Let’s talk about social media marketing

To extend my thoughts on people vs content further, let’s consider the opportunities for those in marketing, PR, and advertising who hope yet to realize value by engaging social media. In spite of their differences, one thing these industries have in common is a taste for volume. Their taste for success is a taste for more, and their appetites sated best by high calorie helpings of servings that perform.

That said, we all know that high volume advertising across social media are just *this* far off the bottom of the feed trough. Just ask Scott Rafer of Lookery (here’s Allen Stern’s interview with him, dated but relevant). CPMs are notoriously low on social media because users are disinclined to pay attention to ads whilst they’re busy with friends. But sites like MySpace and Facebook serve up a huge number of pages, and are the equivalent of the outdoor advertising marketplace online.
Richer, more embedded, better targeted (by means of micro-targeting to the user, social graph targeting to the group, or social context targeting to audiences of followers) marketing is a better indicator of the future of online marketing. But as anyone in this space knows, ROI is not yet measurable, as is performance. In order for one-to-one or relationship marketing to make their comeback in the guise of social media marketing, industry and application standards will need to show success. And those successes will need to be evangelized by the social media community as case studies and best practices. The phase of application and service innovation is maturing, and is ready for adoption by those who can see a path to engagement.
And now back to my point on people vs content. It strikes me that there’s a fork in the path to adoption, one that possibly reflects a choice between people or content.
On the People side are those of us heralding the cause of influencers and influencer metrics, supported by social media practices like following and friending. Industry speak on the social graph, on conversation, on feeds, lifestreaming, flow apps, and so on all suggest that marketers should get in with the people doing the talking, by means of course of the talk tools we all use (twitter, friendfeed, etc).
And on the Content side are those of us who champion the visibility and relevance of social media news, supported by social media practices like content rating, digging, aggregation, blogging, posting and commenting. Industry speak on the value add of socializing the web, of user generated content, of conversation around published and wired stories, videos, images, and more all suggest that marketers get in front of the context in which social media content is produced and consumed.
These are possibly just two sides of the same coin. Marketers can approach influencers and through them obtain exposure to more relevant audiences, and by means of more valued and trusted sources. Or marketers can buy exposure in the sites, on the pages, and possibly in the feeds that get the most traction, thereby and presumably reaching those most influential and attentive.
I’ve seen more discussion around influencers and the need for a measure of social impact than I have around their content. This could be that content is covered by web analytics and page rank, search, etc already. Or it could be that social content still awaits robust and reliable sentiment and semantic tools (yes, there are some but social talk is notoriously lacking in the context and meta data that content analysis needs for accuracy).
So I don’t know if the distinction I’m making is material in the end. Current marketing and advertising practices continue to emphasize exposure: messages are placed alongside audiences and their activity. But merely being contiguous to the social isn’t good enough. One wants to be in and of the social. So perhaps the industry still needs its paradigm shift. From being in front of the audience to being in the audience, and from being associated with the consumer to talking with the consumer, attentive both to who she is and what she says.
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