Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 18, 2012 7:45 AM

The Last Temptation Of Social Media

There's a growing lesson for big brands in Social Media.

Unless you own the platform (like a Blog, Podcast or your own, personal, online social network), ensure that everything else is a channel for you to connect and not the entire platform. In a world where Facebook has close to one billion users and a day's worth of video is being uploaded to YouTube every sixty seconds, it is tempting for brands to forgo their own spaces and just do everything within someone else's environment... it's dangerous.

Direct relationships.

In a more simplistic way: if everything you do happens on Twitter, who owns the direct relationship with the consumer? You or Twitter? The answer may not be as simple as you think. While you are the one interfacing with people, and they know your brand, should you want to move that moment of engagement elsewhere, you really can't. Twitter owns the data, analytics and information behind it. There's nothing wrong with that... it is their business model, but too many brands are falling into the vortex of not differentiating between a channel of communication and ownership of the platform.

It's also not a zero-sum game.

There will be instances where the value of leveraging a network of connected people (in places like Google +, Pinterest, Facebook, etc...) makes sense as a sort of mini-platform (a quick contest or to test out a new product innovation), but ownership of the direct relationship will become an increasingly important element to maintain as Social CRM becomes a much more prevalent part of the marketing equation. What we're talking about isn't the surface engagement that everyone sees on a day to day basis, but all of the data and information that lies behind it.

The Last Temptation of Social Media.

It is the success of Social Media that created this beast, but step back and ask yourself this question: what makes YouTube, Facebook or Twitter any different from the initial portal plays of AOL and Yahoo back in the day? It's not hard to argue that the online social networks of today have fundamentally taken on this role and their walled gardens are more impenetrable than their predecessors. The Last Temptation of Social Media is for brands to give up and relinquish that information, engagement and data over to these third-parties. Brands must be vigilant. The problem with this vigilance is that it doesn't seem like the terms of service agreements between the users and the these online platforms is going to change any time soon. In fact, it will probably never sway in favor of the brand. The last thing consumers will want to know is that their data is now being shared to "third-parties" by these online social networks. You'll note that any time data has been shared between a Social Media channel and a third-party, there is total upheaval in the online channels because it is a core breach of their agreement with the users.

What's a brand to do?

Build a better brand narrative. Create engaging and real experiences for consumers. Then, leverage Social Media as a channel to share, connect and tell your stories in new and different ways. Scott Stratten (author of the best-selling business book, UnMarketing, and a well-documented Twitter celebrity) is the first to admit that by building his platform through Twitter, he is at risk. Twitter must maintain its popularity and growth for him to benefit from it, and should Scott ever change his mind about how he connects to the people that matter to him, he suddenly has to figure out how to get those one hundred thousand-plus followers to now go where he is (not easy). Should Scott even be able to make that happen, all of that historical information and data is not his to take, use or even look at. The temptation for brands is to initiate their marketing tactics where the people are (which is smart), but the long-term outcome of these activities could well be that the brands do not have the data and insights of their own, direct, relationships (which is very bad). This is the digital marketing equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face. The challenge (and you always know that there is always a challenge) is the hard work it takes to actually get that direct relationship with the consumer on your own terms... and your own platform. Part of the solution to this challenge is to always ask yourself if you're using Social Media as one of your channels to extend the brand narrative or as the entire platform.

What's your take on this issue?

By Mitch Joel