Why social rocks?
My first foray into social media some years back, I was confronted with a channel that seemed so vastly different than what I’ve come to know in my years as a digital marketer. I became enthralled with the notion of relationships driving business; with transparency and authenticity integral to delivering value.
Willy Loman’s character in Death of a Salesman about a man who is self-obsessed with the notion of greatness, and even in his later years convinces himself that success is directly attributed to “greatness, popularity and personal charisma”.
Contrary to that notion, many successful businesses have been built on a simple handshake, the unspoken trust built from years of understanding customers, and responding to their needs. Customer relationships have been at the core of convergence. This is not new… but in the digital space, it is the absolute core to business sustainability.
And I have bought into that. I have come to emerge as a purist in social media and while I understand this continues to be a test and learn channel, I have not necessarily given up the principles that have accompanied the true merits of this channel: credibility, community, engagement and its undeniable result: sustainability.
Nowadays you can buy social… but that’s counter-intuitive to why social exists
In recent instances I have come into contact with social networks that have tried to sell me media across blog networks, consideration into networks with strong exposure to the long-tail audience.
While that piqued my interest, it became apparent that “access” to niche bloggers, particularly ones with influence, would really mean buying ads on their sites. There was no real opportunity to engage with these influencers, nor develop a really strong program to build brand engagement among the follower base. It was simply pure play media. The argument that comes back to me from the media sales guy, “…but it’s still media, and it doesn’t come free!”
The Quest to Monetize Social Networks
It seems to have been the age-old question. If these networks are to exist and be maintained, how are they going to make money?
One of the reasons that Yahoo! reduced its investment in 360, Geocities, and Answers was that it struggled to combine online ads into a user-engagement environment ie the two environments could not effectively co-exist. Ad performance was poor because users didn’t want them there.
There are some networks doing an ok job at monetizing the medium:
* Google fortuitously recognized a subscription model that users were willing to pay for to help justify their acquisition of YouTube.
* Slideshare and Scribd expect users to pay to maintain their presentations ie brand presence on its network. Downloads lead to business leads, hence the reason to be here.
* The contextual advertising Facebook offers is very relevant to its members, however I don’t know how good the click-through rates are compared to traditional media. I would suspect that the low CPMs indicate that it’s still not a pervasive medium to buy ads. I’d like to be proven wrong on this one. My friend at Facebook and I have had endless arguments about social ads and the oxymoronic way Facebook has chosen to monetize its network. I argue it’s still blatant advertising and it’s the reason people have gone away from the portal model ie Yahoo! AOL and MSN — to get away from the intrusiveness that has come between the user and his/her consumption of content.
* Twitter’s model is, by no means, relevant to its users. Twitter ads run in the user’s timeline and does not target users based on profile, interest, tweets or followers. This article, states, “ We want to display Promoted Tweets in a way that’s both useful and authentic to the Twitter experience”. IMHO authentically spamming.
I’d be interested to hear what other people think. Do we expect that emergence of more ads in our social footprint will be accepted by users in the long run? Or will it necessitate yet another change that undermines this trend?