In the past few weeks as the economy has tanked, startups, VC's and pundits galore have taken a new look on what this means for the almighty ad dollar and the world of social media. None of this is new - it seems we live in a a cycle of pushing off these questions until we hit tough times. In a lot of ways it reads like a familiar scripted B-movie voice over.
"Can successful startups like Twitter and Facebook figure out a "real" business model? ; Will users put up with more and more ads inserted in the middle of their personal interactions? ; Will all this new data compromise individual privacy?: Will big advertisers flee back to old tried and true models in the face of economic uncertainty? Tune in next week to find out if advertisers will figure this out before struggling startups are forced to close their doors"
It sounds bleak, I know, but I actually have faith that we will weather this current storm and it will even be a forcing function for innovation in the industry. What is however troubling to me is that what is often lost in the above voice overs is the voice of the actual customer and what makes relevant sense.
So, when this Adage article with the provocative title "P&G Digital Guru Not Sure Marketers Belong on Facebook" hit the feeds, I got inundated with emails from a lot of folks asking me "what the heck does this article mean"? Given my current work with P&G [I am their advisor on all things social & emerging media], I am not surprised at being asked this question. What was more interesting was that there were two very different types of emails that took two very divergent views 1) business oriented-"what does this mean for advertising on the internet?" and 2) individualistic and purist-looking at the issue from the lens that says "big companies don't belong on my social network". Well, what it means to me is that we are at a pivotal change in how companies and customer's connect and we are still learning the new rules of the road. These issues are not black and white, all or nothing. I think Battelle summed it up rationally when he states that the social networks/social media and marketing can go together - the question is when and how.
A metaphor that we have used inside P&G is that "if you are invited to a dinner party and you show up and start selling Tupperware, there is a good chance you will not be invited back". In other words, you need to demonstrate value before you jump in and start yelling "buy me". Understanding how and when someone is interested in hearing from you inside a social network is radically different than when shouting across the airwaves with a 30 second spot. Ted demonstrates why I enjoy working with him and P&G - the consumer is always first. The mechanisms on the social web are different and we all still have a lot to learn. Smart companies - be they big or small - know that looking at the current version of the web with an old media lens ain't gonna fly. That is why I believe so strongly in the core principles I am working on both with P&G and the Doc Searls and the gang on Project VRM [Sean, Chris, Adriana and more] . Understanding that the user/consumer is in control is a foundation on which any business, ad or marketplace models will operate in the future.
This is the participatory web and the old media models are being shredded. The social web is my web - it's PERSONAL to me. I am not creating media when I am online so much as I am connecting with people using media as my medium. As today's "consumers", we lean forward, we skip ads, we have a strong point of view on products and services and we expect to be heard or left alone on our own terms. The social web can actually provide much deeper and more interesting connections for customers and companies than simply being a marketing channel - it ties into the entire product lifecycle. And that is where stuff gets really interesting...and much more complex. This is where relevance and context and trust and intention all come into play.
In a world where relationship and connection are at once more subtle and scalable than ever before the answer to the question of whether companies & social media can mix is not simply a Yes or No answer. Shame on Adage for oversimplifying this complex ecosystem in the hunt for business relevance. Both Facebook and P&G are working to figure what works for their users and their consumers. In the end it is respecting the individual and the consumer that is most important and I would hope we would take our time to innovate & figure out what works for the long haul and not jump to oversimplified "banner ad, yes or no" solutions.
The social web - just like life - is just not that binary.