Social Media – Learning to Earn

I have long been troubled by hearing the interweb and all things digital referred to as  “New Media”, and especially the use of “Social Media” as the collective for blogs and social network sites. My problem is with the word ‘Media’ and I admit it may be a generational thing. Media creates a very particular mindset if you entered marketing any time in the last century. You pay for Media, it works by interruption and is generally one way. We used our brand budget (traditionally 60% of it) to get loosely targeted people to listen to something we felt would win their hearts and minds when they’d rather be doing something else – watching a TV show, reading a magazine or just concentrating on driving their car. Oh I know we tried to make it entertaining and our message had been honed by discourse with a few people in focus groups but nevertheless when it came to media, the more we paid the more we could make people listen.

We spent a bit on PR – Public Relations – but not much in comparison to how much went on media. It would be nice to think we could sit down and have a chat with people, get to know them and let them get to know our brand but how many could we reach this way? One 30 second TVC in Corrie and we’d reach almost everyone.

But now we can talk to millions. We can converse with them and they with us. And when I say them, it can be individuals or groups of people. We can also listen very attentively which is important because conversing means listening more than you talk otherwise you don’t know what to say. With the latest on-line tools we can pick up any reference to our brand on over 35 billion web pages, Twitter and Facebook sites, blogs and posts every moment of every day. We can home in on particular people or groups of people and listen to what’s on their mind. The question is how do you behave as a brand in this new Social Media world? Well not like we behave with paid for broadcast Media.

It’s rude to interrupt, it’s arrogant to throw your weight around and you can’t just shout at people. No that won’t do at all – you have to behave as you would in any social situation.

You have to be invited into the conversation or better still be introduced by someone known and respected by the group. If you must just barge in then at least pick your moment and have something very interesting or helpful to say. To interest people you have to be interesting. While remaining true to yourself, you naturally relate what you say and do to each individual and their particular situation, it’s just courtesy. The rules of Social Media, if we must call it this, are the rules, etiquette if you prefer, of social interaction.

In Media you pay your money to buy attention, in Social Media you have to earn it– which is why I prefer “Earned Media” and there may even be an argument to say that we should go back to PR as the description of this kind of marketing.
As more and more brands and businesses embrace Social/Earned Media they are learning these lessons on how to behave and it is having two very positive side effects. Firstly I have seen a renewed interest in Social Sciences among marketers – to understand how to market to people you have to understand how people behave. This is really healthy. We are social apes distinguished from our cousins only by our ability to communicate and live in vast and overlapping communities – we are defined by our sociability. That’s where we need to start as marketers.

Secondly, because brands don’t actually talk (when was the last time you had a conversation with a bottle of shampoo) the focus has shifted to the people behind the brands. This means that there can be no disconnect between brand values and company values (ask Nike or BP). Again, really healthy.

Living in a community forces us to take account of others and behave better. The nice benefit of social media is that brands are becoming more sociable. When it comes to earning respect it is who you really are what you actually do, that counts most, not how loudly you shout. Instead of just paying more, brands can learn to earn more through authentic, consistent and coherent values that are reflected in their actions rather than just their message. In this new world the playing field has been levelled, big brands have less of an advantage and that’s a good thing too.

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