Social Networking: Separating The Trend From The Trendy

  • by March 31, 2009
It seems as though the latest bright shiny object our industry has become awash in a wave of obsessing about lately, besides Twittering, is the need for a social networking strategy.

Given the increasing number of social networking sites, strategy offerings, analytics and insights companies, dashboards, blog scrapings, creative applications and myriad of all things "social networking," I was reminded of how the same sort of "Everyone go left" mentality hit when the user-generated content bandwagon came to town a couple of years back. Let's see, have we figured out an equivalent acronym to UGC for social networking yet... SNS? Wait, no.... we already have SMS.

Seriously, I have no beef with the social networking craze. One look at the scaling of activity on Facebook tells you this has become more than trendy. But then when entire digital agencies begin wrapping their whole portfolio under the guise of "branded social applications," you can't help but wonder whether or not we've taken things a bit too... socially.

In case you were wondering, people don't want to see us muck up yet another social networking platform with a bunch of banner ads on their profile pages. If the post-News Corp. drop-down into MySpace with banners, buttons and pop ups brazenly layered over poorly designed user-generated HTML pages wasn't enough to chase us away from MySpace, now we witness Facebook ever so carefully squeezing more and more pixels out of our profiles for those banner CPMs they just can't seem to resist.

Tread lightly. Communities, like corporate cultures, are fragile things. It doesn't take much to chase people away in droves. Which isn't to suggest that social networking is defined by activity on community sites alone. The trend, if I may take a stab at one definition of social networking strategy is to listen first to the insights and motivations being discussed in social dialogue. Then take those insights and leverage them to create impact ELSEWHERE. Which is the part so many marketers and agencies seem to be forgetting.

Sure, lots of people will declare their allegiance to a brand they like by joining a branded group or page. But that's not where the juicy unaided insights live. The deep insights to be found lie in the conversations that are un-prompted by brand stewards hoping to ride the trend.

What every creative hungers for is a brief that has some deep consumer insight about the category that their creative idea can address with the right kind of creative execution. Which is why it's curious that with so many social networking companies and experts out there, agency account planners aren't having their doors beaten down with insights for the social networking brigade.

Those who are mining social networks by listening for insights have a clear path to selling them. Consult your agency account planner. Not the media planner. The Account Planner. They're the ones that every creative relies on to deliver that great piece of insight about the category that can make the difference in a Big Idea and another trendy execution.

From this creative's perspective, if approached correctly, Social networking should go way beyond the trendy use of banners, brand pages, profiles or even free or "earned" impressions. The real trend is about listening for insight, then creating for impact.


6 comments about "Social Networking: Separating The Trend From The Trendy ".
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  1. Carol Ackerman from the ackerman group, March 31, 2009 at 2:42 p.m.

    I found this article very accurate in articulating the fear of another over commercialized venue(s) trends to ad proliferation. Also appreciated the direction to the Account Planner and emphasis on the creative thread and vision requisite to design and deliver consistently meaningful message and content.

  2. Brian Olson from Video Professor, Inc, March 31, 2009 at 3:08 p.m.

    We're overthinking "Social Media" far too much. It is what it is.

    Twitter has become a fad, I think. Akin to CB Radios a generation ago.

    Twitter is in that rare group of being a noun and a verb, and a great source for satire. Doonebury had the best so far.

    Regardless of the pipeline, it's all about message. Not the pipeline.

    There just happen to be lots of pipelines to choose from.

    Time to stop gazing at our e-navels.

  3. Tom Walker from Firstborn Multimedia, March 31, 2009 at 4:47 p.m.

    Alan - great stuff as usual. In being responsible to our clients, we need to constantly be vigilant on what is hype and what has substance. (Does everyone need a "widget"?) For each client, each brand really, that mix is different and we need to be able to guide our clients and explain why or why not a social network experience makes sense (or not).

  4. Gerard Babitts, March 31, 2009 at 9:42 p.m.

    It really is more about the insight of listening and engaging on the public's terms -- not the brand's terms. My fear is that too many over-eager marketing, advertising, and PR folk will muddy up social media with what will amount to spam and noise. I hope we don't mess up a phenomenal customer insight and discussion.

  5. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., April 1, 2009 at 7:46 p.m.

    As Bob Hoffman says on, "There is no bigger sucker than a marketer convinced he's missing the latest trend."

  6. Jim Lefevere from Independent, April 1, 2009 at 10:51 p.m.

    Great post and I agree that research will be markedly different in the future and in most cases for marketers there is a clear case of FUD.

    Companies and marketers don't want to miss the train and the fact is that the train left and the passengers don't necessarily want you on unless you're bringing something of value.

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