Why 'We're Not Social' Is The Kiss Of Death

I spent the greater part of last week in Silicon Valley and surrounding areas with about 50 brand managers. We visited with a selection of startups, accelerators, incubators and the usual suspects of social media movers and shakers.

Without mentioning names, on one visit with one of the big three in the social space (rightly or wrongly, I’m deliberately not including Yahoo in this list), I was struck by their continual plea that they “weren’t social” and should instead be considered as essentially a mass reach play on a par (if not superior) to the legacy television, print and/or radio buy.

As an old timer in the digital space, I drew a straight line to the time when Yahoo essentially threw it away and declared its homepage as the new prime time and the equivalent of “Must-See Thursdays.” That’s when Yahoo hired a bunch of traditional executives from Hollywood and the broadcast networks and almost arrogantly demanded brands’ 30-second spots. It was also the beginning of the end for the “portal” at a time when it had social in the palm of its hands (Delicious and Flickr among two of the visible acquisitions at the time), but opted to shun a long-term play in favor of a short-term and short-sighted attempt at milking all those discretionary TV dollars.



Perhaps the problem is Wall Street. All three major “social” players are now public companies and thus beholden to the greedy and grubby paws of external vultures.

I have to believe (and I do) that there is a better way to activate and monetize this gift that is social beyond throwing in the towel in favor of “mass reach.” It didn’t work for digital. It’s not working for social. And it will never work for mobile. Why don’t we just accept it and move on? Mass reach itself is built on a faulty premise of potential, while digital had the distinction of being based on actualized (and measurable) interactions. Social, on the other hand, is really about an incredible aggregation of individuals versus one homogenous and indistinguishable (other than stereotyped, generalized and lazy demographics) blob.

The other selling point of mass media has always been the “water-cooler effect,” which today has glimpses of its former self in terms of TV-Twitter integration, but for the most part seems to have exploded into a million fragmented nuggets of content, ideas, videos and posts that make money for the likes of Buzzfeed that trade on this marketplace and ecosystem. I’m not sure there’s a one size fits all approach to this idea that scales beyond a few extremely powerful memes.

Rishad Tobaccowala would tell you that having a digital strategy is flawed, because everything is digital and therefore, one just needs to have a strategy. Period. I guess the same could be said for social. The difference would be that it is critical to define a role for social (my bias as per “Flip the Funnel” is that the real role of social is retention.)

Until that happens, our industry groundhogs will continue to find new ways to teach old dogs new tricks – AKA, flog mediocre traditional creative on inherently social channels. In doing so, they will -- yet again -- bastardize and pervert non-media platforms and relegate them to the ghost towns that are frequented by the likes of MSN, AOL and Yahoo.




4 comments about "Why 'We're Not Social' Is The Kiss Of Death ".
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  1. Joseph Jaffe from HMS Beagle, LLC, November 14, 2013 at 12:35 p.m.

    Ironically I realize I'm sharing this article via the very same companies who are "not social". Of course, I'm not saying which one pushed back...

  2. Troy Johnson from, LLC, November 14, 2013 at 2:11 p.m.

    Is social also replacing websites? Many entities including the author of this article ask visitors to "friend" them on Facebook or "follow" them on Twitter. Why not simply say follow me on my website.

    We already know most "likers" and "Followers" to not leave the social platform and visit the underlying website. This leads some entities to post their content completely on the social platform -- enriching the platform while eliminating any potential for one to monetize their own website.

    AOL's portal died because people could create and benefit from their own platforms which resulted in an explosion of creativity. If anything, Facebook seems to be going down the failed AOL path and dragging many content providers with them.

    It seems "being social" is the kiss of death.

  3. Joseph Jaffe from HMS Beagle, LLC, November 14, 2013 at 2:39 p.m.

    @Troy - I couldn't agree with you more; A Facebook page or Twitter profile is "rented" versus a website, which is "owned". At most, a brand should include both website and Facebook (or YouTube etc) URL's on their advertising or collateral. Point 2: A brand's website can be be more social. Point 3: "Being social" means acting, thinking, doing, executing in a unique way that does not mirror failed attempts of the past and/or dying "worst' practices. For example, playing the reach and frequency game. What I'd like to see is the big 3 social players venturing beyond promoted tweets, demographics and/or display advertising into something that has of yet, not been born yet. In other words, innovate by INVENTING the social "unit".

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 22, 2013 at 10:56 a.m.

    Never get in the middle, but always introduce. It can come back to you in more ways than you can imagine. It would be my ideal non job. Loved doing it in my last life, so to speak. Someone I know has been doing it during his conferences, which is his profession, and is one super person.

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