, how would he ensure his message was getting to people distracted by the technology that’s come to define them, when it should be the other way around? My guess is that he’d use personas.
But don’t take my word for it. I’m in the Persuasion Architecture business and my target customers are marketers and business owners who read blogs and occasionally comment. Your social media strategy might look very different from mine.
UPDATE: Brian Clark, the editor and founder of Copyblogger, has made a brilliant contribution to this discussion: “The Five Essential Elements of Effective Social Media Marketing“