The end of the (social media) world as we know it

539468298_344839e8c7_mAs we mentioned last week, we recently read a post by Frank Eliason on Social Media Today that resonated with us. In case you don’t know, Frank Eliason gained a lot of respect in the business, marketing, and social media worlds for his Comcast Cares online effort. If you heard the stories about the Comcast technician who fell asleep while on hold with his own company, you understand the hurdles Eliason had to jump through to remove Comcast from everyone’s “most hated brands” book. The Comcast Cares effort appears as a social media success story in many business books because the effort was so effective.

Given that, you might be surprised to find that the title of Eliason’s blog post is, “Social Media As We Know It is Dying And I For One Am Glad!” How could a man who made a name for himself on social media suddenly turn a 180 and come out against social media? Well, it’s not quite so simple as that.

The Tough Questions

When Eliason was new to social media, and especially to Twitter, the talk was all about the soft and fuzzy side of the business world. He writes, “At the time we were just meeting new friends and talking about what the future would be.” People were in love with social media in the way that teenagers fall in love. Everything about the new online world was wonderful. Every company had the potential to be a Zappos. Every person had the capacity to become a “twelebrity.” And why not? The platforms were new, the styles of communication were new, and the possibilities seemed endless.

Eliason reflects on an innovative campaign from these early years of social media – The Pepsi Refresh Project. Eliason notes, “When it launched it was by far the most discussed brand effort in social, reaching billions of hits. That was in the 1st quarter of 2010 but by the 1st quarter of 2011, Diet Coke surpassed Pepsi to become the number 2 softdrink.”

This is where the tough questions start to emerge. If Pepsi had a huge “share of voice” online, Facebook fans, trends on Twitter, and millions of YouTube views, how was Diet Coke able to surpass them? For Eliason, this seems to be when the romance of social media started to wear off. He notes,

In the past marketers pointed to ‘likes’ as the measurement of choice. We do not even know who the like is from: Customer or Prospective Customer. We did not even know that they were even a human being. Now we are seeing companies question these vanity measurements and ask how these efforts impacted the bottom line.

It seems to us like Eliason is saying that the era of just focusing on “conversation” or “engagement”  is over. Maybe social media never should have been promoted that way in the first place, at least not to businesses. Last week we talked about how there appears to be a decreasing amount of human-to-human connection in the online world. But you cannot err the other way either. Businesses are now beginning to understand that “chatting” is not really a business strategy. As Eliason says, the bottom line requires a more thorough, aggressive analysis.

What do you think? Do you agree with Eliason that the world of social media as it existed three or four years ago is changing for the better? How does this contrast with the lack of human, real-time interaction we discussed last week? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/scratch_n_sniff/539468298/ via Creative Commons


14 comments on “The end of the (social media) world as we know it

  1. What is Eliason saying exactly?

    That marketing in social was cool when the low cost competitive advantage seemed loud and clear – especially the first mover advantages and abundance of low hanging fruit. But now that marketers have to work hard and pay for attention – social is dead?

    I would suggest that what social advertising and marketing has done in the last five years is reveal to us rather poignant insights into advertising, marketing, attention, influence, and human behavior – insights that traditional marketing was never willing to admit, test or verify for the obvious reason. It would have killed margins on ad spend.

    Presence of Brand, for example, kinda-almost works in the absence (or low visibility) of competing brands. Or so we thought. But online measurement has revealed the inconvenient truth that brand presence is less relevant than we previously imagined.

    Regarding your own example, no one owns cool, attention or influence – not forever. Diet Pepsi. Diet Coke. Iced Venti Caramel Macchiato. Is it cool right now? Sometimes it comes down to minutes. But if that is true online, it’s true offline. Which brings the high costs of traditional marketing into question as much as big questions about online strategy.

    People are talking to each other and doing more things via the internets. Brands don’t have the same command of undivided attention that they did 20 years ago. And the kicker, of course, is that we’re talking and thinking about this now. It’s a conversation that is 20 years late – and telling about the (lack of) thought leadership in marketing.

    • I read Eliason’s post as an indicator that the people who talk about “engagement” or “conversation” may have been steering companies the wrong way. Connecting is important, but you need more meat there, and now companies are starting to realize that. Make sense?

      • I like Shannon’s metaphor of the teenager. For social. Perhaps, also for business.

        As much as change can have positive impact, change can also put a business at risk. The bottom line does not always jump to the beat of innovation and enlightenment.

        I may be growing kinder (and I’m not even sure why), but I think that I can overlook the recent over-promise and hype of social media. I don’t think it was done in bad faith or with false consciousness – unlike what I know goes on in the online advertising and marketing conversation. Or traditional media for that matter.

        Everyone in technology or internets over-promises on something. Usually, that over-promise is driven by good intentions, enthusiasm, and an unbridled faith in innovation.

  2. I re-read Frank’s original post on SMT and I think he summarizes his view on the future of social media for businesses in this statement:

    “Success in my view will be companies who realize true word of mouth by their Customers is what social media is about. Do not strive to be Apple or Nike or Zappos, but instead set the path that is right for your long term success. Lead the way, do not follow others.”

    The truth is that social media is maturing, and marketers must realize it is one piece of the overall communications and marketing strategy for your brand. But, unlike other mediums, social media allows customers to talk to or talk back to brands, giving consumers greater influence. That also means social media stretches beyond marketing and PR; other parts of the brand are impacted – customer service, for example – which can be confusing and scary. But that is the reality of the new, social consumer.

    Smart brands will continue to integrate social media into all areas of their customer communications/relations strategy and perhaps even use it to influence other areas such as product development. My real hope is that smaller, less recognizable brands continue to embrace social media as a way to become more visible and more competitive. Social media is far from dead – but it is maturing. I would peg it as being a complex teenager, right now! 😉

  3. I always find this discussion fascinating. I think it stems from marketers discussing how to capitalize on the people on social networks, so from the beginning things were in theory. Theories created from a very one sided perspective – if you ask me.

    As businesses and leaders in businesses asked for answers, more information from the data, had results to analyze, then the social media mindset in businesses changed. Social networking is far deeper than simply market share and sales (marketing). It impacts how we as a society relate to each other, it has larger implications inside the business and has pushed those who were perhaps slacking because they never thought they had a place against the major brands, to start to build and gain a voice – a voice that previously was only available to the larger companies with marketing budgets (print ads, television, radio – all major $$) .

    It forces internal strategy, it forces brands to actually be brands, and think of their vision and address how it is that they are supporting their branding with the actions from their people on the front lines (sales, customer service, employee engagement, morale, innovation, creativity, leaders, etc)

    I think opportunists pushed the social media jargon, and the experts struggled with words to draw the picture of what was developing. That’s the old picture…its part of building anything really…Now we finally have business cases to follow, data tied directly to marketing plans, we have finally come to a place where its not about measuring the “ROI of your mother” it’s about integrating smart measurable tools into your business, and combining that with strategy and the tools that social networks have given us to expand reach. (both internally and externally)

    I totally agree with you on the teenager comparison. And lets not forget its not social media or social networks that mature ***its business**** and it’s devotion to understanding the networks and what they mean; the developers building measurement tools; the authors writing the books to share strategy and case studies; the early adapters who now have information from their first hand experiences, and the speakers, bloggers, etc for getting out there and listening to peoples questions and blogging about them, and developing strategy together.

    Marketing is one area in this new developing area. Frank showed us how it changed service and a company mindset/culture… (his books on this are awesome). The business owners had no idea what was really happening in a company prior to social media, they would just get reports of “all is well”, or look at numbers, social has started providing information in unfiltered ways, information that changes the face of business, period.

    People have to start learning the full effects & possibility : both internally and externally to really capitalize on the deep advantages social has to offer. We are at the beginning of an amazing time. It is not about “social media” it’s about *evolution of business*. I listed my top points here: http://milaspage.com/social-business-advantage-using-socialmedia-competition/

    I normally don’t include posts into my comments, but I said it there straight out, its about business, and now that businesses will start to understand what social can do, not just in marketing, it’s a whole new ball game.

    • You raise some fabulous points here, Mila – stay tuned for next week’s Wednesday post where we’re going to hit on some of the things you mention here (we’re psychic like that).

      Yes, businesses need to adapt from the inside out – that’s what I really love about books like Humanize – they go into that necessity in detail. But I would argue part of the problem with the relationship between social media and business today is that social media was growing at the same time many people found themselves out of work. They found that by using Twitter and then other platforms, they could showcase their growing online skillset and that came into increasing demand. The more their confidence grew, the more the need for their expertise grew. But these folks were not necessarily people from the business world or the marketing world. As social media began to intersect with business (let’s face it…that’s where the really big bucks are) these people started realizing they needed to offer social media advice through a business prism, and instead of saying, “Oops, I don’t know that world,” they kept going.

      That, I think, is where the relationship really started to get shaky, and I think we are still in that mess (though some people are poking their heads out of the rubble.

  4. I’d have to agree with Eliason. It is over in that sense. We’ve seen a focus on content, on algorithms, and even the big players are not doing the same things, dictating to the market how to tweet, etc. It’s a bit much. But here we are doing what we always did and that’s good!

  5. Gotta move past simple engagement and develop stronger correlations between increased engagement, marketing spend (and type of spend), corporate website traffic, and conversions across all channels.

    I do think that Big Data and text/sentiment analysis comes into play here, and that is exciting. Brands can capture those same mentions in the “chatting engagement”, or in reviews/tweets/etc., and break them down into their most basic concepts. You now know what they are talking about. Then you take it to the next level with a 1st stab at their emotions while they are talking about those concepts.

    I still love the quote “big data is the new algorithm”. Get enough data lined up, and you can start seeing correlations that you may have previously missed.

    Can you tell that I’m excited about the possibilities?

    • You are definitely a data geek 🙂

      Here is the problem though. If people aren’t “chattering” as much on social media sites, you’re going to lose a lot of those insights. As people spend more time sharing posts about blogging, they are spending less time talking about their favorite teams or their favorite brands. In fact, nowadays people set up their Triberr and Buffly accounts and don’t sign in again for a day or two. The impact that is going to have on businesses using social media is not being talked about much, but I think it will be interesting to track.

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