Last week I read a compelling article, one that actually speaks to the true underlying fundamentals of social media, about which much of our industry remains surprisingly unaware. While the follow-up comments on this piece have some merit, it seems to me they are missing Ben’s fundamental point and the fundamentals of social that distinguish it as a media form and are driving its unprecedented growth.
The true dynamics of social media are relationship-based and the greater marketing opportunity is relationship-based as well. The distinctive nature of social media is how online dialogue enables relationships.
Yet today most marketing in social media is not true social media marketing based on building relationships, but rather traditional broadcast, PR, or interactive marketing that happens to be deployed in social media channels.
The primary benefits people realize in social are relationship-based: self-expression/sharing themselves, making friends, and getting/giving attention. These dynamics have been the basis of early vertical and niche online communities such as The Well, the first mass rise of social in the form of AOL, and the driver of Facebook’s worldwide ubiquity.
Effective marketing takes on the core dynamic of its media form. This explains why Ben’s call for Facebook to sell relationships is spot on. Television is a one-way visual content form and one-way visual ads work there. But that’s not the core of Facebook and other social media venues, in which people think two-way and multi-way connection and dialogue. Short clickable ad structures (banners, Google AdWords) work well for search engines because the whole point of the search engine is to click and go someplace else. But the search ad impressions model does not speak to the dialogue and relationship nature of social media. Interactive content has been effective in campaign-oriented content sites and can have short, impulse-like success on any website (even a social network), but it doesn’t speak to the core benefits and behavior consumers seek on social networks.
Consumers in social media want self-expression, friends, and attention. They want relationships, which they achieve through online dialogue. Mostly, they want these relationships with other people. But if a brand empowers that relationship building, by personalizing and socializing itself such that it comes across as a friend, then consumers will want a relationship with that brand. My LiveWorld team has witnessed this time and time again with our work at Apple in the 1990’s, with AOL in the early 2000’s, and more recently working alongside of today’s top industry brands in the retail, consumer packaged goods, pharmaceuticals, and financial services sectors.
Facebook has a huge revenue opportunity to leverage the fundamentals of social to enable brands to build relationships. I agree with most of Ben’s actions for Facebook to take. But as the ecosystem, Facebook will struggle to keep itself working and innovating as the platform. Ultimately the brands themselves, along with the most forward thinking social media management and marketing companies, will lead the way to this relationship marketing future.