Social is not a silo, it's a layer

Picturing the whole through its individual changing parts might be among the most common practices in marketing today. Maybe it's an exclusivity thing driven by the (wrong) notion that since customers are 100% loyal to certain brands (they're not), then they must be to certain media as well.

 

Users share media; media share users

This happens all the time. Start a conversation about how you like to read digital books, or how you prefer Twitter over Facebook, or how you don't watch TV anymore. It's not too long before the start of an "either/or" debate around the notion that if we're to consume or use or prefer something, than we're telling the world that its opposite is no longer valuable (at least for us).

A couple things wrong with this:

  1. There's enough media history to tell us that media is almost never about an instantaneous either/or relationship. Radio didn't kill newspapers, TV didn't kill radio and as far as I'm concerned (and the research backs this up) the internet didn't kill TV. Just because we see behavior shifts regarding the consumption of new things, it doesn't mean that the old things instantaneously become obsolete. Market changes don't work that way.
  2. We're considering different media as absolute substitutes for one another. If I shift from medium A to medium B, then that must mean medium A is dead. According to this logic, media consumption is driven by the exclusive loyalty from its users and creators, when in fact there's as many different uses of media as there are different people in the market. We're shifting into fragmentation, not one big cauldron of digital content. MG Siegler proclaims the end of the social network as we know it, and he's right. There's no shortage of reports regarding Facebook's attempt to disrupt itself by building a suite of mobile standalone apps instead of one big app that does everything. The dots are there for us to connect.

 

Social has become a cost of being in business

Dr. Sharp's research shows that consumers are polygamous in the sense that they share brands, instead of being purely loyal (i.e. Coke drinkers also tend to drink Pepsi). This happens with media as well, and reflecting on this forces us to reconsider the true role of social media in business.

The Ad Contrarian recently stated, quite controversially, that he has a blog, a Facebook page and Twitter account because he has to. Now, there's a context here: it's not because he's doing these sorts of things with no clear purpose. Rather, the purpose has been shifting from something we could do to something we must do. In short:

Adopting a technological innovation does not necessarily lead to a marketing advantage. Often times it just represents a new cost of doing business. A perfect example is the telephone. When first introduced, having a telephone must have seemed to be a remarkable business advantage. But as every business quickly acquired one, having one provided no business advantage at all. It just became a new cost.

So simply stating you do something on social media, or that — mother of disruption — you now have your social media logos, URLs, campaign hashtags and whatnot on all other communication materials is, as Gary Vaynerchuk stated in The Thank You Economy, like saying "hey look guys, we have a phone!" Breathtaking? I think not.

Phone numbers, email addresses and physical infrastructures have become costs of being in business. In many cases, so has social media, and in a sense where specialization simultaneously increases and decreases the value of this line of work. It increases because everything changes too quickly for us to grasp the true meaning of new platforms and behaviors, so focus is essential. But it also decreases due to the outbreak of "channel specialists" instead of "mindset specialists", which at least regarding social is the wrong way to do it, if you ask me. Channels belong in a portfolio, not a business card.

 

Social is no longer a revolution

This means the incorporation of social media in daily business practices is no longer a luxury or a disruptive movement, so let's stop treating it like so.

More than a silo, social media are a layer upon which communication, product development, customer support and even business decisions can now be made. They're not the only ones and this sure doesn't mean the end of any product development departments, insights analysts, customer support specialists or business leaders. The purpose of social channels isn't to kill but to empower and support: they're not the team superstar, they're the team player.

So being there in itself is no longer a competitive advantage (I would argue if it ever was, if we don't consider the ego trip of early adopting marketing departments, agencies and industry news outlets), but what we do while we're there might just be.

Just like the difference between being at a party for the sake of telling you were there, and actually hanging out with the people at a party. The first is a douchebag who just wants to show up, often uninvited; the second might be The Great Gatsby.