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Heralding the death of non-social media

Heralding the death of non-social media Doug Schumacher

Right before the end of the year, there was a strong backlash against marketing through social media channels. If you were working anywhere near social media, it was hard to miss: People said it doesn't work. People said it doesn't work as they'd like it to. And people said it may work, but it takes effort (my favorite).

It was probably inevitable. There's never been a more explosive media format than social media. As someone wrote on one of my newsfeeds, "Is there anyone out there who isn't starting a social media company?" At any rate, backlash is practically street cred for the internet set. It's right there in the arc of the internet's growth.

Personally, I have no question as to whether social media is a proper marketing channel for a company, and that's because of one simple reason: In the very near future, all media will be social media. Here's why -- and what it means for you.

Let's pause for a second before heading off into the future. For many brands, you could probably argue that all marketing efforts have already gone social. How?

A high percentage of purchases are already preceded by online research. And where there is online research, there are search results. Those search engine results pages often bring up links to a number of consumer review sites. Now, if you've done any amount of conversation monitoring, you know that reviewers don't exactly pull their punches. Even with shopping sites like Amazon, consumers posting negative reviews are hitting the brand where it hurts most -- at the point of purchase.

So given the above scenarios, even in a "controlled" push-media world, many brands can't even make it through the far end of the buying decision funnel without running head first into a social media situation. Compounding matters, many consumer comments are on social sites like Yelp, where they quickly rise to the top of search rankings.

This point-of-purchase invasion is heading for the physical shopping world as well. Have you tried any of the bar code scanner tools for mobile phones? I haven't found one that works well. Today. But with several of these technologies already in consumers' hands, how long until that's as seamless a part of the buying process as reading an Amazon review before purchasing online? Shoppers will be able to scan an item themselves and get all sorts of product information -- right in the store.

So where's a company to hide from social media? On TV? Whether IPTV or internet TV is the TV model of the future, TV viewing is going to be highly social. I'd say the best glimpse of that future right now is internet TV.

Last November, I watched my high school football team play in the state championship -- on my laptop while waiting for a flight at O'Hare airport. Next to the video stream was a live chat box, open to anyone viewing the game. No sign-up, no identity verification -- just post off the top of your mind (and many did). Welcome to social viewing.

What I found particularly interesting is that during the few lulls in the game (they set the record for most points scored in a state final), the chat conversation topics would drift outside the game video to address the surrounding content on the page -- including the ads. And it certainly wasn't all positive.

Social viewing technology is also currently available in the "Watch & Chat" section of CBS.com, on View2gether.com, and in beta at NBC.com. It's similar to the gaming experience on Xbox Live, except that platform focuses primarily on voice instead of text.

If you project social viewing onto a national broadcast-like environment, you can imagine how vulnerable brands will be to public floggings. Social viewing carries with it all the things you were afraid of on the social networks, now fueled by anonymity combined with the reach of broadcast TV. With search engines aiding and abetting these conversations, even comments on small broadcasts could be discovered and shot into the mainstream conversation rapidly.

In addition to TV, the future of display advertising offers little sign of protection from social media. Have you seen the display ads on Facebook? With commenting capabilities underneath? I recently commented on one, and it went straight into my newsfeed -- broadcast to all my "friends." (Facebook didn't even flag me that this would happen.)

You should expect comments across all online media to be more visible in the future. Disqus is already connecting comments across 45,000 websites, archiving them, making them more searchable, and tying them to database technologies like Plaxo.

Surely someone will invent something to stop all that, right? Here's what that would require: Less data made public for everyone to see. Less inclination among people to expose deeper and deeper levels of their lives in public. And fewer and fewer brands willing to venture into new media.

But since the public onset of the web, trends in this respect have been quite the opposite -- overwhelmingly so. So, in order to avoid that kind of social environment, brands would have to be practically invisible to anyone using online media -- and that's not exactly the objective of marketing departments.

So what's a brand to do?

If the thought of participating in social media today seems scary, the thought of not participating in it in five years should really scare you.

Many brands will trip in their adoption path of social media. It just doesn't work the way push media like TV and print do, where you can turn on the fire hose and go from zero to $5 million a month in spend overnight. Doing so would be like the shy, quiet kid in the back of the classroom deciding to become the class clown the next day. It wouldn't be very authentic. And worse, it would be a path right back to the old-school "we're cool because we said so" form of branding. Beyond all that, it can take time to understand your audiences and to figure out what interests them and what they respond to.

This is what I would suggest to any brand that doesn't think it can go social: Start small and work your way up. Don't try to be Burger King in a month. Be yourself in a month. Start laying a foundational presence in the primary social media arenas. Initial moves into social media can be as simple as providing store locations, product information, coupons, or quizzes. Regardless, social media is where your customers are. It's where you should be too.

Papa John's has taken this route quite effectively on Facebook by adapting its website ordering technology for the social media network. As of this writing, the company has more than 200,000 "fans." Two months ago, prior to launching the Facebook app, it had about 10,000. Its 200,000 fans are a great social marketing foundation. If Papa John's can involve fans in a future Facebook campaign, their involvement will be forwarded on to their friends' newsfeeds.

Last year at SXSW, Mark Zuckerberg said the average number of friends on Facebook is 150. If that figure is anywhere near accurate, that's a newsfeed multiplier that can build significant word of mouth.

Another proven social media tactic is to go directly to a community or group of influentials that includes your target audience. If you have something to say or share, they'll welcome you. And the more value you bring to them, the more they'll give back to you.

Virgin America connected with Boing Boing to launch its service here in the U.S. The company started by asking the Boing Boing editors to name one of its planes. (In true Boing Boing style, they tagged it "Unicorn Chaser.") That started the relationship. From there, Virgin America invited a top Boing Boing writer to join the inaugural flight.

Of course, effective social media marketing often comes back to the need for a quality product, which Virgin America has. And this reflects what Seth Godin has preached for years: Good products create their own positive press. The glowing reviews on Boing Boing were not only well written, they were supported by a convincing overview of the standout features on the plane. Boing Boing has a readership of more than 3 million early adopting consumers. What would it cost to reach them with a TV or print ad? And what ad would ever attain the level of credibility that came from Boing Boing's coverage?

So how should you begin your brand's move into social media? By reaching out to the people who are most interested in your products and services. Discover who your brand advocates are -- or who they could be. Figure out what they like about you and what they're interested in. There's a treasure trove of consumer research in that alone.

From there, expand your activities and begin engaging them in fun and distinct ways that define your brand's personality. You want to evolve with the medium so that several years from now, you don't come off as some uninformed noob.

When it comes to social media, think of your brand as a person. You don't have to be the class clown -- but you at least want to make an impression worth remembering.

Doug Schumacher is president and creative director at Basement Inc.

Doug Schumacher is the co-founder of social media content strategy tool Zuum. Zuum reveals a number of key insights into what type of social media content will generate maximum impact for a given industry. His interactive career began in 1996...

View full biography


to leave comments.

Commenter: Bruno Linhares

2009, January 29

The provocative question was launched in the recent article written by Doug Schumacher, president on Basement Inc - an interactive marketing agency in California, USA.

Doug parades serious arguments in support of this thesis and is based on the participation of the explosion of Internet web - 82 million North Americans create some content on the Web in 2008, about 42% of Internet users in this country - and the evolution of TV formats Digital TV and the Internet, with all the features of interactivity that add.

Most of the online media, if not all, the participation of users will take place in one way or another. Already there are signs that Google itself, with its obscure criteria of relevance, you can make changes in their mechanisms of prioritization. The phenomenon of reviews and comments, have arrived or are coming in all relevant vehicles, with the known impacts, positive and negative, in the most delicate of moments, the final step of the conversion funnel.

The cases of actual participation in social spaces for TV over the Internet - the sites "Watch & Chat" on the CBS.com or View2gether.com of NBC.com presented as examples, are still shy but we can see that another less passive attitude is also possible on TV. A new attitude of people on TV, typical case of one-way communication, can be expected for a future brief.

Despite of absolute statements, what matters for the professionals, who is working or not on the web, that is
which paradigm will be built in the communication of brands in this new cultural scene.

The social media and its use is only one element of a much larger issue. The speed of change, this maturing of the Internet media, and new attitudes of people in information, entertainment and consumption make it an urgent review of tactics and strategies used by the market.

A series of errors have been committed, either by total inconsistency with this new reality, whether by well-intentioned efforts poorly directed. But we can count on a range of actions with great success, who seek the way forward.

The maximum interactivity, connection with the audience and the invitation to participate are, in my opinion, the key point of the new paradigm to be built.

A good and simple example found in the "case" of the aviation company of Virgin America, which invited an author of the site to try BoingBoing social services in its inaugural flight between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The result was an excellent article which reaches 3 million people regularly access the site. Typical actions of public relations? Without doubt, but we have not seen anything like this in Brazil at the launch of Blue Airlines, for example, which has the majority of your target audience online.

Another example of good practice, that in Brazil, it is Wal Mart's strategy of open participation of the user, since the launch of its Web operation. This tactic, also implemented by the team of CASA & VIDEO in 2008, is viewed with seriousness and continuity, without falling into temptations opportunistic, provides a real engagement of the public, especially young people, with the brand.

The efforts and creativity of the professionals responsible for the brands will overcome the challenge of a more participatory environment in the world of communication. The key is people should to be open to a new attitude, which combines the transparency and daring, the common sense with observation of the reality of ordinary people.

Commenter: Doug Schumacher

2009, January 27

Thx for the good comments, everyone. I really like getting feedback.


When it comes to social media, every brand has unique opportunities and challenges, for sure. But I don't think only so-called 'hip' company's can participate. Considering the Food category you work in, I'd again point to Burger King. Not long ago, they weren't considered hip, IMO. But with consistently creative efforts to change the way people see their brand, they've come to be known as a very different company, again, IMO.

But brands don't even have to go the hip route. Start by figuring out how you can add value to any community or group. It could be through relevant information they desire, utility or functionality that makes their lives easier or better, or simply bringing entertainment value to their lives.

Regarding Oroweat, we've handled several social media projects for them, but aren't in charge of their Facebook fan page, nor new member acquisition.


Without knowing much about your service, consider that many social media solutions are very functional in nature. The Papa John's ordering tool on Facebook is exactly that. So are many widgets. Using technology to help people save time is big. Beyond that, while people may not have time for the softer side of communication, they're still human. Some companies neglect user interface because they think the consumer doesn't care. They just want 'the facts'. But UI is a big component of almost any widget, tool, etc. It's like an umpire ... it's only noticed when its bad.


You are so right. There's a big human component with marketing in social media. By definition, really.


Agreed. Mobile's been standing in the wings for a while now. Having an iPhone, I feel like I've seen the future. And when that wave comes in, it's going to be a big one.


I liked the Inauguration on CNN/FB, too. Thought that example in particular reinforced the idea of community viewing.

Commenter: Meryl Bennan

2009, January 27

I understand how hip products get buzz through social media, but what about old standbys. I looked on your company website and noticed that you did social marketing for Oroweat, then went ot their FB page. Not so many friends yet. How do you intend to attract them?And keep them engaged? As a food marketing consultant,as opposed to a social media consultant, this is something that I think about all the time these days,

Commenter: Blaise Nutter

2009, January 26

Hey Doug,
Nice article. Got linked to it through your twitter - very fitting. I love the idea of social viewing - as we got with the CNN/Facebook feed over the Inauguration. Pretty awesome. Reinforces the CNN/Facebook brands. Makes them both look really clever. Makes me come back and see their ads. But you're right - brands don't need to start there. They can move into the online territory slowly. Thanks for the article! I'

Commenter: Conrad Clyburn

2009, January 26


Excellent. I have been building a social network for medical technology experts for a few months, MedTechIQ, http://medtechiq.ning.com/. I like your advice of starting small, developing your "voice", and connecting with your community's wants & needs. Sage advice, thanx!


Commenter: jeff dondero

2009, January 26

I am creating a product/service that is not point of purchase, nor entirely palpable hold-it-in-you-hands sense. It is a service for news. It seems to me that when people want news fast and efficiently they are not too concerned about the personal touchy feeling part of social networking. They want to get and get in and out or scan facts as their business days are crammed with the business of business. Do you think I'm missing something? By the by, we are linked to other social webs in our category of business.

Commenter: Anthony LoFranco

2009, January 26

...If the thought of participating in social media today seems scary, the thought of not participating in it in five years should really scare you... Very nice Doug. Very clear.

Commenter: Giles Crouch

2009, January 26

Really enjoyed this article and will refer some clients.

I also think Smart Phones are going to be the next technology component of driving Social Media...but what 2009 will be about is "people" as the masses decide how the want to use Social Media...

Commenter: Kevin Popovic

2009, January 26

In a time where budgets are cut and R.O.I. is compulsory social media seems (from our clients experiences) to outperform every other medium. Strategic in being selective aside (can't do 'em all, don't wanna forget the brand), don't discount the man (or woman) hours required for profiles, postings, friending, and follow-ups. That is an investment too. - kp

Commenter: Kat Rice

2009, January 26

Way to sum up so many great points. Thanks for the good read and reminders. I plan to send this to a few of my clients because sometimes another voice besides my own can drive the point home!

Commenter: Doug Schumacher

2009, January 26

Thx for the comments. Appreciate you reading and participating.


I'm curious what brand you're working with. I know some brands have more challenges with social media than others, but as far as the 'smell of manipulation', I think the issue centers around a simple question: Are you adding value to the community you're trying to connect with? That's where I think creativity can open a lot of doors.

Commenter: j. ECK

2009, January 26

Having had a hand in corporate blog management, I can say that we have been relatively unsuccessful in creating a positive POV - just the opposite in many cases. The smell of manipulation casts a pall over the brand - and that in turn becomes the story - for better or worse

Commenter: Michelle Crowe Ritter

2009, January 26

Great post, Doug... and great website. Every New Media Director, Emerging Technology Manager, Internet Sales Manager for every traditional media website needs to read this article and visit your website.

Commenter: Amy Johnston

2009, January 26

Really interesting post, Doug. As a consultancy which pitches to new clients all the time, one of the biggest struggles is how to explain what brands can do and how to get the ball rolling - this post really puts it into perspective!

Commenter: Jim Calhoun

2009, January 26

Great post, Doug -- and great insight. "Don't try to be Burger King in a month. Be yourself in a month". Sage advice, for sure. Thanks for sharing!