Social media's not quite ready to run
Let's face it: Social media is still very much an infant. It requires numerous improvements before marketers will receive the corresponding level of sophistication they find in traditional offline advertising milieus and social media's older online siblings - email, search and traditional display.
Social media is a noisy, complex and constantly evolving ecosystem that proves difficult to decipher. In response, marketers' attitudes and strategies regarding social media vary widely, ranging from the well informed and articulated to the overwhelmed and reluctant. Concerns ranging from risks to brand image continue to inhibit widespread adoption of advertising in certain environments. Many promising technologies, while trendy, have yet to demonstrate efficacy. Social media data is often sparse, biased by self-reporting and threatened by privacy concerns. It's unclear whether consumers are willing to engage with brand messaging during a time they predominantly focus on connecting with friends and consuming and creating content.
While the challenges of the current economic climate tend to induce a "flight to quality" and conservative mindset, many marketers cannot ignore the audience, dynamics and conversations offered by social media. And they will be the leaders of the next generation. Make no mistake, the "social" element of media is not a fad. What may eventually disappear are the traditional concepts of "media" as we know them.
It is possible that, in the future, there could be real advantages garnered by first-movers and little room for "me too" marketers. Each brand may be forced to conceive and implement its own relatively unique social media strategy. This will not necessarily be easy - no, it is not as simple as getting on Twitter - but here are some guidelines to leveraging what may be the best opportunity of our century.
In some ways, the depth of measurability in online advertising has limited its growth. Many who manage a campaign's tactical elements focus predominantly on the campaign's performance and lose sight of the bigger marketing picture. While driving transactional revenue is important, messaging to the correct audience and driving positive brand awareness and association is also extremely important - and much more difficult to measure. It appears online advertising is held to a much higher standard of "performance" than other advertising mediums because it is assumed that the specialized buying through these mediums reaches the correct "audience." The brand's ideal audience remains the same regardless of media.
While Facebook Connect and similar services will foster cross-medium and entity connectivity, insight into the full range of consumers' interaction within social media on a macro level (from social networks to applications and widgets to blogs to user-generated content) and on a micro level (within the walled gardens of specific entities) will still remain difficult to obtain. However, there is little doubt that the maximum marketing value will be derived through horizontal aggregation of advertiser and user data across the entire social media landscape - and this is now possible with certain vendors.
In any economic climate, those who have the discipline to create value consistently and at scale over time will forge success. Look at social media participation holistically as an investment in two core assets (the firm's brand and marketing/customer intelligence data). Start with your most powerful audience (your existing customers). If done correctly, you will have utilized a powerful channel to not only uniquely engage and influence the consumers that matter the most to your brand, but to amplify this powerful audience to reach a scalable set of new customers very similar to your own.