Why Do We Hold Social Media To A Different Set Of Expectations?

Let's talk about expectations for a minute.

One of the great rubs against advertising and marketing within social media is that brands cannot control the environment; messaging could potentially be placed alongside some inappropriate content. Of course many marketers are starting to realize the rewards far outweigh the risks. Word-of-mouth and viral marketing are extremely effective, and empowering consumers to evangelize your brand can drive a high return on spend -- but what about that initial fear regarding location and proximity?

Let's make an analogy to the real world, because that's the fairest manner of evaluating this issue. After all, online shouldn't be held to a different standard than other media formats. If I'm a marketer and I'm advertising on the side of buses and a bus gets into an accident because the driver was texting while driving the bus, does that accident have a negative impact on my brand? If I'm advertising using GoCards in a bar and a fight breaks out in the bar where a number of people get injured, does my brand suffer as a result of that environment? I don't think the answer is yes; I think that consumers are smart enough to understand the difference between real-world events and marketing.



Of course I can already anticipate the backlash for this analogy. The naysayers will note that outdoor advertising and online are two different beasts -- but I would maintain they are not. All advertising should be held to the same standard: Even though environment needs to be considered, it should not be THE deciding factor in whether or not a brand participates. The deciding factors should be the ability to deliver a viable target audience, forecasted performance against clear business objectives, and opportunity to impactfully convey a message.

Environment is one of the components to be considered -- and for pharma and some other brands, it can be a stronger factor in the consideration -- but if your consumers are there and they are active, why shouldn't you consider being involved and participating with them?

Social media is able to deliver a targeted audience, and it is fast becoming a requirement in a marketing campaign. The addition of reach and pass-along that comes from social media far outweighs concerns regarding the environment. Plus you have to consider that, whether you like it or not, your brand is already there. A quick survey of leading social and community-based sites like Facebook, MySpace, Wikipedia, Digg, Yelp and ExpoTV yields a number of brand mentions. On all of these platforms you will find consumers talking with consumers about brands, and your nonparticipation gives them free reign to do and say what they like. At least when you're there you can be involved, respond, and demonstrate a desire to be engaged at that level -- which goes a long way to increasing your effectiveness as a brand. This increase can lead to sales.

Brands try to drive awareness, increase consideration, and drive intent that results in sales. You may be looking to drive sales from new customers or increase frequency of sales with your current customers. In either case, however, your customers are in social media. You cannot afford to ignore them, but you have to enter this world with the right set of expectations.

Expectations are a baseline for measuring success, so you need them to be set correctly. What kinds of experiences do you have -- and how would you have addressed the expectations differently in advance?

8 comments about "Why Do We Hold Social Media To A Different Set Of Expectations? ".
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  1. Jonathan Graber from Three Pillars Recruiting, July 22, 2009 at 11:24 a.m.

    Cory - great article! I really liked your passionate argument for why brands should not be too worried about user generated content. However, I will respectfully disagree. I am a "naysayer" and I will maintain that outdoor and online are different beast for the following main reason: Outdoor advertising is not very targeted. Online advertising is (if done correctly) VERY targeted. We're always hearing about different technologies to splice and dice populations and target ads. In this case, a person served a Nike ad next to a UGC uploaded video of a bar fight does leave a negative taste in people's mouths. The outdoor advertising in the bar itself won't illicit that kind of response because it's not targeted. Nike's ad in a Fox Sports Bar can't predict a bar fight. However, with online advertising it can suggest the Nike WANTS it's ads near this kind of bad UGC content.

  2. Jose Ramos from Renew Financial, July 22, 2009 at 11:34 a.m.

    Cory - thanks for the post and I agree with you. While I think most of us would agree that we would not want our ads positioned next to inappropriate content, I would think that a few "misses" in terms of aligning a marketing message next to less-than-optimal content would not result in significant brand damage. I think most folks would recognize that brands don't necessarily endorse every single bit of content which they appear next to. As you indicate, there is a certain lack of control which we have to have a tolerance for within the social media space in order to reap its as-yet mostly unrealized benefits. As we collectively get better at using this medium for communicating with folks we'll figure out how to avoid exposures we don't want, but for now, I think it is a risk worth taking.

  3. Frank Zappala from Zappala Consulting Network, July 22, 2009 at 11:47 a.m.

    Most of the time I am with, but I think you are in an apples and oranges situation. In your analogy the ad cannot be reasonably assumed to support the situation that just ocurred. A far cry from an ad imbedded in content that would offend the customer. Inclusion of the brand message in a viral video with sexually explicit, or racially charged content would definitely affect the brand. I think the recent hacks, mean marketers still need to proceed with extreme caution in the social media.

  4. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., July 22, 2009 at 11:49 a.m.

    Terrific article! As you say, environment needs to be considered for reputational reasons as well as capability of delivering qualified potential customers in desired volume, but this consideration must, by its nature, be limited to judgements of the general intent of the platform (in the case of most bars, to provide a comfortable environment for the responsible consumption of beverages; in the case of most social networks, to provide an infrastructure for the pleasant sharing of personal and professional information), and not by the dynamic specifics of every possible user experience into which ads might be pulled.

    Further, I would hazard that people who go onto social networks and encounter (for example) erotica or violence or rabid political diatribes or plugs from vendors competing with current advertisers, etc., are very much in control of the experience they're having, and if they spend much time perusing such material are making a deliberate choice to do so - and thus by extension, to view whatever ads are displayed alongside their chosen content. It can be asking a great deal of social network providers to expect them to factor ads out of such user-controlled experiences, and it's by no means obvious they ought to - perhaps excepting the most egregiously ironic and creepy of co-placements (e.g., putting child-welfare fund ads on pages with adult content). In many other cases, one consumer's money is as green as another's, and who's to say whether perusers of MySpace naughty pages don't buy laundry soap? Or that young men watching video of a bar-fight don't buy sneakers? (They not only buy sneakers, sometimes they kill each other over them.)

    I wonder if at least a partial answer, here, is to turn an old magazine-industry trope on its head, where ad inserts resembling editorial are clearly marked as ADVERTISING, and occasionally also noted as to their content not being endorsed by magazine editors. Why not amend IAB placement rules to include a small-type squib in the periphery of online display ads, clarifying that the makers of products advertised do not control or endorse the content of the page on which these ads appear? It'd burn a few pixels of real-estate, but might clarify the issue for online consumers.

  5. Dustin Pitcher from The Marcom Group, July 22, 2009 at 11:49 a.m.

    @Jonathan so you always worry this much? Heh Just kidding=) I'm going with Cory on this one, hire the best interactive ad buyer you can find and go for it. You are correct in stating that there is the possibility of your ad getting served next to undesirable content. If someone see's a Nike ad whether in a bar or next to a bar fight video on YouTube the average consumer will not sit and think to themselves about how Nike should be ashamed of where they're putting ads, adding to that, consumers have nothing but choice online. If they've chosen to play a video that had bar fight in the title, I doubt they're going to be offended. On a side note, I don't think that an ad placed in a fox sports bar is untargeted. It may be less targeted but it's there for a reason ;)

  6. Stephen Shearin from ionBurst Media, July 22, 2009 at 2:09 p.m.

    Great article. As a network, this is one of the double standards we have been facing for years. Ironically, the best performing inventory is sometimes found in places considered unfit for a 'sensitive' brand.
    If a group is honest about their desires - ROI, profitability, performance, etc. - they will be less concerned with placement, within reason of course.

  7. Trevin Bensko-Wecks, July 22, 2009 at 6:36 p.m.

    I agree Cory. A great example of this is outlined in Jarvis's book 'What Would Google Do' in the chapter 'Dell Hell'. Dell was seriously debilitated by not participating in the Social discussion. But they were able to turn it around. First they listened, then they participated, enabling them to make the internal changes needed to correct the problem. Soon the discussion changed from one of frustration and dissatisfaction to one of praise and encouragement. How much pain would they have avoided if they had been a part of the discussion from the beginning? How much pain would they be in now if they never got involved? If you don't play, you can't win.

  8. Kevin Murray from Hypefest, July 23, 2009 at 12:31 p.m.

    Correct me if I am wrong here but Marketers want to reach people (Ok, anyone) who might buy their product/brand. Offering them adjacency to a steady flow of drivel from self-absorbed (can somebody please acknowledge me) wannabes is what gives marketers serious pause.

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