Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Marketers On Collision Course with Consumers?

Are marketing professionals putting the future success of their brands and agencies at risk? Two articles that I read today left me wondering the answer to that question.

The Financial Times covered a report from The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising that stated, "two-thirds of advertising agencies are not prepared for the industry changes prompted by social networks and new forms of digital media." Failing to attack the challenges and opportunities of Social Media could come at a steep cost to agencies. The report calculated that ad agencies face growth of "just 1.2 per cent a year by 2016 if the industry fails to tackle the changes to the media created by sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter."

If you're like me, you might be wondering how it is even possible that marketing professionals could be missing out on the most important consumer trend since the adoption of the Internet. The second article may provide a clue.

A MediaPost article, entitled "Back To Basics For Marketers," shares findings from an annual survey conducted by The Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) and Anderson Analytics. Among the insights gained in the study are--prepare yourself--that marketers "are 'sick' of hearing about Web 2.0 and related buzzwords such as blogs and social networking."

Among a list of the most important marketing concepts, Word of Mouth was ranked 11th, SNS (Social Network Sites) was 19th, Web 2.0 was 33rd, and blogging was 39th. Most of these Social Media concepts were ranked lower than such pressing marketing concepts as Alternative Energy (12th), Green Marketing (15th), and Credit Availability (23rd). Conversely, asked what terms they were most tired of hearing, marketers' top four choices were Web 2.0, Social Networking, Social Media, and Blogging.

I find it shocking and disappointing that a group of people whose livelihoods require they remain in tune to consumer patterns, media habits, and communication trends would find Social Media tiresome. If they're "sick" of this concept, they may want to find an antidote quickly, because Social Media is just getting started! In 2008, Twitter grew 752%, Facebook has increased its traffic 116%, and other Web 2.0 sites have seen surging growth (for example, Ning is up 270% and LinkedIn up 114%).

Because it is impossible for me to fathom how marketers could be "sick" of this powerful and exciting shift in consumer behavior, I began to consider potential causes for this Social Media ailment. Perhaps it is that senior marketers (i.e., older folks) don't "get" and are wary of the ways Social Media is altering their industry.

I might sound like I am being irreverent, but I'm not. It's no secret that Social Media demographics have skewed young (and broadened considerably in 2008). But the marketers surveyed are likely an older bunch; no age demographics were shared about MENG, but its members "must have held a position of Vice President or higher before joining (and) pass a screening process including a minimum base salary of $160K." I could be wrong, but I don't think there are a lot of six-figure VPs in the 14 -to-34 age bracket so active in Social Media.

Another possible cause of this Social Media apathy could be fatigue and a wish for stability. We all like to claim that we embrace change, but standing on constantly shifting ground can get exhausting. With print down, television slipping, banner ads failing, ad-zapping technology on the rise, the demand for Marketing ROI growing, and Social Media evolving at a rapid pace, there's no doubt the discipline of marketing requires constant vigilance to stay informed, relevant, and successful. It used to be that a marketing mistake meant spending bucks on a campaign that failed to capture the attention of consumers; nowadays, marketing mistakes result in public shaming and brand damage control (see Motrin's recent Mommy Blogger blowup).

Whatever the reason for their Social Media burnout, marketers would be well advised to get re-energized on the subject because expertise is lacking as consumer usage is exploding. In an ironic twist within the MediaPost article, it is revealed that this same group of marketers admit they are Social Media neophytes: "A social media study MENG released on November 6, 2008 (showed that) 67% of executive marketers consider themselves beginners when it comes to using social media for marketing purposes."

The combination of surging Social Media adoption, Social Media inexperience, and Social Media exhaustion is a dangerous one for brands. In 2009, a shakeout will occur in Social Media sites and tools (accelerated by the weak economy), but Social Media engagement will only continue to swell in the years to come, aided by new concepts, tools, and sites that make it easier for consumers to share, obtain, and filter information, opinions, and experiences.

I hope if you're reading this, you aren't tired of Social Media. After all, we're just in third mile of the marathon and the winners in 2012 will be the ones who keep up the pace in 2009!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Time Enough for Social Media (Subtitled, "When Real Life Crashes Into Social Media Life")

Last year between March 4th and November 17th, I created 199 posts for this blog. Then for almost eight weeks, I was unable to find the time (or perhaps motivation) to author additional content.

What happened? Work at Fullhouse picked up as clients and prospects made their 2009 plans. Time and energy was required for the busy retail season by the stores owned by my wife and me (Metropawlis Pet Boutique and JustPetStrollers.com). But more than anything, life happened--my inner musician urged me to spend more time with my keyboard, good times were shared with family and friends, games were played, and media was consumed (movies, television, and online series such as the terrifically entertaining "Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long.")

This experience provided me a fresh perspective on Social Media. No, I have not had my confidence shaken; I still firmly believe Social Media will continue to change the way humans communicate, share information, and form relationships (with each other and with brands). Rather, my break from blogging has caused me to appreciate the diversity and richness of Social Media because in that eight-week period, I didn't give up Social Media; I just gave up blogging.

While I was silent on ExperienceTheBlog.com, I was still eagerly making noise on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites. I didn't stop sharing information, links, music, movie and book reviews, news, opinions, and observations; I just didn't find three- to five-hour chunks of time to research, compose, proofread, and post to my blog.

Because blogging has been around for so long (and because companies love the control of blogs), it is often the first thing that comes to mind when conversation turns to Social Media, but blogs and Social Media are clearly not one and the same. Blogs are a part of social media but increasingly are a smaller part of the Social Media pie.

Back in the late 90s when the term "blog" was first coined, Social Media consisted of a few product ratings, some personal Web site tools, and a couple infant Web log services such as LiveJournal and Blogger. Today, the concept of Social Media includes documents (Scribd), video (YouTube and Break), music (Blip.fm and imeem), Social Networks (Facebook and MySpace), livecasting (qik), and most notably in the past two years, microblogging (Twitter). (For an easy visualization of the breadth of Social Media, I highly recommend Brian Solis's terrific "Conversation Prism".)

The point is that I stopped blogging, but I didn't stop sharing, communicating, and networking. Blogging satisfies a set of needs for me, and I found these needs were ones I could set aside when other priorities and demands required attention. But there were other needs that could not be put on hold, and I found no matter how busy I got, I always had time enough to participate in other aspects of Social Media.

What I learned firsthand is something I've been writing about on this blog for some time: Social Media isn't a single cohesive thing--it doesn't satisfy an individual or even small set of needs for people (or brands)--and woe be to the strategist or marketer who oversimplifies the complexities, nuances, and diversity of Social Media.

With the launch of a new year, I hope to continue to find time to explore the way consumers experience brands in a new social world. As always, your input is appreciated--after all, this blog isn't "social" if it's just me doing the talking!