Recently I enjoyed a great conversation with Tom Cunniff on Twitter. It revolved around social media definitions and how brands and voices could be heard across the sphere. I was so intrigued by Tom’s views I asked if he’d guest here. I’m thankful he said yes.
People talk about Social Media as if it’s one thing. This is the source of a lot of “you-just-don’t-get-it” arguments online: people fight holy wars to defend their “it” vs. someone else’s “it” and never see that two sides can never agree because they’re not talking about the same thing.
I don’t think Social Media is one thing. I believe it can be more accurately described as a continuum, with “Social” at the far left and “Media” at the far right.
On the “Social” side of the continuum, it’s all about the conversation. So, let’s start there.
THE SOCIAL SIDE OF THE CONTINUUM
For small businesses – especially consultancies — Social Media is 99% social and maybe 1% paid media. In fact, there are so many conversations going on that some people need assistants to help them manage all those conversations at once. This is the world of Twitter and Facebook and FriendFeed: a very human, very time-consuming world.
Social Media works brilliantly for consultancies because these are and always have been relationship businesses. Start with light conversation, spread some thought leadership, and build a few important business relationships.
The intimacy of scale matches the intimacy of the sale.
Because it works so incredibly well for small businesses, a lot of social media experts seem incredulous when you ask whether social media can scale. Surely if a tiny business can have huge results with social media, a big business would surely have even bigger results, right? Are big clients insane? Why aren’t they all over this? I mean, duh!
Well… not so fast. The physics out here in big-bizland are dramatically different. So much so, in fact, that the time investment can balloon out of control while the payback shrinks so small that you can’t measure it.
THE MEDIA SIDE OF THE CONTINUUM
Large product businesses can’t survive selling to dozens of people per year. If you’re a consumer packaged goods manufacturer (think Crest toothpaste), you need to sell to millions of people, and you have to do it fast because you have to drive fast product turns at Wal-Mart.
A dozen conversations won’t cut it. A hundred won’t do it either. Even thousands of conversations won’t do it. You literally need millions of conversations and you need them fast.
Here’s the point where everyone trots out the “influencing the influencers” argument: win over a few key influencers and the rest follow. In some extremely high-involvement categories, this may work. But in low-involvement categories, I don’t see it. Imagine you work for Charmin bathroom tissue. Who are the key influencers for toilet paper? You get the idea.
So if you work for a CPG (consumer packaged goods) company, it starts to be necessary to consider buying Social Media at scale. But once you start looking at that, it rapidly turns into 99% media and maybe 1% social. Why? Because one of the only ways to get massive scale is to buy space next to somebody else’s conversation. This is the stuff we used to call “advertising” back in the day.
To understand why, you need to understand the currency.
WHAT’S THE CURRENCY OF SOCIAL MEDIA?
The currency of social media is a human conversation. Those one-on-one conversations don’t scale well. A million very shallow conversations would require 10 million individual, costly, well-trained human minutes. This goes double (quadruple, actually) if there are regulatory or safety issues.
Another hurdle: the intimacy of the medium requires a slower pace. Jumping right into a sales pitch is seen as a violation of trust. And automation is problematic, because people feel (correctly) like they’re talking to a robot.
WHERE ARE YOU ON THE CONTINUUM?
What do you think about this continuum idea? Is it consistent with what you’re already thinking, or do you find it challenging? If you buy the idea of a continuum, where do you think you can offer the most value? Where do you offer the least value? Who does the social side best? Who does the media side best?
I’m curious to hear your comments.
- Tom Cunniff has been an ad agency creative director, an interactive agency owner, and is now on the client side. “The more perspective I get,” Tom says, “the more I appreciate the scope of what’s still left to learn”. You can find out more about him by reading his blog or connecting with Tom on Twitter.