Facebook, Inspiration, Television

The Commoditization of Social Media

It was bound to happen. Although social media isn't getting the lion's share of anyone's media budget, it doesn't stop the fact that most are scrambling to get something, anything, off the ground in social. This presents great opportunities (especially for my employer) to redefine the way brands engage people. But it also sows the seeds of massive issues down the line.

When television debuted, it was a game-changer for the advertising business. Soon, everyone was clamoring to produce their own television spots. If you weren't on TV, you weren't anybody. And thus, 60 and 30-second spots flooded the airwaves. By the new millennium, television commercials were a commodity, spilling over onto the Internet, disguised as "web videos."

It happened again in the "digital age" with the microsite. Not to say there's anything intrinsically wrong with microsites, as Calle Sjonell at BBH argues. But they did become a commodity.

It seems that social is headed for the same fate. And it's no surprise. As humans, we have a long and terrible history of settling fruitful lands, only to sap the life from them. We milked the television spot to death. We milked the microsite to death. And now we've set our sights on social media.

Any brand can get on Facebook and create a page; which they have. And that is problem No. 1. The issue  isn't with providing accessibility. That's something I celebrate, as it flattens the world and at least gives smaller brands a chance to shine. It's an issue of standards.

Conglomerates create pages for every brand they own, but fail to adequately invest in most of them.  It costs nothing to get in on the game. Which in turn attracts a whole lot of people to the table who don't have the chips to play, or aren't willing to bet big. That is the commoditization of social media; and it's only going to get worse as time marches on.

But it's a dangerous game we're playing. Because now, more than ever, the work we do has to touch people. It has to inspire them and incite their imagination.

The television spot was about absorption. The microsite was about interaction. But social media is about sharing. And in order to complete that conversion, you have to ignite your audience's spirit. That's what makes social media marketing the most difficult form of advertising to master.

It's a culmination of everything that has preceded it. Good social marketing combines the storytelling of television, the interaction and involvement of a microsite, and the inspiration necessary to encourage someone to share what they experienced with all of their friends.

That's not at all an easy task. In an era where social sharing makes or breaks a campaign, what you do has to truly capture people's imagination and arouse their curiosity. And the brands who believe the answer is doing a massive media buy on Facebook, will be in for a rude awakening. That will get you the audience numbers (which, don't get me wrong, is a necessity), but that's in no way an indication of your ability to inspire them. Ultimately, that spark is needed to drive meaningful behavior.

This post is for naught. Our history has shown that it's in our nature to ruin good things that come to us. Social media will be exploited and twisted until it's as perverse as the microsite and television spot before it. But like its predecessors, a few will get it right. There will be a few gems. There already are. And I hope to help craft some of the ones we have yet to see, before the death knell rings.