Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Social Media ain't any different

A few weeks back we went to a "Social Media Workshop". Although we were not the targeted audience (the others were from companies with way over 1000 employees) and the speaker focussed on classic Internet Marketing, Blogs and SEO a bit too much it left some traces. One sentence that really got stuck was: "Social media ain't any different" and he continued saying that a marketing plan and target audience and all the classic marketing stuff has the same value it had outside social media. Bare with me when I say he is right. Right while being totally wrong.

Let me explain:
Compared to the long history of human communication mass media is a very young phenomenon (some even call it a fluke...) but it reached its limitation and got stuck already. More and more companies are not willing nor able to spend thousands of Euros for some TV- or Print-Campaign. They rather spent way less to do some smart advertising in the internet, targeted to the real audience. The reason why most of them do that is that internet marketing is actually measurable. You can track whether an ad campaign leads to sells or not. It can proof its value and you can make it more efficient.

Mass Media Marketing was never able to proof this value, they made up numbers and what they are worth, defined weird target groups (ever wondered why they always speak about the 14-49 year old?), made questionnaires, lab-like pre-viewings with interviews. They took all these random numbers formed graphs and plotted nice figures proofing.... well, nothing. And if you ever complained they said it was "art" and you can't put a value on art. Well... people sell pictures with a price tag on it all the time, so you can... But that is not the point. The point is that mass media marketing is not able to proof its value. And from a scientific perspective you have to say: unless it can proof its value we have to assume it doesn't have any. Which also means we have to consider the "classic" marketing strategies don't have any value.

I've put the word classic in quotes here because it is most used term (to separate from the "new internet marketing") but I think compared to the history of human communication it ain't classic at all. It is young and was a nice experiment, but more and more (mostly small) companies leave this terrain and go back to what communication has been before mass media: talking to people, understanding their needs and problems and helping them solve them. In terms this is the real classical way of selling your stuff.

In the middle ages travelling salesman got the people because they told interesting stories from countries exotic and far away. Of course they had to have a decent product but in the first place they had to understand the problems of the people: you can't sell winter cloths in an area where it ain't any cold. And they could only become better by listening to the people. Maybe one little town is haunted with some really strong wind at certain times of the year. Humans are a really communicative species and they are willingly telling you about the strong wind and how could it always is. So the salesman could simply buy good winter cloths and sell it to them easily. Their customers where happy and they made a good deal.

Mass Media Marketing is the opposite of this smart travelling salesman. They come to me on the hottest time of the year and tell me I should try their newest winter jacket. When I say that it is 30° Celsius and I don't need a winter jacket they don't listen but start talking about what nice features this jacket has; "It is made from finest wool and the best fur. And look how good it looks. Also on this really good looking model here. Doesn't the coat look fabulous?" They don't try to solve my (current) problem but rather talk about themselves, their product and how great it is while I drift away, think about a pina colada and a hammock at the beach. More often we, the customers, are so annoyed that it goes in one ear and out the other.

Even though he could make some really good deal with me. If he would just talk to me. Maybe I would pay a fortune for an sunshade right now. And if he is a nice guy I would invite him to sit down, offer him a popsicle and we could talk for a bit. About me, him and what he is doing, where he got this sunshade and why it is the best. People are curious by nature. And I might find out that he has a shop not far away and next winter, when I freeze like hell I'll visit him and buy some nice coat.

And that is what I mean when I say "Social Media ain't any different". It is all about communication and human relationship, that is what the word "social" means in this context. It is another way you can communication with people and build valuable relationships. And with social networks it is also much easier than ever. This is also true for business and companies. But it forces you to talk to people, listen to them and maybe change the thing you are selling to fit their needs. Big guys don't want to do that, they rather spend thousands to create "awareness" for a product no ones cares about.

So, No, "Social Media ain't any different" in the understand of human communication and its history and Yes, "Marketing has the same value it always had": None!

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