I often am asked by clients why they should spend money in outreach in social media, as opposed to traditional advertising or public relations.
If you are putting together a well thought-out marketing plan, you should include all tools at your disposal. But since clients are often looking for ways to save that proverbial other 50% of their advertising dollars they know are wasted (they just don’t know which 50%), let’s proceed from the assumption that it is an either / or proposition.
So let’s say you were faced with the choice of buying a 30-second spot on a prime time television program or spending that money on social media outreach, what would you do?
A little background is in order here. The Internet is not just another medium like television or radio. People interact with the Internet differently than they do with other media. Television is passive at best, barely acknowledged at worst. For a lot of people, the TV is background noise and they engage and disengage as needed. Maybe they are watching and then a child wanders by asking for some juice. Or maybe they recorded the show on TiVo and just fast-forwarded through your expensive 30-second spot.
On the other hand, people go to the Internet to engage. People go to the Internet to shop, share photos of the grandchildren, send emails, and IM friends and family. You can’t be passive on the Internet — you search, discover, communicate and share on the Internet. That’s active behavior. In other words, there are no couch potatoes on the Internet.
At its root, commerce is about conversation — or as Doc Searls put it, all markets are conversations. The Internet is often compared to the Agora of ancient Greece and it’s an apt analogy. The Agora, or public square, was where the citizens met for everything from commerce to politics to religious and philosophical discourse. New ideas, or memes, spread with the flow of commerce, across the civilized world. Now this flow of ideas takes place on the Internet.
By comparison, the mass medias of the 20th century targeted an audience that was mainly passive. TV became background noise and radio something you listened to for distraction on long drives. There was no interaction — you just received the message.
Of course, as recently as five years ago (before the advent of the DVR), if you wanted to watch a certain program you had to be in front of the box at a certain time and if you were distracted you missed out and had to wait until the summer repeats. Now with TiVo and iTunes you can watch “Battlestar Galactica” or “Lost” whenever the mood hits you. But that’s a topic for another article.
To get back to my initial question — where would you put your money? If you are selling dish soap to busy moms, you could buy 30-second spots on Oprah and Doctor Phil. Or you could dive into the mommy-blogger world, sharing your new product with the likes of Dooce, Suburban Bliss and the hundreds (more like thousands) of women who blog about their lives as mothers.