Friday, December 25, 2009

5 Social Media Myths | Digital Tonto

While the emergence of Social Media has been amazing, much of the talk surrounding Social Media has become divorced from reality. Social Media is, and will most probably continue to be, a small (albeit important) part of the overall marketing picture.

Unfortunately, the way Social Media is being hyped will probably do more harm than good – a backlash is inevitable.

The root of the problem is that Social Media people don’t seem to know much about the rest of the marketing world.  Sometimes, they seem to imply that the world’s premier marketers have been in the grips of some mass hysteria for the last 50 years and they need self proclaimed social messiahs to part waters and show the way to the promised land.

Social Media myths are very easy to dispel with even a modest attempt to look at the facts.

Myth #1 Old Media is dead: Since 1996, Digital Media spend has gone from 0% to 10% of total advertising both in the US and globally (according to ZenithOptimedia).  At the same time, newspapers have dropped by roughly the same amount..

The rest of the media world has been flat.  TV has dropped a few points, Magazines have gained a few, Outdoor and Radio have been relatively stable.  None of the major media will die anytime soon.

Social Media gurus often cite selective anecdotal evidence.  They point to a company that went bust, or that a magazine went to a digital format.  Undoubtedly, these things have happened.  However, the same can be said for social media as well.  MySpace and Friendster have certainly seen better days.

As I wrote in an earlier post, despite the hype, there is no demonstrable trend away from traditional media.

Myth #2 Broadcast is dead: Another myth is that people don’t want one-way communication but want a dialogue instead.  Socialnomics author Erik Qualman proudly declares that he doesn’t even own a TV.

However, this Nielsen report (pdf) found TV viewership at an all time high in 2008.  Another interesting fact is that while nearly 30% of US homes have Digital Video Recorders (DVR), less than 5% of viewing is timeshifted.  It turns out that people enjoy being entertained. They even might sometimes prefer to talk to someone they are watching TV next to, rather than online.   Moreover, it seems that when they do watch timeshifted TV, they often watch commercials.

Just to put this point in its proper perspective, 5% of viewing is significant.  If a TV show can garner 5% of viewing it’s a hit!  However, the other 95% remains 19 times more meaningful.

Finally, It’s an open question how much of social media is actually dialogue and how much is broadcast, as Neicole Crepeau points out in her excellent blog post.

Myth #3 Editorial is dead: Digital Technology allows for greater consumer choice.  If we don’t like the content that editors choose for us, we can arrange information for ourselves, through RSS readers or other technologies.  Social Media gurus assume that because we can arrange information for ourselves, we will always want to.

The factual basis given for this myth is usually the same as for the two previous myths.  They point to some failure or give an example why someone would want to choose information for herself.  However, there are no facts to support a general trend away from editorial content. As Barry Schwartz points out in The Paradox of Choice, having more options isn’t always better or preferred.

As information multiplies, the editorial role is actually more important. Media fragmentation gives us more control over who we choose to pay attention to, but that just increases the value of those who can gain our trust.

Digital Media allows us to research the facts for ourselves more efficiently, but we certainly can’t do that in every case; nor would we want to.  If it was so easy, Social Media gurus would get their facts right more often.

Myth #4 Brand advertising is dead: Businesses advertise for many different reasons.  Some campaigns focus solely on stimulating sales, others do not.  If direct response was all they cared about, advertisers wouldn’t spend so much time and effort tracking brand perception.

The truth is that consumers respond to brands that they like and trust.  Brand advertising makes direct response more effective, salespeople more productive and products stand out on shelves.

For products that have short product cycles, advertising can translate directly into sales.  However, durable goods advertise to consumers who are years away from a purchase and business services often depend on retaining clients over a period of years.  Many marketers have to deal with consumer behavior that is far more complex than simply counting clicks.

Direct response advertising has been around for decades.  It has been, and will always remain an important part of the picture and digital technology makes response much easier to measure.  However, as I’ve pointed out before, that doesn’t negate the need for brand advertising.

Myth # 5 There is a trend towards Social Media: Just as evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould pointed out that there is no trend towards “evolutionary progress” but towards diversity, the real trend is towards media fragmentation and it’s been going on for a very long time.

While Social Media is important, it is doubtful that it will ever make up more than a small part of the overall marketing picture. (See more on this topic here).

We can reasonably expect both Social Media and its impact to grow, but eventually that growth will level off.  Trees don’t grow to the sky.  If Social Media can achieve even a few percent of the enormous global market for marketing services, it will be an enormous business.  However, believing that Social Media’s gain will come at great expense to everyone else is just not thinking seriously.

A Future Role for Social Media – Big Seed Marketing

For Social Media to become successful, it will have to integrate successfully with other marketing services.  Good marketing unlocks synergies between marketing channels.

Duncan Watts, although a virtual unknown in Social Media circles, was the initial pioneer of Social Network Theory and is someone to be taken seriously.  He is also the primary advocate of Big Seed Marketing.

The concept is based on the mathematics of Social Networks, the fact that a substantial effect can be initiated anywhere in the network (e.g. delays at a regional airport can disrupt major hubs) and also on Solomon Asch’s research on how majorities influence minorities. (See How Ideas Spread).

Watts advocates using mass media campaigns, because that is the most efficient way to reach the most people.  His research suggests that campaigns can be greatly extended using social media.  In effect, that Social Media can multiply the efficacy of conventional campaigns.  Major brands such as E*Trade and Miller Beer have adopted the strategy.

Those who have a stake in Social Media would gain much greater benefit thinking seriously about how they can improve and extend existing marketing campaigns rather than casting aspersions on what other media contribute.

- Greg

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