Insights on Marketing & Technology

Why you're doing social all wrong

Social media marketing has come full circle – from a free-for-all, viral Klondike to a staid monetized, data-driven advertising activity in line with the rest of the increasingly complicated media plan. The time has come to take a step back and consider the fundamentals. The true lesson of social media is not, and never was, that there is a new “free” marketing channel. Nor that we now have even more data with which to target our ads. It is that marketing is about being human – and interacting with humans.

  • By: Sebastian Franck
  • Published: 14-03-2014

When was the first time you heard of “social media”? 7 years ago, when Twitter launched? Fall 2006, when Facebook began opening up for users outside US college circles? In 2005 when News Corp acquired MySpace? Or perhaps Second Life introduced you to the term in 2003? Or where Danish kids and teens flocked in the early 2000’s? If you are old enough, maybe your first glimpse of the concept was through the Finnish avatar-based Habbo Hotel, which was founded in 2000?

Social media may feel like something new. Yet, at the same time it seems to have been with us for quite a while.

In fact, the Internet was always a social medium. A lot of the original Internet services were conceived as methods of meeting, interacting and conversing with other people on a global scale. Since 1978 we have had BBS’s – Bulletin Board Systems – allowing people to create posts, conduct public discussions, transfer files and chat privately. Usenet which was a widely distributed discussion and file exchange system with no central administration and IRC, Internet Relay Chat, which allowed for both public group discussions and private communication in real-time. And of course there has always been e-mail (always, in Internet terms being since the days of the ARPANET in the early 70’s). E-mail is – and remains – the original social medium: People exchanging information one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-one in an organized, threaded manner. In private.

Then the WWW ruined everything

Brands had no business on IRC or Usenet. Very few of them knew the value of e-mail outside the corporation. The Internet was strictly the people’s (read: geeks’) domain.
That all began to change around 1996 a few years after Tim Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web was the Internet for the rest of us. Without the World Wide Web there probably would never have been a “Digital Age”. It was HTML, the browser, hyperlinks and the page metaphor that made the magic of a global network of computers available for ordinary people. And for brands.

Just as Joe Ordinary could see something he could relate to – an advanced kind of newspaper or magazine, perhaps, brands saw a medium they could understand. A mass medium that happened to be digital and thus highly cost-efficient. And they approached it in the same way. As a cheap catalogue. A corporate brochure. An easily editable flyer. A place to post ads (aka “banners”). Some even advanced to eCommerce, enabling direct sales online.

That’s how the advent of The World Wide Web ushered in the Great Commercialization of the Internet. Business took over the World Wide Web – and made it into a World Wide One-Way Speech. Very few realized the inherent potential of the Internet to upend business models, create new marketing paradigms and foster new relationships between brands and consumers.
If only they had read – and understood – The Cluetrain Manifesto. We might have been spared a decade of drab informational sites and corporations refusing to listen.
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