"S@les are virtual, LOL for Black Friday retailers" says the headline of a New York Post story which makes it known that the Twitter feed Cheaptweet -- one among many aggregating holiday deals -- is spitting out 800 deals per hour. And then there are all the individual retailers using the social Web to get the word out about their holiday promos: Toys 'R' Us, Target, Amazon -- they're all there, tweeting and Facebook-ing their way to profit.
When you think about it, this shiny, new, social media Black Friday is JetBlue's "All You Can Jet" promo writ large. As you might recall, that promotion used social media channels -- I believe exclusively -- to advertise a deal it was offering last fall in which one cheap ticket bought unlimited flights on the service for an entire month. It sold out early, and didn't give a dime to the newspapers and TV stations that normally would have gotten the word out about the campaign, via paid advertising.
This is great news, if you're an advertiser. But for media companies, I predict a series of increasingly Black Fridays. For now, most retailers wouldn't have the nerve to cut out a lot of their advertising budget, but that won't last. As consumers, we are slowly being trained to look to social media for real-time information about promotions. You knew this already, because you do it, as I do. In case there was any question about it, Razorfish released a study earlier this month that said 44% of people who follow brands on Twitter do so because they want exclusive deals, while 37% of MySpace and Facebook brand fans "fanned" advertiser pages for the same reason. Ha! And you thought social media was a dialogue! (Disclosure: I've been known to do editing for Razorfish, but had no involvement in that report.)
So, imagine you're a smart marketer, and you begin to notice how powerful it is to have your promotional messages spreading through social networks. Then you calculate the ROI of the sales that come via customers who learned about a certain promotional event via social networks vs. those who learned about it via a TV campaign or a newspaper circular. Then you look at how the number of people who subscribe to your social media distribution channels is growing, and how that's probably destined to make the ROI you achieve through social networks even better. It doesn't take a rocket scientist, or even a particularly astute analytics specialist, to tell you it's time to reexamine how much you're spending in paid media.
A year from now, whether the recession is behind us or not, paid media is going to be a lot less important to retailers than it has been. And so on, and so on, for many Black Fridays to come. On that note, depressing as this column may be to some of you, Happy Black Friday!
(For the record, I don't shop on the day after Thanksgiving. I got out of the game once the original Filene's Basement closed down in Boston. Just ain't the same.)