The Social Media Marketing Miracle That Wasn’t

What a fantastic title this post has (even if I do say so myself), and all the better for having been delivered to me, on a plate, courtesy of The New York Times in this genuinely thought-provoking piece about the inherent value of social media and how it is linked to the socio-cultural phenomenon behind them and their growth. (Ooooh, get me and my socio-cultural phenomena!) (Yes, yes. Alright. I made it up. No, I don’t know what it means.)

Anyhoo, the key point (for me) is this:

“That, in fact, may be the ultimate lesson to draw from the social media marketing miracle that wasn’t. The impact of new technologies is invariably misjudged because we measure the future with yardsticks from the past.”

Now, being breathtakingly simplistic here, what this can be taken to mean is that social media are being judged (in a commercial sense) by their usefulness as marketing or communications tools – because there must be a way to monetise them. Worse, those who do not see them in this light, or judge them using these yardsticks, are seen as naysayers and luddites.

Obviously, this is wrong. Social media are not sales, marketing or communications tools in a commercial sense. This is not awkwardness, or a refusal to go into the light – this is trying to see beyond the traditional uses of ‘media’, by which all such channels are judged (at present).

I’m with the author of this article (well done, sir!) when he says:

“Social networks, like them or not, are fast laying out a new grid of personal connections. Even if this matrix of humanity sputters in advertising and marketing, it’s bound to spawn new industries in consulting, education, collaborative design, market research, media and loads of products and services yet to be imagined. Maybe, just maybe, it will even be able to sell soap.”

Not sure about the soap, mind.

Vindicated at last!

Or I could have titled this post ‘justified’, but then someone would have accused me of being a Belieber. When, in fact, I am simply Marked. Mark Borkowskied, to be clearer.

Here you are, all of you who have sneered at my take on social media. All of you – I believe the term is – ‘haters’. All of you gurus, you charlatans, you bearers of Greek gifts, you purveyors of snake oil. You clothesless Emperors, you herd-following sheep, you shiny-object-collectors. You next-big-thingies. Yes, you. And who’s laughing now. Eh?

See!

I’d like to quote Mr Borkowski – a real PR guru, with lots of experience mind, not a pretend guru, who is using the bauble of social media to fleece gullible clients who should know better. Here you are – if you want more, clickety-linky, read fulsome!

“Twitter and social media is not a marketing platform, it’s a channel to engage with an audience. It’s not a way of actually selling more. It’s totally about visibility.

This is nothing new, this is nothing interesting.”

Nothing see here, then.

The End Of The World As We Know It

Occasionally, as you will know, faithful blog trotters mine, I get a little bit taken with a prime example of the admaker’s art, and all overcome with how brilliant they are at selling stuff. I know how sad this is, but, still, credit where credit is due – when I have been presumptuous enough to try and identify key trends in communication (any communication, nota bene), I have always put humour right up there at the top of the list. Make people laugh in an unexpected, wry, self-deprecating or genuinely funny way (and you’d be surprised, or maybe you wouldn’t, at how much humour isn’t, actually, genuinely funny – and is none the worse for it) and you’ve got ’em.

Everyone likes a laugh – better still, everyone likes a clever laugh – and never more so than when everyone’s hurting financially, as we all are currently. (As those who were elected to take care of the world instead f*ck it all up on our collective behalf. Thanks.)

Now, obviously, not all brands or companies can use the humour route. Oil exploration, energy generation, financial services (and related industries) and funeral directors – amongst others – face something of a challenge if they want to make funny, and my advice would be not to try. Thus and therefore it actually behoves those brands who can do it – mostly fast-moving consumer goods with personality (think beer and crisps and smoothies) – to get to it on the hurry up. Take, for example, the truly magical ‘Good Call’ Fosters adverts – if you’re not familiar, can I suggest you do a YouTubey on their ass – which never fail to make me feel better about life in general.

(However, and extraordinarily germane to this post, have a look at this link and breathe a collective ‘wtf’. )

So, the latest commercial execution to make me feel so much better about things in general, to restore my faith in humanity, is the latest Lynx ad, for its 2012 Final Edition deodorant. Yes, snorkellers, I am going to post a link to it, but before I do that, I need to make the odd incisive observation – as is my wont.

For those who don’t know, Lynx is a (sorry, Lynx guys) fairly downmarket range of male grooming products – shower gels and deodorants. But the brand has become iconic through its marketing communications – it’s clever, it’s tongue-in-cheek, it’s not too serious – hell, it’s sexist, but even the laydeez have a laugh (*). Personally, I’m a customer. Those who are familiar with the products and what they appear to promise will share my frustration at the fact that, to date, no angels, or bikini-clad women have actually invaded my personal shower space while I have been using said products, but I look at it like the lottery – gotta be in it to win it.

(*) How do I draw this conclusion? Read on, blog rollers, read on.

Anyway, long story etc etc. As you’ll all know, the world is going to end on December 21 2012. Or perhaps not – perhaps it’ll be more a sort of cataclysmic event, and not an end. Or possibly, it’ll be a sort of spiritual transformation and things will not only not end, they will positively continue, but perhaps in a different fashion.  (NB again – I have to say, all this strange stuff going on in the world currently – continent-sized icebergs in Antarctica, earthquakes in Japan and SF, flooding in Thailand, 29 degrees in the UK in October, social unrest globally, the Arab Spring and Greece about to cause the biggest period of economic instability since economics was invented by that nice Mr Milton Keynes – does make you wonder whether we’re not, in fact, lining up for a cataclysm. Just me?)

So the nice Lynx people make a fabulous leap of creativity, announce their Final Edition body spray and make an ad – well – watch it for yourself here. I like this a lot. It is clever. It looks good. It has a nice soundtrack and, best of all it completely embodies what I perceive the brand to be about. Tongue-in-cheek – we all know that no amount of body spray is going to render a bearded carpenter (hey – new connection! One I’d missed! It’s sacrilegious as well!) magnetically attractive to women – but, well, I’ll keep using the stuff. You know, just on the off-chance. Anyway. Enjoy.

Finally, and tying up all the loose ends. I’ve posted a link to a Lynx Facebook page deliberately. I’m drawing the conclusion that the laydeez are having a laugh as well, despite it being a tad sexist, because they don’t appear to be complaining.

I posted a link to the Pink News and its questioning around the homophobic nature of the Fosters Good Call ad as an illustration that no matter how clear you are about your intentions, no matter how obvious the comedy, not matter how clearly it is a case of ‘laughing with you, not at you’ – there’s always space to be filled, comments to be made and, yes, people who will take offence at anything.

And with social media, these joyless, humourless, literal and narrow-minded curmudgeons get their say. Check out the comments on the Lynx Facebook page. Here’s an example:

“This is a really sick fuckin ad, playin on peoples fear and vulnerability. take it off tv ads idiots…..”

There are those who champion the use of social media in a marketing context because it’s all about the conversation, the learnings from the consumer – well, you try having a conversation with, or learning from, that particular fucknut.

Facebook – Show Me The Money

Today, I present, for your delight and delectation, a piece from the Wall Street Journal, a regional newspaper with a reasonable circulation, entitled ‘Big Brands like Facebook But They Don’t Like To Pay’. I am not going to paraphrase or summarise the article so, lazy blog trotters, you’ll have to get all clickety wid it for yourselves.

So, to my mind, there a few key points to be dragged out of this, and you’ll forgive me for re-ordering them, but in the following sequence, they make more sense:

  • Facebook’s global revenues were ‘not as robust as I would have expected”, said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson.
  • Facebook’s estimated market value, now in the neighborhood of $70 billion, is founded on the belief that companies will spend big to advertise on the site. Facebook’s revenues, which come largely from ads, were $1.6bn in the first half of this year, up $800m from a year earlier.
  • Facebook is expected to capture just 6.4% of total online ad spending this year, according to estimates by eMarketer.
  • EMarketer expects Facebook’s ad revenues to reach $2bn in the US, from 162 million unique users, according to comScore; Google is expected to earn $12.8bn in US ad revenue from 184.6 million unique US users, according to comScore.
  • The auto maker (Ford)……….said it spent less that 5% of its total online ad budget for the (Ford Focus) campaign on Facebook.
  • Martin Sorrell………..said Facebook works for brand building, but companies that use traditional advertising “are invading a social space. You have to be extremely careful”.
  • “You can give them money, and they can give you Likes,” said Mr Kelly (Scott Kelly, Ford’s head of digital marketing), “but the question is, what is the value of those Likes?”
  • “Likeonomics.” Rohit Bhargrava, SVP with WPP agency, Ogilvy.
  • Facebook says 96% of the top 100 US advertisers, as ranked by Ad Age, bought ads on the site in the past year. Of the world’s 100 largest companies, 61% have a presence on the seven-year old company, up from 54% last year, according to Burson Marsteller.
  • Sony Corp is shifting 30% of its traditional ad budget into social sites, including Facebook, for its Playstation console. Diageo, maker of Smirnoff and Guinness, committed in September to spending more than $10m on Facebook ads.

So, snorkellers all, I’m just throwin’ this out there:

  • Facebook’s immense valuation is based on its certainty that companies will spend big on ads. They’re not. Most of the ‘Book’s ad revenue comes from SMEs.
  • Ford used Facebook for its ‘viral’ possibilities – it spent a little and then pulled the spend once momentum had been achieved. Ford’s head of digital raises questions over value.
  • Martin Sorrell issues a warning against traditional advertising on Facebook and even Diageo (one of ‘Facebook’s recent successes’) is only committing $10m to Facebook ads – which is hardly the big bucks Facebook needs.
  • 61 of the world’s top 100 companies have a ‘presence’ on Facebook – define ‘presence’, please

I’m still looking for the Emperor’s underwear here.

My perception is that Facebook is finding it tough going monetising its undoubtedy enormous user base – and this is partly because savvy companies (Ford amongst them) realise that – whetever value there may be in using Facebook as a marketing and sales tool – it is not delivered through advertising on the site.

Facebook themselves are not helping their cause as David Fischer, VP of advertising and global operations for Facebook, has said that the company is “building our business for the long-term” – and turning down ads that compromise the user experience. In addition, Facebook ads are small – because of an early decision by Zuckerberg to keep the site uncluttered.

Sorry Facebook – you can’t have it both ways. You can either liberate the revenues and sell companies what they’ll pay for – or you can stick with your ideals, and never realise the potential that might (just might) justify the frankly obscene estimated market value that’s being bandied about.

My bet is that Zuckerberg will attempt to have his cake and eat it – and the rumoured float next year will be a car crash of epic proportions.

Reinventing Online Shopping With ‘Social Commerce’

Thanks to The Globe and Mail (Toronto) for this article published yesterday, entitled ‘Retail Giant’s @Walmartlabs plans to reinvent shopping with ‘social commerce’.  You can read it by doing the light clicktastic on this word here.

Working in retail in 2000, as I did, one of the questions that ‘brick-and-mortar’ retailers were often asked was ‘do you feel threatened by the rise of e-commerce?’ To which the answer was ‘no – people will always want to experience real goods, in real time, in real surroundings, sold by real people.’ At the time they were right, the tech bubble imploded and things (briefly) went back to how they were.

But, d’you see, we got it wrong – both the question and the answer. We got the question wrong because we didn’t know what to ask – social media had not been invented – and we got the answer wrong because we could never have imagined how reliant people would become on the opinions, statuses, needs, wants and ill-informed dogmatism of others.

The question now is – as a ‘brick-and-mortar’, offline retailer, do you feel threatened by social media?’ And the answer really should be ‘yes’. When Walmart are bringing social media to the in-store shopping experience (want a review of the microwave you’re looking at? Post a message – a member of staff or another customer will respond to you. Want to know where the peanut butter is? Post a message – someone will respond) then you can be certain that this – or something like it – is the future.

And as for the boy turd Zuckerberg – yes, of course he’s in on it. To quote the article – ‘this is where Shopycat comes in. The Facebook application uses social media profiles and comments to generate gift ideas’. Back to Walmart’s breathless tech spokesperson, Venky Harinarayan. (No disprespect to Venky, he (or she, I suppose) has already made a sizeable fortune selling Walmart a thing called Junglee, a shopping comparison site. Well done, that capitalist.)

“It is becoming clear to us that one of the shopping behaviors that people have that is inherently social is gifting. We are building a product that we believe makes peoples’ gifting much more efficient, because all of your friends and family, within reason, are on Facebook. We are leveraging that information to help you buy better gifts and make it easier for you. We believe gifting and social networks are fundamentally made for each other, so getting that right over the next year will be important to us.”

D’you know, snorkellers mine, I’m going to leave it there. I’ll let you work out the number of different levels on which this is just so wrong.  I’ll start you off.

‘Efficient gifting.’

Baileys on Face

Ah, snorkellers mine. D’you know what day it is? It is Sad Day.

You know that ( to my mind) rather charming and evocative painting by the clearly quite stable Mr Munch – The Scream? That, dear trotters all, is a bit like how I feel today, on Sad Day, only the painting doesn’t quite capture the same sense of lonely, existential despair.

(Incidentally, do you think that Edvard had a brother, Monster? Or, as it would be in the original Norwegian, Munster?)

So, I hear you breathlessly cry (or, technically, ‘cry breathlessly’ – let’s try and keep our infinitives unsplit), what is the cause of my misery on this, Sad Day? Well , I’ll tell you, it’s this piece from the FT – as is your wont – point your wands, swish and flick – avada kedavra!

Yes – it is a tale of woe. As you’ll know, blog rollers all, I am not a big fan of social media – the ‘book and the twats, mainly – and one of the reasons that I am not a fan lies in the belief by many (otherwise and seemingly quite sensible and likeable) corporates that social media can somehow deliver revenue to the bottom line. Social media, I have maintained, until now, on Sad Day, are not sales, marketing or communications tools – they are at best reputational tools, with a part to play in scenarios of crisis.

So imagine my dismay and horror and feeling of universal wrong-ness when I read that Diageo – a purveyor of pleasant beverages to functioning alcoholics, youths-on-a-bender and stressed-out citizenry – has been using Facebook for marketing activity and has found (through Nielsen basket-scanning research) that certain campaigns for brands like Smirnoff and Baileys boosted  purchases by as much as 20 per cent in the US.

And how am I tempted to be cynical and note the terminology ‘certain campaigns’, and question how, exactly Messrs Nielsen conducted their basket-scanning  research, but I will not give in. As much as 20%. That’s revenue enhancing, whatever way you look at it.

It also adds some extra detail to my own version of The Scream. It’s called The Face (just a working title, most revered rollers) and it is a mental picture (no, not as in ‘mental, mental, chicken oriental’, mental as in ‘all in the mind’) of the tipische Facebooketeer. Hunched over a computer in the darkened third bedroom of his parents’ semi, oblivious to sunlight and the outside world and surrounded by empty pizza boxes and tins of energy drink.

And now with a bottle of Baileys and a liqueur glass by his side.

I think the Munchster would be proud of me.

The Unbearable Lightness of Twitter

By which, blog snorkellers mine (hello everyone, by the way, been a while) I mean that Twitter remains, as I’ve said before, a not terribly effective communications tool. Much of the content, as we know, is at best banal, and at worst ego-driven and self-important.  Unfortunately, it is the lightweight nature of much of the content that denies it the gravitas and – perhaps – respectability that might render it effective as anything more than a rapid response, or a means to provide service updates. That and, of course, the fact that it’s difficult to say anything of meaning in 140 characters or less. I know that there are serious Tweeters – politicians and thinkers etc – but I cannot but believe that they’re there because they feel, somehow, that they should be, not because they genuinely feel there’s value. What you might call ‘down with the kids’ syndrome. (Absolutely no pun intended, for the easily offended.)

(And yes, Alanis, it is ironic that I shall be attempting to augment awareness of this post via Twitter and also – if you, dear reader, stick with me for a little longer – that I shall, from one point of view, be seen to debunk one of my most fondly held beliefs. Ooooooh, but yes.)

Proof, if any were needed, is supplied by a piece on mediabistro.com, a site which, I freely admit, I know nothing about but (I am afraid) sounds like the sort of place that I would sprint over red-hot, barbed-wire-coated scorpions to avoid.  That being said, the article is called Twitter’s 13 All-Time Most Epic Tweets, it does what it says on the tin and you can view it via the usual swish and flick – engorgio!

(No, of course you won’t. Sigh.)

Anyway, read it for yourself, but I think a couple of comments are in order – not least of which is, if these are the ’13 All-Time Most Epic’ (quite a build-up, do you not think) – why are they mostly rubbish? Why would Jack Dorsey’s first tweet (or twt, at the time) count as ‘most epic’? There was no-one there to read it.

Why would the first tweet from space be the ‘most epic’? Is a radio conversation with the space station considered ‘epic’? Not really – but it’s a sackload more informative that 140 characters of badly-spelled randomness.

Twitter helped a bloke get out of jail in Egypt. Great. I’m delighted. But it’s not ‘epic’. It’s a communication device. If bloke had time to tweet and he could use his ‘phone, why didn’t he call someone? More effective, I’d have said.

None of this stuff is ‘epic’. None of this stuff could not have been done (arguably better) through other forms of communication. It is only seen as ‘epic’ by those who have a vested interest in keeping the service fresh, relevant and – yes – well-used. Normally these people are the ‘social media gurus’ and those who write about social media. I am afraid – dearest blog trotters – the Emperor is still wearing little in the way of clothing.

And finally – and here’s where the lie may be seen to be given to one of my most deeply-held and widely advocated beliefs – to whit – that social media is of no use in selling stuff. Well, on the ‘epic’ list is a tweet from some chap on the top of Everest and – obviously – the first thing he does is get his twat on and namecheck both the service and the brand of mobile device he’s using. Good try, Samsung!

Samsung obviously invested some considerable time and effort and possibly money in this – but my gut tells me that next to no extra devices were shifted on the back of it. I can’t imagine the market for Samsung Galaxys amongst committed mountaineers is that huge.

I am, however, prepared to be wrong. Hell, I would like to be wrong.

I’m not though, am I?