The role of social networks in the future of marketing. Is there one?

Posted on: November 19, 2008

Today a colleague of mine pointed me towards this controversial article he spotted on the internet in an attempt to highlight his rather pessimistic stance on the role of social networks in marketing. My response to him might be of interest to you and I thought why not share it. This is what I wrote. Some of my ideas are based on this excellent article: The social metropolis.

The world is and always has been social

People do what they always did. Talk, share, gossip, etc. with other people. Increasingly they are doing it on the web. They spend more and more time doing so. This time is taken away from the time people formerly were able to absorb marketing messages. As a brand you want your part of this time. However you will only get it if you can add something valuable to each person’s social agenda. You kind of need an invitation to become part of my social “online” life. Your relationships will have to be deeper.

We are living in an “attention economy”

For one part the guy is right. More websites, more real estate, less people looking at a single site. But this is totally the old world. Of course, if you think in banners this is what you believe in. But in today’s diverse media and entertainment landscape, attention is a scare resource and tough to get if you are a brand. You get attention due to people talking about you, voting you, reviewing you and sharing your stuff with their online community. You cannot share a banner ad, but you can share widgets, rich media, etc. (even the silliest Japanese t-shirt folding trick gets massive attention due to the “wisdom of the crowds effect”)

Technology facilitates the above points

Facebook is just one phenomenon among many other activities on the web. The web is developing very fast towards the semantic web. Key here is that context will determine relevance for users. Google has revolutionized this with his page rank algorithms in the past, but generally machines will get better and better in finding relevant information. In a nutshell, new technologies will channel relevant stuff straight to the users. If you think that this is really geeky, well social networks are a way to maintain some human element to “choice”. I think it was Mark Zuckerberg who said that a personal recommendation from a friend is much more relevant than any generic marketing message by a corporation.

So, from my perspective social media is much more than monetizing the break-up scenario of two facebook users. In general terms I think that we will have more conversations and interactions with our customers and less mass communication (push) campaigns, and that the conversations will take place in the social media scene. For us as a media company, we have to make sure we get enough attention and that people talk about our stuff. In order to do that, we have to give them ammunition to fire on all tubes with our content. This is advertising how I see it in the future.


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