Commentary

The Social Media Headline You Should Be Paying Attention To This Week

Sheesh. There are a lot of topics an enterprising Social Media Insider could write about today. I could go on and on concerning:

·     @ev's post-Twitter plans.

·     Google's FTC-induced mea culpa about how it mishandled the launch of Buzz last year.

·     The little acquisition that was announced today, wherein Salesforce.com bought Radian6 for $326 million.

·     Or my personal, though least business-minded, fave: http://twitter.com/BronxZoosCobra, whose followers have tripled in the last day to about 150,000. My brother, a former Bronx Zoo reptile keeper, and I have been IMing about that one all week.

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But actually, none of those developments struck me as being quite as important as this other thing that was announced yesterday: the hiring of former Time Warner exec Mark D'Arcy (no -- not that Mark Darcy) to the new position at Facebook of director of global creative solutions. Of all the stories listed above, none is as important, as this, less heralded, one. The reason? Because this appointment will probably have more influence on the direction of social media advertising than all of the above.

When I read about it this morning, I flashed back to an appointment from another digital time and place that had similar ramifications: the decision by Yahoo, back in 2001, to hire Wenda Harris Millard to handle its ad sales. Like D'Arcy, Millard had a lot of old-fashioned Madison Avenue advertising skills, and contacts. At Time Warner, D'Arcy was President of the Global Media Group - and before that, he was a creative in the ad biz.  Like Facebook is now, back in 2001, Yahoo was at a point in its development where the standard ad units that had to that point typified the industry weren't exploiting the medium for all it was worth.

Indeed, D'Arcy told The Wall Street Journal yesterday that "There is a great need for the creative community ... to learn how to leverage the incredible power of Facebook to improve the way brands tell stories." Despite Facebook's success, to many people in marketing, it's viewed as a targeting powerhouse, but not necessarily a creative one. However, as Facebook is, at this point, almost a platform unto itself, it cries out for  more-creative advertising solutions. Display ads, even very well-targeted ones, aren't always going to do the trick; targeting is one way to get people to engage, but creative is the secret sauce that, to my mind, we haven't seen on Facebook yet.

Granted, there are differences as well between the Millard and D'Arcy appointments. Millard had a sales job, and D'Arcy's is creative, though both positions are essentially about touting the creative strengths of a powerful, but not fully understood, digital platform. But Yahoo, back in ‘01, was going through its post-bubble downturn. Facebook is still very much ascending -- which makes this appointment all the wiser. With ad sales at Facebook coming in at $1.8 billion last year (and expected to more than double to $4 billion in 2011), it would be a little too easy to keep tweaking the targeting backend and not think big -- to what advertising in the most socially connected media universe could become.

Just how Facebook will go about this isn't clear. It seems likely, based, at least on what I read on Mashable, that it won't just involve suped-up advertiser Facebook pages. That site made reference to D'Arcy being charged with "coming up with interesting and valuable ways for marketers to integrate Facebook in their campaigns." To me, that intimates something that, like Facebook Connect, moves the influence of Facebook in the advertising sphere out into the broader media universe in ways that a mere "Like" button can't. It will be about leveraging social interconnections that involve brands in new ways.

Mashable also points out that an appointment like D'Arcy's means advertisers won't be as left up to their own devices when it comes to building Facebook pages. What's left unsaid is that if Facebook has more of a role in the Facebook presence of marketers -- as opposed to only having a role in their ad campaigns there -- they will be more able to cross-pollinate marketing intel across brands.

One would hope that Facebook's deeper involvement in the marketing process won't involve sharing advertisers' specific secrets of success. However, since Facebook marketer pages tend to be roll-your-own, it makes me wonder about something. Is each a pretty siloed experience, where only the advertiser who "owns" the page knows what's working, at least for them? Or will having a role like D'Arcy's heighten what marketers can learn about marketing on Facebook?

Only time will tell. But long after @BronxZooCobra has been found, and long after Radian6 is incorporated into Salesforce, we may still be feeling the ramifications of this hire at Facebook. (By the way, Mark, if you're reading: no pressure!)

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