The end of social

I dislike predictions. But I’m going to make one… there will be no more big social networks. We’ve reached, and passed, a tipping point.

Why?

Because they’re all being strangled at birth by over-eager PR and marketing people, who – for all their impressive-sounding job titles and amazeballs CVs – seem to have completely forgotten all the basics of social.

Twitter and Facebook dominate the social landscape for most of us*. Similarly, they dominate the marketing spend of those brands that advertise on social media.

There’s a clear cause-and-effect thing going on here … first came the platform, then came millions of regular users, then (and only then) came the marketing and PR people.

That’s the way it works. The logic is pretty robust and if you felt like it, you could template it and see that it applies in many other walks of life.

Something has been lost, or forgotten, though.

Because now, when a new social platform launches, before most people have even created an account or downloaded an app there’s a slew of ill-conceived blog pieces and articles from marcomms people all treading the same tired old ground … ‘what brands should do on X…’

Almost none of them say “what brands should do is back off for a while, see if this thing gathers momentum, whether or not people will naturally gravitate to it, and if so what their behaviour can tell us about how we should use this platform – if at all.”

David Meyer wrote a piece on Gigaom which hits the nail on the head as far as the recent launch of Jelly was concerned… “Goodbye for now, Jelly – it’s not you it’s the marketers.”

And he’s right!

I’ve been an active and enthusiastic user of social media since before that term became common parlance – dig around in the archives of the Scotsman and the FT and you might even find me quoted in articles as far back as 2006 on how businesses could use social media for research and recruitment.

But it pains me when I see people in my sphere of work forever caught up in the Emperor’s new clothes outlook.

It really wouldn’t kill any of you to slow down a little, ask a few questions, be intellectually curious and maybe even a little sceptical.

From a purely pragmatic perspective, if we choose to ignore the old recipe for success, which turned the likes of Facebook and Twitter into the enormous beasts they are, we’re doing ourselves and our clients a disservice and we’ll eventually be over-taken by events – or smarter thinkers.

Your clients are – or should be – paying you for your consultancy. So be a consultant. If they just wanted to spend time in the company of someone to jump up and down on the spot shrieking excitedly, they’d get a job at a soft-play centre.

 

* – Europe, North America, the Antipodes, etc… ‘the West’ as it’s sometimes called.

Don’t get engaged … be engaging

The word engage has been taken hostage by the social media marketing community, and I am probably as guilty as the digital comms person of bandying that word around just a little too much.

I’ve written countless blog pieces, opinion articles and PR plans in which I extol the virtues of a three-step plan to social media nirvana .. listen, analyse and engage.

When you were a child did you ever say a word over and over and over again until it sounded like meaningless nonsense? I’m fairly sure I wasn’t the only one to do that. But if you’ve never done it, give it a try.

So it is with words that get hijacked – they can begin to lose their meaning.

I was reflecting on this in the wake of Facebook’s most recent set of changes, which are designed to give users of the service more control over what shows up in their News Feed. At the moment the News Feed is an all-in-one repository, but users will soon be able to filter different types of content into separate feeds. A little like the way you might sort your emails into folders.

There are two points of interest for businesses using Facebook as part of their marketing mix. The first is that from now on they will be able to use bigger images and video in the advertisements they place in the Facebook News Feed.

The second is that their potential audience has now been given the tools to automatically siphon advertising into a separate feed which they can ignore completely for as long as they like.

Which brings us back to the E-word.

Brands have been trying hard to engage with people via social media for years. Facebook just shifted the goalposts.

Want to be seen, listened to, remembered for your Facebook marketing? Well, you’ll have to be that much more interesting, memorable and shareable.

It’s not a revolutionary concept. But if it stems the flow of lazy thinking that lurks behind too many companies’ attitudes toward social media marketing, that’s not a bad thing.

Stop trying to have a conversation with me about the things that matter most to you but least to me. Instead, show me something that holds my attention, that reflects well on you without your products being the hero of the hour, and which makes me want to spend my money with you rather than your competitors.

Be engaging.

What the Olympic sponsors could learn from Beckham and Adidas

Adidas pulled off a fantastic PR stunt yesterday at the Westfield Stratford shopping centre (that’s ‘mall’ to my colonial friends).
They installed a photobooth and encouraged people to step inside, whereupon… from the O to the M to golden-balls G – there’s David Beckham waiting for them.
Brilliant work. Inspired. You want warm and fuzzy brand association – there you are. You want to be seen as well connected – help yourself. You want people to think your brand is cool – you got it.
So how come the other big ticket sponsor brands haven’t also done something interesting, different, entertaining..?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not for one minute suggesting that anyone in their right mind would want to see Ronald McDonald emerging from the darkness and coming toward them, least of all while they’re in a confined space.
Yet, unless I’ve missed something, there appears to be a dearth of other Olympi-brands dusting off their creative mojos and winning the hearts and minds of the public.
There’s really no excuse in 2012 – it would be as cheap as chips (which you can only buy from McDonalds, unless they are served with fish as part of an authentic fish ‘n’ chips experience) to knock out a whole rash of Facebook competitions and games, or do some cool London stuff via Foursquare, maybe linked to previous London Olympics.  Plus all the big brands have so much corporate sponsorship going on that they have more than enough potential strings to pull for a spot of A-list celebrity endorsement action.
  
Something. Anything. Anyone..?
It really wouldn’t be hard for these big brands to create campaigns or one-off stunts that demonstrate they’ve actually been listening to their customers through all the Facebook groups etc they have.
It makes me wonder what the point of it all is (having a brand presence on Facebook, I mean) if you can’t then take everything you’ve learned about interacting with your customers via a meaningful two-way dialogue and put it to good use throughout all your PR, advertising, marketing and comms activities.

I think that might be worth setting aside for another post.


Footnote: list of the London 2012 Olympic sponsors, partners and supporters here.

I robot

Branded merchandise. We’ve all had some at one time or another – crappy pens, the occasional t-shirt, the odd uninspiring laptop bag.At WStore we’ve been thinking about getting some branded merchandise done, so one of my team – Deb – has been getting some product samples in for us to review.

There haven’t been any t-shirts, but there have been plenty of crappy pens and some utterly uninspiring bags. In fact, we were starting to lose faith in the whole thing until one day this metallic little chap arrived unceremoniously in a Jiffy bag.

He’s a USB stick in the guise of a robot.

Isn’t he great..?