Ad Age Digital DigitalNext MediaWorks At the risk of being branded a heretic or perhaps just being shown the door by my agency HR director, I have to say it: I hate social media. Why? Because it’s just media. And since when was media ever interesting?
People are interesting. Ideas are interesting. Stories are interesting. Real stuff is interesting. Brands are interesting (or, at least, some of them are). Even ads can be interesting. But media? Media just connects those things. It’s a conduit. Media is not interesting. Not even the “social” kind.
Far from being interesting (unless you enjoy following mutually referencing bloggers who blog about blogging), social media is just an excuse. It is, to be specific, the old marketing industry’s latest excuse to waste more money on bad ideas and lazy thinking.
So let’s ignore it. Let’s get really radical and stop trying to keep marketing 1.0 thinking alive with Web 2.0 media (because copycat content is no Band-Aid for broken brands and lackluster products and services, no matter how cost-effective or powerful the social web may be). Let’s forget the social media “revolution” and recognise that ignoring social media would be the truly revolutionary thing to do.
I’m not saying that we should ignore the social web, or the cloud, or mobile connectedness altogether. I’m not arguing that brands should underestimate the transformative power of the technology at their disposal, or their ability to connect with people and provide targeted, relevant offerings in unprecedented ways. And I’m certainly not denying the brilliance of value-adding web-based services or inspiring and engaging web-enabled campaigns.
Amazon makes it easy for people to find things they want, based on recommendations they can believe in. Local bakeries tip off nearby followers about fresh bread and cookies via Twitter, while Tony Hawk used regular tweets to facilitate a global treasure hunt for his skateboards. Adobe uses Delicious to bookmark helpful sites for its customers, connecting its community and rewarding innovative partners. Urban Outfitters has turned its Flickr page into a giant, wearer-generated catalogue and style guide. The U.K.’s Guardian, a relatively niche title in printed form, has turned itself into the world’s pre-eminent online newspaper, because it understands that online news plays by different rules. Speight’s Brewery invited millions of Kiwis to follow online as a pub it built on a container ship sailed from New Zealand to France. And brands like Starbucks and Doritos have openly collaborated with their loyalists to create new products.
So we should tip our hats to brands that are leveraging the social web in smart ways, but should also recognise that these exceptions merely prove the dismal rule of social media right now. Because for every Amazon or Adobe, brands with genuinely good ideas to share and good stories to tell, there’s a Skittles (which had the brilliantly pointless idea of replacing its website with a Twitter feed), or a Pizza Hut (which openly advertised for summer interns who would be required to Tweet about the great time they were having). And for every Tony Hawk or Speight’s, there’s an Ashton claiming to be more relevant than CNN, or another Wal-Mart wannabe (including a recent top advertising-award winner) driven by the impatience of their marketing 1.0-obsessed agency masters to create fake entries, videos, content and comments to support their “authentic” social campaigns.