my turn


SantaCon As Social Metaphor

Unless you’ve been hiding under a sleigh somewhere, chances are you’ve noticed the annual gathering of sloppy Saint Nicks otherwise known as SantaCon. At first glance, it’s simply a raucous day of naughty carols, random gifting and extreme silliness. But dig a bit deeper, and you’ll find a near-perfect metaphor for the state of social media

A global (and subversive) phenomenon

Possibly started by subversive artists in Copenhagen way back in 1974, SantaCon has since expanded to 37 countries and 270 locations. Social media is even more ubiquitous, touching just about every country around the globe -- and perhaps just as subversive, playing a part in protests in at least 5 countries via Twitter.

Emphasis on crowd size



Often referred to as a bawdy flash mob, SantaCon is all about getting together with thousands of your so-called “friends” as per the credo “the more, the merrier.” Similarly, there is an emphasis among some ambitious social marketers to grow their social footprints without regard for the quality of the fans or levels of engagement. 

All about the pictures

A quick search for the hashtag #SantaCon on Instagram reveals over 43,000 photos from last Saturday’s gathering. With social media, pictures are playing an even more prominent role, increasing engagement on Facebook and Twitter, and of course, driving the success of newer platforms like Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram. 

No one is in charge

SantaCon is a totally grassroots affair, taking different forms in different cities on different dates and even having alternate names like Santapalooza and Santarchy. Social media at its best is equally free-form, with consumers driving content development, platform choice and desired interaction with brands.


SantaCon revelers rarely stay in one place on the big day, making for an ever-morphing, highly mobile parade. And so it is with social media, as smartphones and tablets become the dominant means of consuming and contributing social content. Recognizing this shift, jolly marketers will want to jump on the mobile bandwagon. 

A whole lot of fun

At its best, SantaCon is a day of harmless fun in which red-suited revelers share good cheer with strangers and friends alike. Similarly, social media is an opportunity for marketers to have fun, engage with their fans, align with their passions and remind us all that people ultimately choose to do business with people they like.   

It can get sloppy

At its worst, SantaCon is a day of out-of-control drunks that get banned from bars and end up being anything but nice. Social media shares this potential for sloppiness, as consumers feel free to rant about brands on Twitter and Facebook, write nasty reviews on TripAdvisor and even produce negative videos for YouTube.

Not going away

Despite cries from Gothamist to end SantaCon in NYC, this mistletoe-rich movement is clearly unstoppable. The gift is out of the bag, so to speak. For marketers, the “gift” of social media is potentially one that keeps on giving, creating the opportunity to turn detractors into proponents and fans into true advocates. And you don’t even have to don a red suit!  So ho ho ho! -- and happy holidays to you all.




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