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Op-Ed: What Social Media Revolution? By Gareth Kay

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What Social Media Revolution?
By Gareth Kay is the Head Of Planning at Modernista!

Well, that headline might start a frenzy in the blogosphere and get some of those self-appointed social media experts tweeting away that here lies more proof that ad people don’t get it. But there, I said it. There hasn’t been, and I would argue won’t be, a social media revolution.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe that communication needs to be a two-way conversation not a narcissistic monologue, and that people aren’t passive consumers waiting to be penetrated by marketing messages. Social media has helped prove the power of human conversation, and our innate social nature for anyone who had forgotten or doubted it.

But all this talk of social media got me thinking that perhaps, yet again, we are looking at this from the wrong end of the telescope, focusing on the delivery mechanism not the underlying issue.

Rather than focusing on social media shouldn’t we be focusing on social ideas? This may sound a little trite, but I think it’s important. Rather than (again) using communications as a sticking plaster to cover real fundamental issues a business faces, it forces us to confront what it is that we need to do at a more fundamental level.

It means ideas that are inherently open, generous and want to include you. It means developing communication that lets you join the dots and complete the story rather than telling you what to do (in the same way at every point of contact). It means thinking about what it is that people like to do and working back from there to figure out what it is we can do as a brand to be useful, helpful or entertaining rather than starting from what we think first. It means listening. It means having many little conversations not one shouting match. It means thinking less about what we do (as a brand or its owners or advisors) and more about what it is that people do to what we do.

So, what are some examples of social ideas? Fallon London’s Tate Tracks campaign for the Tate Modern in the UK that got a spectrum of musicians to write an original piece of music inspired by a piece of art in the gallery that was initially only able to be heard in the museum on a listening post next to the piece of art that inspired the music before being released online. It was an idea that got teenagers to visit the museum.

The new to New York fashion store Top Shop offers Style Advisor, a free style consultation that helps you try some different looks you may have previously thought simply weren’t you. Nike’s Run London and Nike+ turned the once individual pursuit of running into a community. And how about Google, the Guardian and others freely opening up their APIs for others to play with them?

Thinking about social ideas, not social media is important because it makes us think about a fundamentally different outcome, not simply a different media choice or tactic. And this may hopefully stop the industry slipping back in to some of its bad habits of the past. Maybe we can even get rid of some of the horrible language we use: ‘talking to’ ‘consumers’ who we have ‘targeted’ with a specific ‘message’ in this long running ‘campaign’. It’s pretty bizarre when you say it like that how we think brands and communication work.

So, let’s stop obsessing about social media and worry instead about what’s important. While social media channels fade in and out of social significance (was it only two or three years ago that Second Life was the channel we were all talking about), social ideas are timeless in their power. There’s two types of ideas in the world – social ideas and anti-social ideas. And it’s plain to me that those ideas that contribute positively culture are the ones that are going to help build business.

More: Op-Ed: Agency downsizing. The silent victims. By Steve Landsberg – a founding partner of Grok.

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