Social Media And Today's 'Marketing Athletes'

Drew Brees and the Super Bowl-winning Saints one week, and the Olympics the next: great athletes are on every screen. Now more than ever, real marketing athleticism, real talent is driving the explosive growth of social media. This didn't happen overnight (or even over a week, month or year) but it is clearly happening.

Just for the record, I'm a runner. By almost any definition, I am a committed one, having run seven New York City Marathons in a row and about 10 races annually. But I don't consider myself an "athlete," and running didn't require me to become one. A decent pair of running shoes, some seasonal gear and my iPod over the past few years was the cost of entry. And there aren't a lot of barriers to running, even in big events like the NYC Marathon.

Since its inception, social media has pretty much been in the same situation. Social was easy for businesses and brands to jump into and get some learning, because limiting factors such as production cost or delivery expense were so minimal. And on the other salivating side, great demos couldn't be easier to reach. You could make the argument that if it was harder to test, let alone dive in headfirst, social marketing would be having a dramatically different adoption curve (Pepsi may not have opted out of big-event television like the Super Bowl) than it has experienced to date.



Maybe even more to the point, if social media really ate into other integrated marketing programs -- Pepsi is kind of the test case -- it would have been held to an elevated standard like the kind of strategic and ROI measures to which other traditional media have been held. Only within the past 18 to 24 months has the scale of social media become impactful enough for its value to be held to real standards of accountability. Now, everyone wants to quantify every part of the social discussion. For professional digital marketers, this moment couldn't be more exciting, compelling and, of course, challenging.

But the challenge from an empirical and measurement POV is only half the story: the bigger underlying challenge is the integration of strategic thinking and big-idea marketing philosophy with tactical elements and cool executions that define the landscape.

Like the NYC Marathon, but unlike the very top-of-mind Winter Olympics, social media continues to feature a dual playing field of expanding professionals (from technologists and user experience experts to marketing strategists, creative talent, etc.) and a huge community of "non-pros" users and creators together sharing in the experience.

Of course, marketers only jumped in after the eyeballs were in and to this day (and probably for days to come) are shunned for being disruptive. Pepsi, by way of contrast, is nothing if not incredibly astute by driving its social media effort through the framework of social responsibility -- thus being part of a bigger solution and not any snarky problem.

So regardless of whether social media is thought of by the user community as better without the professionals messing with it or thought of by other peer marketing professionals as the least-strategic marketing arrow in the quiver, social marketing needs to aggressively build out the marketing side of the discipline. Why? It will enhance the value of the medium and get creative content developers more of the money they deserve. And, for social media to continue growing up as a full-fledged, adult member of the marketing solution team, it must think and act more like a professional Olympian than an amateur marathoner.

Regardless of how many gold pieces Lindsay Vonn ends up wearing around her neck, she has 10 major sponsors, including Red Bull and a showcase Sports Illustrated cover. She is a professional athlete. And, while I love the fact the NYC Marathon has pros who can churn out one sub-five-minute mile after another, it doesn't make any difference to the many thousands of runners, friends and family lining the streets.

The 2010 Winter Olympics, like social media, are now about big-time money. Any real athlete will tell you competition elevates everything: will to win, training prep and even pain threshold -- any of which provide a good reason to update your status.

The Common Rings of Social Media and the Olympics:

1. Measurability matters -- you don't podium if you don't medal. Facebook (Twitter and others -- more all the time) has incredibly compelling numbers to back up even more compelling stories for brands. Numbers can lie, but they don't here.

2. The Olympics are extraordinary because they always bring out the best athletes on a global basis. Social media is now attracting a similar elite talent pool because technology, consumer strategy and creativity all are leveraged for the "greater good"... like the Olympic spirit!

3. Change is what's normal. At the Winter Olympics, look at how snowboarding, ice dancing, etc. looks compared to just the last Games in 2006. Social media is the most dynamic media platform any of us have ever experienced. Technologists can't keep up with brand desires and vice-versa.

4. Three common "linked" words: Stretch body and mind as to what's possible today and in the foreseeable future. Test new approaches and equipment. Finding harmony can be hard, but it's worth finding. Be Nimble to capitalize on both of the above.

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