Why Social Media Is About to Make Black Friday Really Dark For Other Media

Is it just me? Or is this coming Black Friday just the beginning of a bunch of increasingly darker ones for media companies?


 "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.)

11 comments about "Why Social Media Is About to Make Black Friday Really Dark For Other Media".
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  1. Gary Kreissman from Group PRM, November 25, 2009 at 3:28 p.m.

    Well done, Catharine. This is an excellent response to those who question Social Media's commercial potential. Marketers who view Social as promotion or PR as opposed to DR are emerging as the winners.

  2. Katie Smillie from, November 25, 2009 at 3:42 p.m.

    Catherine, this is right on target. ROI for social media can be better than traditional paid media, largely because word of mouth and personal recommendations are just so darn effective. But, the downside with social is that it's hard to predict, hard to control your message, and hard to target consumers who aren't participating.

    But imagine if you could combine the strengths of both?
    You could harness the power of social relationships and personal recommendations, and at the same time target the right group of potential customers and maximize the reach of your brand message beyond social networks. Sounds great, right? That's why at we are so excited to be creating social ads for our clients. Someday, all ads will be social!

  3. Justin Russell, November 25, 2009 at 4:03 p.m.

    For coupons, deals, and other promotions-driven stuff, social media is just fine. But let's not get carried away.

  4. Cathy Taylor from MediaPost, November 25, 2009 at 4:22 p.m.

    I don't mean to imply that advertising in those other media will disappear, or that it still isn't useful for lots of things. I do mean to suggest that the shift of a lot of promotional activity to social media is going to hurt media companies, and pretty severely.

  5. Kevin Horne from Verizon, November 25, 2009 at 5:52 p.m.

    The facts you laid out are well argued. But your conclusion is too aggressive. Black Friday is one day, promotions are just one facet of marketing, and Twitter penetration is still relatively low. (And how scary is it that half a brand's followers on Twitter are just hanging on for deals? Another topic for another day...)

    And the ROI argument in your second to last paragraph gets a bit squishy. (e.g., "...and how that's probably destined...")

    Yes the use of social media will grow, and promotions will command a lot of SM attention. But paid media won't be damaged "pretty severely"...whatever that means.

  6. Gary Senser, November 25, 2009 at 6:16 p.m.

    I agree with you completely! This does not bode well for the future of Advertising Agencies as we know them. We have moved from a world where print space and broadcast time were in small supply to a world where advertising and media vehicles are virtually unlimited and abundant (Chris Anderson's "Long Tail").

    Advertising is quickly shifting to open platforms that users control, as opposed to the old way where media companies and businesses controlled a relatively small number of advertising vehicles priced to reflect their high demand and limited availability.

  7. Michael Senno from New York University, November 25, 2009 at 10:28 p.m.

    What about the fact that these social tools will eventually realize this and begin to charge for this advertising/marketing service at some point. If economics works accordingly, the market should see that brands are saving costs and some set of companies find a way to recapture that.

  8. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, November 25, 2009 at 10:37 p.m.

    I disagree completely. I will use Cheaptweets as my example. Good luck finding deals in 800 tweets per hour all in less than 140 characters. And each deal requires you to click through to another site to see the offer. So this is very high maintenance deal searching. And good luck getting your tweets through the massive clutter on twitter. I see/read 10% of the 400 I get a day and I only follow 59 accounts none of them friends! Most tweets are worthless drivel. And if the average person follows more including friends you know where their attention is focused. So if you know about Cheaptweets and want to sift through the endless offers and click through awesome. But as you proved with this article the only way for people to know of Cheaptweets (just as my example) is to reach them outside of social media. Sunday circulars and commercials will always rule for the next 10 years at least.

    I apologize to sound harsh but too few people are using social media. If Facebook had 92 million unique vistors in August (including international) then they only have maybe 1 in 6 or 7 Americans going on the site all with their attentions focused all over the place. Twitter is even more scattered. I have 4 accounts. You can buy friends, followers, fans, and buzz by the 1,000 from vendors who specialize in social media fraud!

    I have a finance degree and a view from the CFO seat. I will use social media to listen and engage but not to advertise aside from some cute promo's here and there. Traditional Media is safe from social media...but it isn't safe from a fragmented marketplace that is losing money from ad supported business models vs selling content! Cheers.

  9. Matt Savage from nomee, November 26, 2009 at 8:04 a.m.

    Great post and discussion. Thanks. An observation -- Howie's comment regarding the clutter is what keeps social media from mainstreaming to broader audience. It's a firehose, and unfortunately, many of the publishers are simply talking to themselves and the early adopter sliver of the market.

    However, marketers can pull the middle of the bell curve into the conversation by making it both valuable and practical to participate. Deals are the valuable half. Now just provide your audience with a way to filter and better connect, and social media becomes the ultimate direct marketing, promo and brand-building tool.

    Brands and advertisers have made every medium in history available to a broad audience. Not so with social media... YET. But when brands finally learn to help frame and facilitate the conversation instead of bolting onto current behavior, SM will mainstream -- which will be great for media consumers and marketers alike.

  10. Swag Valance from Trash, Inc., November 27, 2009 at 3 p.m.

    I'm not as convinced. All of what you speak of here speaks little to customer acquisition and primarily dips into the existing well for existing customers. At least when it comes to followers.

    While that is certainly a useful revenue strategy, and media companies will suffer for being bypassed in these relationships, social media + new customer acquisition is a much more complex issue. I am not convinced, at least yet, that retailers can rely on word-of-digital-mouth exclusively to get their brand and offers in front of new potential customers.

    On a related note, I find it pretty funny (if not outright cynical) that consumers are being trained to now call today "Black Friday".

  11. Doug Pruden from Customer Experience Partners, November 27, 2009 at 11:08 p.m.

    Social Media without a doubt is a great place to deliver the richest coupons, promotional offers, discounts, free samples and other special deals. If it's unique, exciting, or just free, the public will surely help you pass the news onto others. I still question however how Social Media in its current form will replace traditional media advertising when it comes to creating awareness or consideration.

    Another area in which Social Media (as well as texting, phoning, emailing, and even plain old face-to-face conversations) surely is growing and providing competition for traditional media advertising is in shaping brands (both positively and negatively). Media adverstising isn't going away, but the monopoly on the messaging is gone forever. The "airwaves" have expanded exponentially with the Internet and ehanced phone communications and the barriers to producing the messages are being reduced everyday as new computers and new cellphones (with cameras and keyboards) go into more consumers' hands.

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