Don't Confuse Social Networking with Social Media
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Posted by: Nikki Mill
In the first 10 years of the commercial internet, the models offered by
AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe presented online replicas of their offline
counterparts: chat rooms, blasted community e-mails and tightly
controlled content. As these old models evolved, though, the web became
decentralized and more social. Today, there is a lot of confusion about
what this means, with terms such as "social media" and "social
networking" buzzing through the Twitterverse.
Social networking is more than setting up an online presence, and social
media is more than just blasting out press releases. Until brands
understand how to authentically join, rather than crash, the
conversation, they will continue to throw their money away.
The friction stems from the reality that usage model for social networks
isn't passive consumption, it's engagement. Users do not flock to
Facebook to read articles, they come to voyeuristically observe or share
the experiences of those people in their social graph -- which makes
such sites great for playing games and keeping in touch, but makes it
harder for interlopers to establish a presence. Social networking for
big brands is a difficult challenge, as applying the scale of 1:1
communications to an audience of millions is a Pyrrhic task. Coca-Cola,
Toyota and other marquee brands have embraced Facebook, but rarely if
ever do I see them present on the news feed. The only brands I see on
the site are those that target me most abstractly, blindly spamming men
in my age bracket with solutions to hair loss.
Social media, similarly, represents a strong potential platform for a
diverse host of voices, including brands. Unlike old media, here
articles can be written, edited and promoted by anyone. The historical
idea of media, stoically guarded by the pillars of "professionalism" and
certified "objectivity," is trumped by the connectivity and dynamism of
an authentic voice.
Creating an authentic voice is both the gating challenge and the
principal strength of social media. A quick survey of major brands on
Twitter shows follower numbers that rarely break into the triple digits,
let alone thousands. But when you look at brands that do it well, their
success stems from an embrace of the social graph. For instance, CNN's
approach to social media -- pushing breaking new updates out via Twitter
and accepting reports from citizen journalists through its iReport
platform -- has won them millions of followers and invaluable
Sites built atop that social graph, such as Wikipedia, Associated
Content (where I work) and YouTube, deeply integrate that community,
diversity and feedback loop. "Crowdsourcing" or "people-powering"
content creation at scale captures the pulse of the social web, but
again, this is about social content creation and curation. When you have
a community of millions (or even thousands) that are inherently
interacting with media, the value of such content immediately increases.
Previously, value was achieved through ad buys. Now that audience can
be reached for free, but the voice and platform are the gateways to
Ultimately, a brand strategy solely focusing on social networking is a
near-impossible task but, coupled with social media, is the ideal
approach for authentic brand voice. Social media provides a point of
directed engagement, not an experience that depends on continuous focus.
Just like butting in on a conversation, lurking in the corner of a
social network without context is inauthentic. Brands want to be the
subject of conversation, not peripheral stalkers. To do that, social
media needs to exist as a distinct entity in your media plan.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Patrick Keane is CEO of Associated Content. He has also worked
as CMO at CBS Interactive and at Google. Story and more information about
Associated Content here.