Thursday, March 28, 2013

Social Pariah or Messiah

Disclaimer: This post is a bit controversial & is not in tune with what the social media theorists & gurus talk about or recommend.

For quite some time now the whole notion of social media, the prevailing networks & the parochial ones on the periphery have me seeking out answers that some can give, some choose not to and some avoid based on anecdotal evidence that frankly is irrelevant.

I pride myself in showing value, business requires this and without identifying what a consumer benefits from at the end of the day, one cannot implement a strategy on a whim. If they do, there needs to be a measurable sense that can be evaluated post the implementation of that whim or a gut feeling.

So here is the thesis of my argument; social media and how it is "sold" is based on the # of Likes, the # of Followers, the # of ReTweets or Shares or Pins; identifiable figures no doubt, but none that can tie to direct Return on Investment evaluations.

We talk about buyer intention and consumer purchase as a mechanism of funding startups these days that lead to sales, and the hope is to once again evaluate the intention, identify the behaviour but is there truly a mechanism to show that in relation to the sales an entity takes in? Can we tie social strategy to a sales strategy and can we show a true connect without some gimmicky notion of "if you saw us on Facebook let us know and we will give you a 5% discount" or "if you liked us" or ..?

I know this is not phenomenally a new concept, but the question continues, not necessarily on a commercial scale, but perhaps on a personal one. Personal brand building is the buzz these days, connect, connect, connect is all we hear. People talk about engaging with folks on the social networks and creating CoC's (communities of conversation) as I like to think of it. To build a CoC though, you need to first build yourself, build your own brand, build your own network and how pray do you go about doing that? Well, if you hear what some of the gurus have to say, they talk about:
1 - Follow those who follow you regardless of quality.
2 - Favourite your own posts.
3 - Try to engage with social influencers so you have your content shared through their network.
4 - Invite people within your contact directories across platforms.
5 - Promote social influencers.
6 - Buy your initial set of followers (a few hundred or a thousand) and let the network do the work for you. etc. etc.

When I think of social networks I try to equate that to social interactions & behaviours in the real world and what I find is that we are now mimicking the same clique mentalities in the networks as we have in the real world - those of us who are out remain out although we may have a measly representation of a set of followers gained by social network logistics than content creation. Those of us who are in, continue to grow our following as our clique helps us do so.

I further think of all the tips, techniques & rules put out there around generating a large following and sometimes I wonder how people end up with a large network? I simply ask this question as a purist who believes in the organic growth of a network as opposed to "gaming the network logistics".

What I come back to is delivering value and regardless of a corporate or an individual brand you need to show value to your consumer (whether it is a paying or a non-paying consumer). I revert back to my notion of a CoC which I believe you can develop organically and build on as you continue to identify the value you deliver to the consumer. Inherently these strong organic networks are far better than the haphazard ins/outs of people through the network of liking/disliking/following/unfollowing you. What would be phenomenal is if the networks understood the notion of what they were creating - a social space that replicated what we have in the real world.

Consider the next iteration - what if we could have a breakup mechanism replicated within our social interactions so as to know when people unfollow or unlike something? What if they dislike it? Breaking up as a notion may be painful, but in the social space, it could give direct feedback to the individual you were unfollowing let's say, on why you were doing & could perhaps better that brand. It would give direct feedback to that brand (personal or not) what is missing from that social relationship/experience.

What about the next evolution of social networks - could we have a SCommerce, a Social Commerce experience where I would not only participate in the CoC, but also purchase a product no matter the network with a click of a button. Could I for example, while following Nike on Twitter, buy a pair of shoes and attribute those earnings directly to returns invested in the social experiment? Would I then be able to tie social strategy to the sales strategy? The logistics of that purchase, be it pickup in-store, digitally or via postal mail would be irrelevant, yet the driver to that purchase would be identifiable to the social space, while also identifying when, perhaps even why that user came on as part of that CoC.

Regardless of my random thought processes around what social networks should evolve to, my point is, can it be more than it is, either for the personal or the corporate brand? Can it be more about organic social interaction that is truly measurable, even actionable, than what we have today? Can it be more than simply counting the # of followers or the # of likes and truly evoke brand loyalty without some gimmick? Can it be a true social experience or will we continue down this path of creatively either gaming the system for more followers and/or prettying up the interface to lure folks into it?

Parting thought: I find myself in good company when I recently discovered a quote by David Ogilvy who once said "If it doesn't sell, it isn't creative". This to me is not simply about the monetary mechanics of "selling" but also speaks to campaigns we are developing today to build our brands, yet cannot truly equate emotional intelligence to economical value. We need change, we need it fast and we need honest brands building honest CoC's that will last a lifetime and not be just another passing clicking fad.


  1. I agree with you, but I think that it comes down to what our expectations are from "social media". I have a business that I have been casually promoting through social media for about 4 years and can only think of a handful of engagements with customers that may have possibly led to a sale. Maybe my product sucks or maybe I'm using social media wrong. These are potential reasons for my lack of success, however on the other hand I have never purchased a product from a company that I follow based on my relationship with them on a social network either. The problem with social media is that it was "sold" in the wrong way. Social media is simply a communications tool that enables brands to have two-way conversations vs the conventional method of one-way broadcasting. A brand is a living, breathing, evolving thing and social media is a step towards humanizing brands in a way that didn't happen previously unless brands were active participants in local communities. They can now make the world their local community. They try this with celebrity endorsements but the public is sophisticated enough now that they know a celebrity endorsement is just a pay check for that celebrity and not a true endorsement of a product. Social media isn't a magic sales bullet. If a product isn't suited to you, you won't buy it regardless of how engaging a brand's social media presence is.

    Graphic design is sold in a similar way. At the most basic level most clients hire graphic designers because they believe good design will boost sales. However, at the end of the day, I can design a great ad or a great package that makes a product more enticing but if the product is bad then the public will eventually find out and word will spread. Organizations need to be real and focus their energy into doing the things they tell the the public they do. This doesn't mean that design has no value. Design is about how a brand engages with their customers and vice versa. If a customer, connects to you on a visual level they are more likely to engage with you further and "potentially" spend money with you. I see social media in the same way but social media allows for a deeper intellectual connection.

    When I first started using Twitter, my intention was to generate sales and blog hits for my business through social engagement. I would still love for that to happen but I realize that this may not be realistic based on what I said previously. I now see social media's value as a way to build brand awareness through relationships that I have nurtured in the CoC's you discussed. Not everyone wants to buy my product but most people in my network are at least aware of it, and know that there is a person behind the product whom they connect with. As a result, I've met some great folks that I either have worked with or plan to work with in the future that I never knew existed before Twitter. In my opinion, there's value in that, that possibly doesn't need to be quantified.

    1. Its interesting to see the varied responses I have received thus far and to your thoughts, I do not disagree that social media as a tool is not currently equipped to do the "selling" per say. I do however look at it from a value proposition standpoint and purely from that aspect, I do believe we need to quantify it. Businesses cannot make decisions on building a brand without knowing what the impact will be - so in the traditional world its not just about how many eyeballs I have on an ad, but more about purchase intention (6 out of 10 are now more inclined to buy my product and 3 out of 10 will do so in the next 30 days). There is a cost vs benefit analysis that can be attributed to this quite simply.

      I do agree that social media as a whole is an engagement platform; I guess my point is that it is being sold as a commerce vehicle by "gaming" the social network constructs. Favourite your own posts, or promote one developed by a client to receive enough traction via the search mechanisms and/or get the social influencers to retweet or like your post or worse yet have a gimmicky campaign where you tell folks to follow you and you will follow them back, etc.

      To me the value proposition needs to be clear and businesses need to see value generated from their social strategies. I do not agree with the value propositions being proposed by the social gurus these days in that the # of likes or the # of followers equate to a brand association/loyalty as it truly does not.

      To take your point on graphic design, as you know, I do also have an entity that dabbles in marketing/communications/design/PRstrategies and although I do not hail from that world directly, I firmly believe that if we cannot show the value proposition of a campaign or a design strategy, it is good art but not commercialy viable to be considered in-part or whole a strategy. I was fortunate enough to get this quote from David Ogilvy who in short said "if it doesn't sell it isn't creative".

      Thanks for the feedback Duane.