Prepare to hear something incredibly insightful that you’ve never heard before: social media is a growing part of nearly every brand’s marketing mix (and they say you can’t pick up sarcasm via text). Ok, it’s a bit cliché, but that’s for good reason. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the percentage of marketing hours and dollars dedicated to social will double and triple in a the next few years. Unfortunately, I believe too many brands are passively riding that momentum, waiting for the collective peer pressure to nudge them towards a larger Twitter presence or more engaging Facebook content. I don’t see enough brands making an effort to LEAD to the social marketing space.
I’m sure my sentiment isn’t unanimous, and there are certainly several companies doing an exceptional job with social. But consider how many brands are choosing to handle social entirely in-house, often through a pre-existing digital or PR team, because they want to keep a close handle on messaging. More often than not, those same brands employ a media agency to concept, produce and distribute television commercials. Is social so important that they don’t care what goes on TV as long as they tweet independently? Could it simply be a reluctance to devote dedicated resources to social until it hits a certain percentage of their media mix? That reasoning isn’t necessarily flawed, but I believe it leaves substantial, measurable value on the table.
We’ve seen this trend before, when digital was an emerging media and many brands were reluctant to make a change as dramatic as the platform demanded. In the late 90’s, when the IAB started regulating Internet advertising, there were just as many skeptics and passive believers just along for the digital media ride as there are now for social. The brands that saw the inevitable growth of digital were the ones that derived the most value from it. For example, while many saw ecommerce as a flash in the pan, UPS made agreements with nearly every startup trying to sell something to become their exclusive shipping partner. Those deals put money in the bank for UPS, and (perhaps more importantly), created relationships that are still driving revenue today. That value is even easier to recognize via social media.
Before 12 people jump out from behind lampshades and potted plants to ask me how to monetize their Facebook, let me explain. Mashable sees 50 million + page views a month. Adage.com gets another 10 million (and as I understand they publish some sort of oversized magazine as well). Think about all the outlets waiting to report the next innovation. Where UPS saw the value of anticipating digital growth through vendor relationships, today’s brands are seeing tremendous amounts of earned media through coverage of their new and interesting ways to use social.
Who is today’s UPS? Who is embracing social not because they see it as a calculated risk, but because they understand that it will be more and more integral to their future marketing, and don’t see a reason to wait for someone else to innovate. I could highlight American Express for removing coupons from shopping promotions by linking their accounts to social media. I might praise Nike for tapping into the innate nature of their consumer base with social media-driven fuel band competitions. However, I’d rather challenge every brand out there to push the envelope themselves.
After all, there will never be a better time to capitalize on social. Let me go off on a tangent just long enough to make you wonder what I’m up to, before I bring it full circle in an interesting/provocative way. I’m a HUGE basketball fan (tangent has begun, if you couldn’t tell), and although I’m an X’s and O’s purist, I do admit my love for the NBA dunk contest. But recently it’s been… terrible; nothing but gimmicks and stunts with little originality. Players haven’t gotten boring over time; it’s just that everything interesting was done in the contest’s hay day – the mid 80’s and early 90’s. Back then a 360 dunk, which is more or less commonplace today, brought the whole crowd to its feet because they had rarely, if ever, seen it before. It was the prime time for Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan and the like to innovate, and be praised not just for their athleticism but also for their creativity and courage.
Today is to social media as the late 80’s were to the dunk contest. The next brand to create something innovative via social will see buzz and earned media just for doing it (see how I did that? I know right!?). Consider the value AmEx and Nike are seeing from all the coverage being generated for their leadership in the social media space. In a few years, the brands who finally come around and put an emphasis on social – staff for it, bring in the right resources, and put in the right consideration – will be viewed like the guys who still try to pull 360’s in today’s dunk contests. Sure it’s cool, and we like it… but we’ve been there and done that, so we won’t be talking about it at the water cooler (or whatever apple product takes the place of water in the future).
I realize I’m writing this at the risk of sounding self-promotional. A business development manager for a social media agency writing an article that hints at a call to bring on social media resources might seem bias-driven. I want to be clear that my point is that now is the best time to make a serious investment in social media, because social is still new enough for innovation to be made, and subsequent buzz (read: earned media) to be generated. That investment could be time, effort, in-house resources OR third party help, and if that’s the route you go, I wouldn’t be so bold as to suggest Big Fuel is your only option.
So to the brands out there who are really making an effort to lead the social space; to create cutting edge marketing so powerful that it drives marketing of its own, I congratulate you. I look forward to sharing the AdAge article about your brilliance on my Facebook wall, tweeting the Mashable coverage, and most importantly, paying extra attention to your message and taking a step closer to becoming a brand advocates. If this doesn’t describe you, I urge you to step up to the front of a line that you’re already in, and make a profitable investment in leading the pack. After all, there’s no time like the present (that last little bit might seem out of place, but I figured I’d start and end with a cliché).
Follow me on Twitter @mikemikho