Social media is like search engine optimization. It is easy to self-educate, it is slightly complex, but it is also game-like. In both cases the market or audience gives you feedback – you get likes or Tweets or analytics that tell you how many readers you got and who liked what. You know where to go next with it.
What it also does is distract you from the real purpose of communications – figuring out something valuable to say and laying it out for people to make a judgment or a contribution.
Are social media activities the best ways for an economy or an enterprise to market products? A low friction economy would rely on individuals to communicate their preferences to friends word of mouth.
The adage that at least half of ad dollars are wasted represents a friction cost that word of mouth overcomes. But social media is not low friction nor is it word of mouth.
In order for some examples of low friction to work – OREO’s intervention in the 2013 Super Bowl – we’ve created a vast industry around the global game of social media. And many instances of great social media are anyway hard to tie into any actual sales figure. Taken as a whole, time spent on social media is mind-boggling (see below). it surpasses most other activities other than breathing. But all this is organized in order that a brand can aim an ad at us.
Meanwhile the easiest thing to set up and staff with inexperienced young people is a social media agency and every ad agency in the world now has its social media arm. However, something else is happening – I wrote about it here.
WordPress accounts for around 20% of all websites and the number is growing. It stood at 12% two years ago. Blogs, in other words are taking over the web. Yes, Facebook is important but perhaps, just perhaps, there is a move back to the open web and the content that matters.
The consequences of these developments are very difficult to interpret. People are still piling into social networks and spending vast amounts of time there. Yet there is also a move towards real, creative content.
The question for the enterprise is, I think, this. Can I short circuit building relationships with people through advertising – can I do scale the way I used to by replacing relationships with social network activity?
The answer is there is no real proof that it works other than in the obvious sense that if you are not present in social media then you lose brand ubiquity.
But brands might be better to look to their employees and other connections to see if the way to scale relationships isn’t already to hand – through the people they already know.