Letters, April 19, 2010

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Whose Cold, dead hands will social media be pried from?

RE: Pete Blackshaw's "Who Owns Social, Anyway?" (AdAge.com, April 12)

Why not ask "Who owns the telephone?" Makes about as much sense as the "Who owns social media?" question, so very popular this past year.

But we've come a long way in answering it, and kudos to Pete for taking it another evolutionary step forward.

My mind was changed at SXSW this year, listening to a panel of customer-service folks argue about whether PR or customer service should own social media.

While I've seen different companies tell success stories about social media (Comcast and Southwest for customer support, Ford for marketing, Sodexo for HR, etc.), all have been specific to a department or one function of the company, rather than integrated approaches.

I think the answer is ultimately that every department or area (research, HR, marketing, customer service, however you divide your company) should use social media as any other communications tool is used, with guidance from a central corporate policy (ideally supported by a procedures manual -- I would call it a "Social Media Style Guide").

Every department or area (including legal) should have continuous input into that guide, so as new best practices are learned and consumer preferences are discovered, the guide can be adapted accordingly as needed in the future. So far, many large companies have social-media corporate policies, but only a few have these guides.

Forget about who "owns" what at the moment. As consumers change the majority of their access and browsing behavior from desktop/laptop and websites to mobile devices and social media portals over the next few years, companies and brands will only meet rising consumer expectations by adapting their areas of operations now.

First, let's agree that the question can be summarized like this: WTF? That's right, web, Twitter, Facebook -- the holy trinity of social media. In terms of ownership, I think the idiom "possession is nine-tenths of the law" is fitting when applied to this land grab as well.

Web: Responsibility for company/brand websites has been, and still remains with digital agencies/web-development shops who have the vision, creativity and now technical chops to build things that "socialize" the web. As Bill Gates once said, "Talk is cheap; show me the code." Technologists are the new marketer; geek is chic.

Twitter: Channeling the spirit of Charlton Heston, you can own Twitter when you pry it from the "cold dead hands" of PR and corporate-communication pros. People with the strategic ability to plan a communications calendar, writing skills to "massage the message" and contacts to distribute win the day. Twitter and corporate communications are like chocolate and peanut butter.

Facebook: This tent is big enough for everyone. Recruiting fans (or connections) requires a progressive media agency and real budget commitment. Engaging them is a collaboration between creative agencies, digital shops and specialist app developers who bring big ideas to life. Rewarding them for their loyalty and evangelism requires the math-loving antics of CRM specialists.

Get a bucket of popcorn, sit back and enjoy the show. The social land grab has just begun, and it's going to be a wild ride.

Who owns social? Who cares? This article illustrates the biggest problem about digital. While a bunch of "cry-wolf" pessimists are focusing on "changing the model," "metrics" and whatever sounds geeky and new enough to move client money from passé TV dollars, digital advertising -- like all advertising -- is about something else: creativity.

Look at the brands and the work that is defining advertising in the digital world, and you will soon realize they have found creative ways to use new platforms. I don't hear Alex Bogusky ever talking about metrics, but I do see Burger King as a leader in social media thanks to its fearlessness and groundbreaking actions.

We need less talk and more do. We need to understand the "next best thing" is also going to grow tiresome, like all this incessant talk about digital.

I don't see why anyone needs to own it. There may be a person or group of people who are shepherding social initiatives across an enterprise, but I don't want anyone owning anything. That is, I don't want my PR guy to own my social-HR needs. And I don't want my HR team to own my social-customer relationships. This whole "owning" question sounds to me like a good-ole-fashioned intra-organization pissing match that is the very root cause of the silos to which the author refers.

I think we are naive to assume that any department or manager can ever "own" social, because the social space will always belong to the consumer, and companies must develop multiple plug-ins that enable functional areas to harness the potential of social to fulfill their own mandate. Internal "ownership" should be limited to helping to train people and establishing company guidelines and protocol for engaging with consumers.

Industry atwitter over Twitter business model

RE: "Twitter Has a Business Model: 'Promoted Tweets'" (AdAge.com, April 12)

What I find most interesting is how Twitter's ad platform continues a trend toward advertising that is increasingly useful to the customer. In an environment of open networks, if ads aren't relevant and earning our attention on their merits, they will wither and die.

Amazingly, the advertising business is starting to realize it has to create unique differentiated value for its customers rather than trying to lure them back into forced relationships. (You can also see this in Hulu, where users pick the most relevant ad for them to see before their show starts.)

Maybe media companies (many of whom are still hell-bent on tying us into closed systems again with pay walls, iPads, etc.) can learn something here from the ad guys?

There is no reason why a win-win cannot be achieved through these platforms if promoted tweets are used by advertisers to:

1) Describe interesting but unknown facts that back up the product quality that consumers may not be aware of.

2) Resonate and promote the noble intentions of others.

3) Provide useful advice for everyday life that is both objective but resonates clearly with the advertiser's brand values.

The onus ultimately lies on Twitter to ensure these consumer-centric values are kept by the advertisers they accept on this platform.

Granted, the "social resonance" policy that Twitter is preaching for this platform will be extremely hard to police over time as more advertisers come in, many undoubtedly to leech this system for all it is worth.

I'm not sure if anyone knows the answer to this balance at the moment.

Let's see what unravels.

This is important because it will force marketers to further the shift toward earned opportunities by tying in this paid media with quality and relevance even further than Ad Words' Quality Score does.

The challenge I see is the pace of Twitter -- meaning that you will need a whole lot of tweets to stay on the radar because the shelf life of each is so brief.

In that case, how do marketing plans need to adjust? In short, they need to be devoted to more modes of customer engagement.

I challenge us to see this as more than simply earned (free) media.

This is radically different from what an advertiser has had to do before. The mere meaning of resonance implies something quite different.

This isn't just another ad unit. This is a new structure, where meaningful interaction with customers and personal usefulness is the cost of entry.

This isn't something you leave as an afterthought. If your business isn't oriented around customer service, customer feedback or regular interaction, you will have no place here.

Does anyone remember how much attention Second Life used to get, and how it was going to be the next big thing in marketing? Twitter is just the next fad in the cycle. In a few years, we'll have forgotten about it and be talking about some other baffling piece of popular tech.

Why are we writing off TV-like ad loads so quickly?

RE: "Hulu's a Towering Success -- Just Not Financially" (AdAge.com, March 29)

It's too early to give up on an ad-supported web content model.

At the OMMA Global conference in San Francisco I saw a panel debate the "free vs. paid" content model for big media. The platform gave voice to a growing chorus singing the death of an ad-supported online-content model.

But the conclusion rests on at least one unproven assumption: that people won't watch as many commercials on internet-delivered programming as on TV.

Everyone agrees web content producers are getting hosed. Advertising rates are too low. Publishers and sites can't make enough to cover the cost and value of their content. So, the chorus concludes, the ad model is failing.

The average one-hour TV program contains 16 minutes of commercial interruption, according to an expert on the panel. When you move the same program online, however, networks lose 75% of the ad time. Internet-delivered programming "can only handle four minutes because consumers won't sit through 16 minutes of advertising" online, according to this expert.

How do we know this?

Well, because when researchers ask people what they'll tolerate, that's what they tell us.

I learned long ago people say one thing and do something else entirely. During the last environmental movement, moms who heard juice boxes were tough to recycle swore they'd stop buying them for the kids. The supermarket cash registers said something in utter contradiction.

As for online advertising, we don't have real behavioral data because nobody has actually tried exposing people to the TV-equivalent dose of advertising, until now! The CW Network (which airs "Gossip Girl," among other popular shows) just announced it'll double its online ad load and start "putting as many ads in web versions of its shows as it airs on TV," according to The Wall Street Journal.

You think "Gossip Girl" fans will just go without the show now that they have to watch the same number of commercials online as on TV? Me neither.

As more and more content shifts to video, this bodes well for sites, publishers and networks.

For your basic site content and experiences, however, where intrusive video ad formats don't apply, sites continue to watch ad revenues decline on a cost-per-thousand viewer (CPM) basis. I believe that's because the basic banner-ad unit is so easy to miss that sites are getting exactly what they're worth for them: very little.

Advertisers won't pay much to be ignored, and rightly so.

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