Social Media Is Not Really About Media At All

I think it's very possible that we have this whole social media thing wrong.

We, as an industry, spend oodles of time focusing on social media and trying to unearth the special ways to "crack the code" of motivating consumers. I attend conferences with "social media" in the headlines and I even help program content at these events, trying to identify how marketers can use social media properly, but the fact is that social media is just media, plain and simple. The real issue lies not within the media, but within the creative -- so maybe we should be referring to the wave of interest as "social creative" rather than "social media."

Social media, no matter how you slice and dice it, is just media. Media is nothing more than a distribution platform for messaging, and social media is not really that new when you break it down. Facebook and MySpace may be very large sites, but they are still just media vehicles. What is of real value is how you harness the power of the audience itself and create or utilize buzz. That is something done by the power of creative, not by the location of the placement on the page.



The creative story that needs to unfold is the interesting component of social, which I feel gets overlooked. I recently engaged in an exercise for a client where we hypothesized how to change the perception of the brand by using social media placements. It really came down to developing a strong creative concept that spoke to the needs of the brand and then utilizing social media as a distribution vehicle for that message. The distribution was twofold; balancing paid media with earned media. We uncovered that the earned media component, which is typically a barometer for the performance of the effort, is truly driven by the accessibility and intrigue of the creative. The media placements are secondary in that kind of an effort, but as an industry I feel as though we focus our attention on the distribution because the creative is subjective and difficult to discuss one way or the other.

When developing a social media strategy you need to start with the creative concept. The creative concept must take into account the target audience (as all effective campaigns must do) and then look at social media as a tool for one of two things. You are either going to provide a hub for consumer interaction, or you'll create a series of spokes for transferring the message outward through the network. This "hub and spoke" model is how you generate reach in social media. You create strong consumer touch-points on a one-to-one basis and then arm those consumers, who have hopefully had a positive experience with your brand, with the ammunition to distribute virally on your behalf.

The hubs for this model are either the established presence (what I call the WTF: Website, Twitter, Facebook strategy) or paid media. The spokes are what are driven by creative and take into account interaction and pass-along tools with messaging and content that stimulates that sort of action. The creative concept here fits into a bigger picture and provides the reason for social activity in general. Without the creative concept and the stimulus for the user, you just end up with a paid media buy and a standard ad unit, neither of which exploits the inherent strength of social media.

The social media user is a person who responds to creative messaging more than he responds to placements and location. The creative message is what drives the discussion, and the distribution model is what fosters its growth. I hope that in the coming weeks this message will resonate and I will see more discourse around the marriage of media and creative in social media. Maybe even someone will take up the term "social creative" and run with it.

Do you agree with my assessment? Let me know on the Spin Board!

17 comments about "Social Media Is Not Really About Media At All ".
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  1. Dean Collins from Cognation Inc, April 21, 2010 at 12:05 p.m.

    Totally agree, some people forget its innovative creative that drives desire in the long run (yes building a chat roulette marketing campaign will get you some brief interest-but in the long run it's smart creative that gets them coming back).

  2. Emma Pitterle from Shine, April 21, 2010 at 12:12 p.m.

    In this article, you say the obvious things in very simple ways and explain them very well- the true mark of a well-written post!

    One clarification point I wanted- you mention paid media being a "hub" of consumer interaction. Perhaps I'm not thinking wide enough (display, ppc come to mind) but how are these "hubs" rather than "spokes"?

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, April 21, 2010 at 12:17 p.m.

    Social media are not all public. Twitter is, Facebook isn't. Social media are inherently interactive, old media are not. I think I get the "creative" point you're making, but the rest is confusing.

  4. Matthew Smyers from RedShift, April 21, 2010 at 12:19 p.m.

    Nice article Cory. The call for a creative revolution in digital has been growing over the past few years and we've seen some progress. It's only logical to extend the need for quality creative concepts to social media. The marketers who get this will get the most out of their social media campaigns. Those that don't will still be asking about reach and frequency or worse yet, click-through rates.

  5. Christopher Korody from, April 21, 2010 at 12:19 p.m.

    An excellent point that has needed making for a very long time. WTF (gotta love that =) is a combination of tools - hardly one size fits all.

    I believe that we find ourselves where we are today (defrocking the 800 pound gorilla) because there are a lot more people who have can make money creating voodoo and selling vehicles (share, pages, tweets whatever) then there are people who can craft effective creative. (I are one, so I have an opinion.)

    Seen from this perspective, the battle between traditional and digital agencies is about who is going to profit from the media buy... SOS with a new Holy Grail and a new secret sauce (best practices) to befuddle the linear thinkers.

    In fact, creative need not be breakthrough or award winning or in any way dazzling to be effective. As with all marketing and promotion, it needs to resonate with the target audience and encourage the discovery of the product or service.

    (Joe Marchese's recent post, Measuring Creative Impact from April 13, 2010 makes the point neatly.)

    From there on in product or service marketing, it's largely about the value of the offering. Those of course are the valuable spokes and they are as hard to come by as they have ever been.

  6. Nancy Garcia from Piehead Productions, April 21, 2010 at 12:25 p.m.

    Hi Cory,

    I enjoyed your post and agree with your perspective. One important point I'd like to add to the conversation is the idea of integrating game mechanics with your digital strategy. As digital strategists, we can think like game designers to promote brand awareness in interesting, interactive ways, and eventually increase ROE and ROI.

    My two cents. Thanks for the post!

    All the best,

    Nancy Garcia
    Digital Strategist, Piehead Productions
    Twitter: @digitalng

  7. Richard Monihan, April 21, 2010 at 12:37 p.m.

    It's not only QUITE POSSIBLE. It simply IS.
    Social media isn't anything special at all, except that it sounds cool to talk about it like it is.

    The concept that you've entered into a new field because you've given it a hip name is wrong, and always has been. Railroads went bust because they were in the "rail industry" and not the "transportation industry". If you define yourself too narrowly, as so many sections of the online world tend to do, then you make yourself irrelevant.

    It's good to be part of a niche, and define that niche and how you service it better than anyone else. But don't allow the niche to define you. I have seen, and worked for, too many companies that allowed a narrow definition of what they are and did to kill their core business.

    I spent years at AOL, listening to people talk about how it was the distribution that mattered and the advertising was just "extra". Sure, the dial up business was a cash cow, but in the end that killed the core business, which was clearly providing good content with good advertising support.

    I could list many other companies that fell into that same trap. It's an easy trap to fall into.

    Social media is just about reaching people in places they like to visit. There is no special, or unique, or interesting, or different way of reaching them. The only way is with the tried and true methods of having a good message and getting it out there in an effective and efficient manner. That manner may vary slightly based on the distribution method, but it's still the same idea whether it's via a billboard, TV, online, radio, or "social media". But in the end, it's still the message that counts, and it's all still media.

  8. Janet Sun from Page One PR, April 21, 2010 at 1:02 p.m.

    This emphasis on the creative aspect of social "media" also affects the pricing model for social media, as touched on by this post – Much like ad agencies' creative work, social media is hugely based on the "big idea" and on strategy, as opposed to the traditional PR model that's based on people, time and hourly rates.

  9. Jonathan Hall from American Pop, April 21, 2010 at 1:25 p.m.

    Social Media is just media and I think you make a lot of great points. Traditional media is taking a "Big Idea" and shooting it out to a lot people via "Big Media". The value of social media is the ability to send out lots of "little ideas" to very targeted consumers in a way that is relevant to them. This is going to take a lot more work than most marketers/advertisers are willing to do at the moment. I'm pretty sure this is how Social Media becomes scalable as well.

  10. Kres Thomas from Elucid Marketing, April 21, 2010 at 1:44 p.m.

    Awful, lol. Social Media is not media? lol Public Media is not social... this must be old school entrepreneurs talking!

    Social media is ALL about media, buddy, and you've only seen the half. Maybe you missed the WEB 2.0 info in the last few years, but social media is a new platform, easily established by users sharing "media". This "user generated content" such as Youtube, is prime example of the social part and media parts. Youtube has one website template that is updated by user's submitting videos, and is all automatic. Perfect Web2.0, social media example.

    Social media is not fully developed and eventually we will be sharing videos, images, audio, even games at the blink of an eye. Facebook is the number one site, mainly because of media, and if u strip that away, you have twitter, just text. Social media is a CHANNEL, u were close with "distribution of messages"... its all a TV show that we've been begging for. It's reality TV, but with our own friends and family.

    Social media is only effective with Creativity. You must look good, sound good, and be beneficial or no one is gonna want to even interact with a web stranger or flaky user, lol. Quick point: If you are a "nobody", then social media is not for you... but if you a undiscovered superstar or an established biz, then social media is perfect for you. The impact of creating a buzz online is phenomenal. You can start by text and have a few good inspirational quotes, but then it will always lead to media (vids & images which is eye candy). We want to either see something, create, communicate, or share emotions. There is a big tech wave upon us, growing more rapidly than we know, but also there is the "attention age" which is in the background as many people value experiences and seeing something amazing (vacations to things blowing up)

    I suggest you do your research and find how major corporations are using social media, effectively. I've studied this for a few years before the culture impact of twitter and facebook. Social media is very social now, and is really a psychological approach or attempt to make things a virtual world. I think the newest conference talked about 'augmented reality' and this is the focus for 5 years in the future.

    Thanks for letting me comment & reading it all.

    Bernard Thomas
    Elucid Marketing Group

  11. Kathy Sharpe from Resonate Networks, April 21, 2010 at 2:29 p.m.

    Social media puts new and very unique demands on creative messaging. It's beyond a message, and closer to a creative contact strategy, unique for each distributor and taking into account different target's using the media.

  12. Norman Flecha, April 21, 2010 at 11:10 p.m.

    Nice article, I would love to re post it unto my blog exactly how it is even with any sponsored links. full credit is Yours!

    However that may come out I though this was a great explanation of social media = MEDIA

    The more You produce the more Your everything!

    Thanks for sharing =)

    Norman Flecha

  13. Aaron Savage from Interactive Mix Ltd, April 22, 2010 at 6:39 a.m.

    As everyone else has said this is a great article, and you are right that the sites and channels shouldn't be the focus but creatively how you use them. For me, social media is about being brave enough to have a one to one relationship with your customers and prospects.

    Its an popular temptation in all digital marketing though to focus merely on the tactical, and social media is as guilty of that as any of the other disciplines. What I mean by that is that all too often the word 'strategy' is used when all that this effort amounts to is a group of people having a conversation. What makes it strategic is how you channel the energy and interest you generate into methods and processes that serve the overall needs of the business. Usually this means sales.

    Social media on its own can rarely generate the kind of sales activity that warrants the effort it takes, and so other techniques and channels need to be used in order to maximise the sales output of the channel that is being created. I think of this as an end to end <a href="">online marketing strategy</a>. The difference is that the customer is placed at the centre, not the channel or technical discipline. The focus is then on engagement and building trust but with the goal of securing first sale, and then repeat, cross sell, up sell and regular sale to the point of retention and finally on to referral which begins the process again.

    My feeling is that all too often digital marketing is served up tactically when its true ROI can only be seen when you have everything working together in this way.

  14. Themelis Cuiper from AdSocialMedia, April 22, 2010 at 8:43 a.m.

    Social Media Is Not Really About Media At All.
    True, the word Social implicates personal.
    using Media, but who is the user?

    The 1 on 1 relationship ?

    Who is the initiator of the message and why
    should i listen to you.

    In a social group or identity merely 10% of its members influences the total group.

    The message is the meme or the idea you want to bring over.

    Media is the vehicle for the message.
    There are more types of Media.
    How you engage people is your strategy.
    With what, the means, are your creatives.
    These creatives can be a meme by themself !

    ever been rickrolled ?

    SEO Themelis Cuiper
    Social Media - market analyst

  15. Doug Pruden from Customer Experience Partners, April 22, 2010 at 9:32 a.m.

    Certainly creativity is critical in motivating customer behavior. I suggest though that we will be better able to understand communication effectiveness (who is sending the message, who is listening, whether they believe what they see and hear, etc.) if we view the delivery vehicles as: 1) Traditional mass media, 2) Public Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, online forums, etc.), and 3) Private Social Media (texting, phone calls, emails, face-to-face conversations). Each has different strengths and can meet different objectives.

  16. Chris Verzello from BuzzLogic, April 22, 2010 at 5:33 p.m.

    Cory - You have it exactly right!

    Design social media friendly creative experiences, target your audience in the right context, and Social Media = Media.

    Creative executions, and creative experiences which are well thought out is foremost in social media. I'm so glad that you point out that marketers should be designing creative to meet the audience & context of the distribution channel.

  17. David Hawthorne from HCI LearningWorks, April 22, 2010 at 9:04 p.m.

    Puhlease! Social Media is just media in the same way that the ocean is just water.

    If that is so, then SM is also books, newspapers, billboards, painting, graffiti, and so on.

    Of course, you can use it that way if you insist, just as you can drink a glass of water from the ocean.

    Perhaps what you meant to say is, "marketing is just marketing" or "advertising is just advertising." It is when it's practiced by numbskulls.

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