ADOTAS – Fashion victim, fashionista: these are words not easily applied to me. However, I have learned one valuable lesson over the years by observing an industry that’s always on the lookout for the next big thing: if you wait long enough, past trends and patterns will make a comeback.
This is exactly to the case with social media right now. As all things social start to mature, the same evolution that took place in the digital marketing industry only a few years ago is emerging: social is fast becoming less about experimentation, and more about regular production. In fact, production is the key word in many ways, which I’ll come back to a bit later.
In recent months, a noticeable shift has taken place among the clients and prospects we’ve talked with at Big Fuel. They fall roughly into three categories: those still experimenting with social media, those using social media consistently as a tactical add-on to their marketing activities, and those trying to make social a more central, strategic component of their marketing efforts.
As we approach 2011 budget deadlines, more and more marketers are trying to switch gears and move from using social as a tactical add-on to making it a core component in their overall efforts. Small, medium and large companies want to know how they can streamline, automate, budget, and measure social media and social marketing. How can it move from a series of handcrafted singular projects to a more consistent, more repeatable, more predictable undertaking?
We have clear answers to that. The key challenge remains implementation.
Marketing integration may have been the Holy Grail for advertisers over the last 15 years, yet the agency world became increasingly fragmented during that period of time. Many agencies that initially dismissed digital as a peripheral activity are now bent on not making the same mistake again with social.
Agencies rightfully see social as central to the future of marketing and work to develop in this space as fast as they can. Yet each agency, each discipline, looks at social through a very narrow lens that only puts the emphasis on their original core competencies. And, this is what really spells trouble for marketers.
Back to the issue of production, as mentioned earlier: It is tempting to draw parallels between social content production/earned media on one hand, and advertising production/paid media on the other hand. However, the comparison can be misleading in many ways. There are at least five key differences about social that every marketer should bear in mind:
1) Forget one-size-fits-all messages targeting “lowest common denominator” audience. Recognize that fragmentation is here to stay, and embrace it at every step.
2) Frequency and freshness of content matters more than production values. Increase your execution capability and move to rapid-fire, low-cost production cycles.
3) Campaigns have a limited shelf life, but quality content is a valuable and reusable asset. Build your library for the long term and ensure that you will be able to do “re-runs.”
4) Stop thinking (and budgeting around) campaign flights and push marketing. Start thinking about ongoing engagement. Audiences can no longer be turned on and off on demand.
5) In a genuine two-way, real-time conversation, it is hard to separate the production arm from the distribution arm. Your brain is connected to your mouth for a reason.
Larger creative and media agencies have legacy economic models built around scale and size that make it difficult to adapt and operate profitably in a world of exponentially fragmented audiences and touch points. When it comes to social, the question is not whether “they get it,” but whether they can evolve to become as fast and nimble as marketers need them to be. Even web agencies, in spite of their digital DNA, can sometimes struggle with things like video production or labor intensive, low tech conversational engagement.
The long-predicted new marketing paradigm is finally here. Marketers need to start thinking, behaving and organizing themselves as content producers who treat engage consumers as audiences, instead of fully outsourcing this function to external publishers. Content is still king, after all.
A new species of agencies like Big Fuel is emerging to deliver solutions that meet this new paradigm. Built from the ground up to meet the new realities of turnkey content production and distribution, agencies with a studio mindset and roots in video program production and distribution can create a competitive edge from a creative, execution and dissemination standpoint.
It’s official: Social is now well beyond a passing marketing fad. Amid this environment, marketers find it increasingly challenging to differentiate brands, products and messages. The push for a constant flow of newness is becoming a key operational requirement – just like in the fashion industry.
One thing is certain: more change is yet to come in social media marketing… as well as more déjà vu.