Talking To Ourselves
Joe Mandese, the multiple-personality editor in chief of MediaPost, filling in on today’s Spin Board, which is a post in between departing Spinner Jason Heller, and (here’s some news) returning Spinner Max Kalehoff, who will resume his eloquent assessment of, if I may risk some trademark infringement, all things digital.
But back to my multiple-personality disorder, because this post actually has something to do with that topic. You see, as editor of MediaPost, I cover many media and advertising worlds that may not be evident to people reading our coverage. MediaPost is really an amalgamation of special interests, covering what our industry typically divides into two categories of media: digital and “traditional.” And depending on what I’m editing or writing, or who I’m talking to, I find myself toggling between them, putting on the hat of this audience or that one.
And by the way, if you looked at it the way I do, you’d see even more finite divisions, even within digital -- search, display, social, mobile, etc. -- and every combination thereof.
This is not new for Madison Avenue, of course. Long before “digital,” I would observe, track, and even write about the insular divisions of the advertising world, and the perspectives of the people dividing them. In the old days, it was between “advertising” and “below-the-line,” a catch-all for everything that agencies did that wasn’t, well, advertising. Interestingly, digital media and marketing services frequently took root in below-the-line departments of some of the most seminal digital shops.
But that’s a post for another Spin Board. Today I want to focus on the insular nature of some online business models, and why, even if they’re growing fast, it’s not such a good thing. And why the exclusionary nature of online media always talking to itself only divides the world of marketing, advertising and media services.
I’m not even going to get into CNN’s reported gambit to acquire Mashable, another example of an old-line media company trying to bootstrap itself with some shiny new digital content platform, which will inevitably be lost inside its old-line org culture.
As management consultant, Activate’s Michael Wolf, points out, it’s usually better to reorganize and retrain your own org culture, than to buy one and try and bolt it on. That rarely, if ever, works.
But the real point of today’s post is that I think online business models frequently have a big flaw: They only think online. And that’s great if you’re a pure-play online commerce model like Amazon that is only taking share from offline (though if I’m not mistaken, I’ve read that Amazon and others are actually looking at opening some brick-and-mortar stores. Go figure.).
But if you’re in the business of reaching and influencing people on behalf of brands, online (warning: this is the really controversial part) is only part of the universe. How much a part I don’t really know these days, because the truth is that online media has disrupted and supplanted a tremendous amount of traditional media -- and in record time.
But the truth is, it’s not and never will be all the media that the average consumer will be exposed to or influenced by. So stop thinking about it that way. I’ve always felt this way about the insular nature of online media, but nowhere is it greater than in social media, an industry-within-the-industry that either truly believes, or is trying to convince the rest of us, that people only talk to each other via social networks.
So let me ask you a couple of questions. The first is, what’s the biggest social network in the world? Wrong, it’s not Facebook, or even one of those Chinese or Brazilian clones. It’s people talking to other people.
Second question: What’s the biggest “digital” social network in the world? Wrong, it’s still not any of the aforementioned social platforms. The No. 1 way that people share information digitally is email, meaning a person actively sent it to one person or several other people. (If you doubt me, look up Tynt.com’s data on this. It will blow your mind: 80% of all link referrals come from email, not a social network).
I’m sure you get my point by now, which is that it’s important to think outside your own little box, even if your box happens to be growing faster than any medium ever before, and is currently the darling of Wall Street, Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley combined. It’s just not a holistic perspective.
In the old, pre-digital days, I would use a visual prop to illustrate Madison Avenue’s inability to look at the holistic world of media. I would hold up a piece of paper and say, “This page represents the media universe -- all the media a consumer is exposed to.” Then I would fold it in half, and then fold it in half again, saying, “This is the part you actually think about.” It was true then, and it’s especially true now.
So go ahead, print this column out and fold it, and then fold it again. Ah, but then you’d be using something that wasn’t actually digital media.