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.