Commentary

This Season, Social Is The New Black

Fashion victim, fashionista: these are words not easily applied to me. However, I have learned one valuable lesson over the years by observing an industry that's always on the lookout for the next big thing: if you wait long enough, past trends and patterns will make a comeback.

This is exactly to the case with social media right now. As all things social start to mature, the same evolution that took place in the digital marketing industry only a few years ago is emerging: social is fast becoming less about experimentation, and more about regular production. In fact, production is the key word in many ways, which I'll come back to a bit later.

In recent months, a noticeable shift has taken place among the clients and prospects we've talked with at our agency. They fall roughly into three categories: those still experimenting with social media, those using social media consistently as a tactical add-on to their marketing activities, and those trying to make social a more central, strategic component of their marketing efforts.

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As we approach 2011 budget deadlines, more and more marketers are trying to switch gears and move from using social as a tactical add-on to making it a core component in their overall efforts. Small, medium and large companies want to know how they can streamline, automate, budget, and measure social media and social marketing. How can it move from a series of handcrafted singular projects to a more consistent, more repeatable, more predictable undertaking?

We have clear answers to that. The key challenge remains implementation.

Marketing integration may have been the Holy Grail for advertisers over the last 15 years, yet the agency world became increasingly fragmented during that period of time. Many agencies that initially dismissed digital as a peripheral activity are now bent on not making the same mistake again with social.

Agencies rightfully see social as central to the future of marketing and work to develop in this space as fast as they can. Yet each agency, each discipline, looks at social through a very narrow lens that only puts the emphasis on their original core competencies. And, this is what really spells trouble for marketers.

Back to the issue of production, as mentioned earlier: It is tempting to draw parallels between social content production/earned media on one hand, and advertising production/paid media on the other hand. However, the comparison can be misleading in many ways. There are at least five key differences in social that every marketer should bear in mind:

1) Forget one-size-fits-all messages targeting "lowest common denominator" audience. Recognize that fragmentation is here to stay, and embrace it at every step.

2) Frequency and freshness of content matter more than production values. Increase your execution capability and move to rapid-fire, low-cost production cycles.

3) Campaigns have a limited shelf life, but quality content is a valuable and reusable asset. Build your library for the long term and ensure that you will be able to do "reruns."

4) Stop thinking (and budgeting around) campaign flights and push marketing. Start thinking about ongoing engagement. Audiences can no longer be turned on and off on demand.

5) In a genuine two-way, real-time conversation, it is hard to separate the production arm from the distribution arm. Your brain is connected to your mouth for a reason.

Larger creative and media agencies have legacy economic models built around scale and size that make it difficult to adapt and operate profitably in a world of exponentially fragmented audiences and touch points. When it comes to social, the question is not whether "they get it," but whether they can evolve to become as fast and nimble as marketers need them to be. Even Web agencies, in spite of their digital DNA, can sometimes struggle with things like video production or labor-intensive, low-tech conversational engagement.

The long-predicted new marketing paradigm is finally here. Marketers need to start thinking, behaving and organizing themselves as content producers who treat engage consumers as audiences, instead of fully outsourcing this function to external publishers. Content is still king, after all.

A new species of agencies is emerging to deliver solutions that meet this new paradigm Built from the ground up to meet the new realities of turnkey content production and distribution, agencies with a studio mindset and roots in video program production and distribution can create a competitive edge from a creative, execution and dissemination standpoint.

It's official: Social is now well beyond a passing marketing fad. Amid this environment, marketers find it increasingly challenging to differentiate brands, products and messages. The push for a constant flow of newness is becoming a key operational requirement -- just like in the fashion industry. One thing is certain:

10 comments about "This Season, Social Is The New Black ".
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  1. Jim Thomas from Frank N. Magid Associates, October 28, 2010 at 5:03 p.m.

    Great post that delivers on the five key learning points for growing your brand with social media. Just so I'm clear on one of your points, are you saying that a company that develops terrific web content, engages people with social has a lot to offer businesses going forward? Thanks for the insight.

  2. Mike Azzara from Content Marketing Partners, October 28, 2010 at 5:32 p.m.

    Your five points took my breath away because I just finished reading a brilliant white paper that details each of those points from the mouths of some leading lights of marketing. And even suggests ways in which content marketing can re-integrate audiences across different media channels via great storytelling. It's called Marketing is Content and I found it at http://promotions.prnewswire.com/ARC_engage.html?id=Marketing

  3. Fred Sweet from San Diego Model Management, October 28, 2010 at 5:58 p.m.

    How can one give production values a lower priority and at the same time produce long-term valuable content?

  4. Juli Schatz from Image Grille, October 28, 2010 at 6:33 p.m.

    What one thing is certain?

  5. Marcus Osborne from FusionBrand, October 28, 2010 at 8:21 p.m.

    This is a useful article for any organisation that has yet to look into Social Media or have stuck their toes in the chopping and increasingly cloudy water.

    But companies need to understand that their advertising agency does not have the skill sets to manage social medial initiatives. It will have to come from inside where the company is known and understood and, more importantly, the customers and their requirements for value are understood.

    This will require a comprehensive realignment of responsibilities within organisations, with a shift in culture that will finally give due recognition to branding departments and the customers.

    Of this, you can be certain!

  6. Daniel Waldman, October 28, 2010 at 9:55 p.m.

    I love this post...especially your first point. To share-I was in a meeting once about messaging and trying to stress that different audiences needed different messages. The response was a blank look then a "We can't be everything to everybody."

    Very frustrating.

    What I should've said (though I bit my tongue for political reasons) was that we're not trying to be everything to everybody, but different aspects of the company mean different things to different people.

  7. Joe Bencharsky from iNet Entertainment, October 29, 2010 at 11:28 a.m.

    Agreed. Content, distribution, integration, interactivity, market segmentation...all of the key goals of traditional marketing & advertising are coalescing on the web and most traditional agencies do not see how to integrate all of them. The Internet and it offshoots to mobile and back into TV off a Holy Grail convergence for advertisers if their representatives know how to use the tools. Philippe, we need to talk!

  8. Darrin Searancke from Halifax Chronicle Herald, October 29, 2010 at 2:39 p.m.

    Social is the new medium. The days of mirco-sites, SEO and singular on-line campaigns are dead. This is the new perfect storm of socialism ... and it's for and by the people.

  9. Steven Arsenault from OneBigBroadcast.com, October 30, 2010 at 1:45 p.m.

    I like the way the article lays out that the obvious trend is to streamline processes to distribute social and content delivery as keystones to dealing with consumers as their 2 way audience - not just a single sided marketing message as has been the norm up until now.

  10. Ellen Lebowitz from Ellen Lebowitz Press, November 10, 2010 at 8:09 p.m.

    Danie,

    "...about messaging and trying to stress that different audiences needed different messages. The response was a blank look then a "We can't be everything to everybody."

    You are spot on in that different audiences need different messages. It's a way to reach your largest possible audience.

    I've had the same conversation and it is somewhat mind-boggling.

    Thanks for commenting.

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