It should come as no surprise to readers of this article that a seismic shift in the way consumers interact with media has turned the marketing world upside down (if this is a surprise to you, give me a call. You can come to my apartment and I will turn you upside down so you can see this new world like the rest of us). It is no longer acceptable for media and marketing professionals to create content that is just for consumption, with no entry point for interaction.
Let me reiterate: No option for interaction is unacceptable!
While I do not have scientific proof of this fact, I submit that our brains have been altered to the degree that, when we see media, our instincts tell us to interact with it. Our bodies and minds have adapted to this new world of media. It is my belief that we now have a new disposition towards the mediated world; one that empowers us to feel as though we not only have the ability, but the right to participate.
Let me reiterate: We have the right to participate!
Whether or not content creators have provisioned a course of action that allows consumers to interact with the media they have created, consumers will interact with it. Whether it is through search engines, mobile devices, or any other extension of ourselves (see McLuhan's Understanding Media: Extensions of Man), it is imperative for all content creators operating in the 21st century to realize that media, as an extension of who we are, will become an increasingly active part of our lives, whether you like it or not.
Let me reiterate: We will share it, whether you like it or not!
Goals and methodology
In light of all that has changed in the world of media, professionals working in the marketing industry must ask the question, "who is responsible for operating marketing initiatives in this new environment?"
Although met with a certain level of disdain, interrupter-at-large Joseph Jaffe kicked this meme into full gear with his piece entitled "Who Owns Social Media." While I am a longtime fan of Jaffe's in-your-face tactics, I decided to take the Beatles' approach and "get by with a little help from my friends."
I decided to create a form and sent it to the following thought leaders, who represent different types of agencies:
David Berkowitz, director of emerging media & client strategy at 360i.
Shiv Singh, vice president, social media & global strategic initiatives at Razorfish.
Rick Liebling, global director, account management at Taylor.
Michael Lazerow, founder, chairman, and CEO at Buddy Media.
Christine Perkett, founder and CEO at PerkettPR
Shel Holtz, principal at Holtz Communication + Technology.
What is social media?
I know this is a bit basic for all the social media gurus in the audience, but it is important to lay some groundwork. I asked each of the respondents to give their definition in 140 characters or less (Twitter rules, of course).
Here are the responses:
- Liebling: Social Media is the creation, sharing, and commenting on digital content.
- Lazerow: The sharing of information between people.
- Berkowitz: Any form of media that allows for immediate, public consumer response that's incorporated into the content produced.
- Singh: Social media is media in any form for any platform created by, for, and with consumers.
- Perkett: Social media is simply talking *with* -- not at -- your constituencies (customers, friends, partners, prospects, etc.) & engaging them online.
- Holtz: Tools and processes used to connect, share, and to organize and collaborate with others.
For the search marketing fans and quant-geeks in the audience, I decided to take a look at the keywords used most in these definitions in order to extract the commonalities.
It is no surprise that the term "share" was mentioned the greatest number of times, followed by the three C's: consume, content, create. No real surprises here so far. While only used once, I think Berkowitz's mention of the word "immediacy" is extremely important. When dealing with social media there is an inherent element of immediacy (due to the speed at which information is disseminated). Given the immediacy of social media, one might think that a media agency is not equipped to do this type of work, as media agencies don't generally deal with crisis communications (and other forms of relating to the public) the way that a public relations firm might. Does that mean I think PR firms are best suited to handle social media? Not necessarily.
In the last year, what is the best example of an effective use of social media?
The next question I asked the respondents was, "who is doing a good job in social media, and what executions really stood out?" I told the respondents to feel free to reference their own work, as it would not be fair to ask industry leaders not to recognize their own work. Some took me up on that offer.
Some of the initiatives mentioned were:
- Mad Men on Twitter: Deep Focus was, in part, responsible for getting AMC to adopt this.
- Bud Light Party Cruise: Buddy Media
- Levi's 501 challenge: Razorfish
- @comcastcares: internal resources
- Ford Fiesta Movement: Undercurrent
- Kmart Holiday Shopping: IZEA
- TSA's "Evolution of Security" blog: internal resources
[Author's note: Many parties touch any given campaign. With the above examples, I've done my best to identify the lead agency]
The campaigns above were handled by a few different types of agencies. Digital agencies in some examples, in-house teams in others (where there may or may not be an agency involved). There are also two agencies that, for lack of a better term, I will refer to as specialized agencies: IZEA and Buddy Media. It is interesting to note that none of the campaigns above were driven by a PR agency. Sure, my question was only given to six individuals, but they are all very influential and opinionated -- I do not think it is unfair to say that this sample group is indicative of something substantive.
Am I trying to say PR agencies are not fit to handle social media duties? Not at all.
I can tell you through personal observation that it seems digital agencies are trying to get to the social media finish line faster than many PR agencies. That, however, does not mean they are doing it well. I think many clients turn to their digital agencies for anything that occurs online. At the time being, most social media occurs online, and the expectations by many are that this should be handled by the digital agency.
What competency does social media resemble most?
The lines between the various disciplines in our industry have been drawn, obscured, and drawn again. In reference to social media, it is hard to say which traditional discipline it resembles the most. At the end of the day, the best strategic thinkers will rise to the top, but it helps to know where to find these thinkers.
I asked the respondents a multiple choice question with the following options. What competency does social media resemble most?
- Public relations
- All of the above
- It depends, stop asking silly questions, Adam!
Here are the results:
I think it is safe to say that social media does not fall into the hands of the traditional advertising agency. It becomes a little more difficult when trying to determine whether social media marketing is a function that falls under the umbrella of marketing or public relations.
While I have remained fairly neutral to this point, I am now going to break my impartiality.
I believe PR, advertising, media, digital marketing, social media, and any other competencies in this arena are all subject to the will of "the market." Strategies need to be defined by consumer needs, stated desires, and forecasts. Despite any formal definition, it is my opinion that from a purely semantic point of view, all of these competencies fall under the umbrella of marketing. Perhaps my question was unnecessarily pedantic and merely lead to a mess of semantic entanglement, which does not help us solve the problem at hand. My statement, "all competencies fall under the umbrella of marketing" does not help solve the conundrum of who should handle the execution of social media marketing, but it does help set us up for the remaining pieces of this discussion.
Do I think the marketing department should handle all chores associated with social media? No. In the next section, I'll explain what I do think.
What type of agency is best poised to handle social media marketing chores?
I gave our esteemed panel a chance to rant about who they thought should be handling the chores associated with social media. Here's some of what they had to say:
Holtz: Public relations -- what part of 'relations' don't people understand? PR is not media relations; it's the management of an organization's relationships with its public.
Lazerow: Unlike traditional marketing, social media straddles several organizations within an organization, including marketing/advertising, corporate communications/PR, CRM, product development and HR.
Liebling: Smart ones. Nimble ones. Fearless ones.
Singh: I think a digital agency that touches all parts of a marketing organization and, more broadly speaking, a company's businesses, will be able to handle the chores associated with social media the best. The reason being is that you need to understand digital at its very core to do this successfully. You also need to understand and be a part of the paid media world as increasingly social media has a large paid media component to it. And you also need to understand a business's operations (and have deep credibility and expertise) to apply social thinking to other parts of a business like product innovation and customer service beyond marketing.
Perkett: I don't know that it's just one agency, necessarily. I think that at a minimum, the PR agency needs to be involved. But -- I think the best option is a creative PR or marketing agency that has digital talent; an agency that can also create content as well as develop messages.
While these are all great responses, only two take a firm stance in favor of one type of agency. Holtz is standing his ground on the fact that the PR agency is best poised to handle these chores, and Berkowitz is certain the answer is 360i (although they may have trouble servicing every brand in the world). Singh's answer is interesting, but he traverses various functions, from paid media to product innovation to customer service (I am not saying that I disagree -- but his response does not provide an easy answer. Can't anyone make this easy for us?)
It is becoming more apparent that we are simply not in a place to make any sharp judgment. I am of the mind that you will rarely find truth in absolutes, as there are very few of them. Still, I think that as an industry we are not where we need to be when it comes to defining who should be handling social media marketing chores.
Perhaps we are looking at this the wrong way.
Maybe the process of trying to give social media to a specific type of agency is the wrong approach; like putting a round peg in a square hole. What if the term "social media" is wrought with flaws from the onset? It was this thinking that led me to my final question.
Will "social media" remain relevant?
The final question posed was, "In two years, will the term 'social media' still be relevant?" The alternative being that all media will inherently be social, and ultimately treated as such. The multiple choices were:
- Yes, but I am not happy about it!
- I sure hope not!
I was shocked by the response. All but one of the respondents answered "yes." The outlier answered, "I sure hope not."
It is my belief that the term "social media" will still be around in two years, but I hope the industry matures to a point where we realize that all media is inherently social, and that what was once deemed "social media" is now part of a larger trend in media -- participation.
Let me reiterate: All media is social!
The word "media" itself involves two parties -- a sender and a receiver. The word "social" is based on theories that involve the co-existence of people. If two people co-exist in an ecosystem and one does not respond to a message, there is still information that is sent back to the point of origin (the information being, "for one reason or another, I am not interested in your message"). Given the advanced nature of our information technology, the excuse, "I had no way of responding" does not hold water, leaving us in a state where the lack of a response is, in effect, a response.
We live in a culture of participation. A culture where all mediated touch points are interaction points. The result is that all media becomes social, and subsequently, all marketing is social. This knowledge does not answer the immediate question asked in this article, but it does provide some directional guidelines on how you, as a marketer, can help move the industry to a place of better understanding (as it pertains to social media):
- For managers: No matter what area of the industry you work in, you should be teaching your staff social media/marketing best practices (and it should be done today).
- For individuals: The world has changed. It is up to you to make sure that you are personally ready to operate in this new world of participation. If no one else is training you, train yourself (the resources are out there, if you have trouble you can contact me).
- For clients: When looking for help with your social media marketing, make sure you are asking questions that evoke answers about core strategic beliefs, as opposed to tactical executions.
- For everyone: Whether or not you buy into the fact that all media is now social, remember that all media can be social if you want it to be.
- Remember: Participation is the new interruption
We have covered a lot of ground in this article; spoke to a number of thought leaders, got a lot of best practices and examples, but what is most important is what you think of all this, as this is a question that can only be answered by the industry as a whole. While no one opinion can set the course of an entire industry, your lack of participation in this matter will certainly not help things.
Even in this lengthy discourse, it is difficult to offer up a definitive answer. What we can do is offer a number of probes into relevant areas and give as many insights as possible. Maybe now we can answer this question together, as an industry. Speak up, friends.
Adam Broitman is partner and ringleader, Circ.us.