A big number of posts, articles, studies and analysis attacking or undermining Social Media's foundations have surfaced lately. And that is a good thing. It is an awesome thing. I’m tempted to say it is the best damn thing that could happen at this particular moment in time.
Let me remind the casual and distracted reader that the individual writing this post makes his living out of Social Media.
I’ve been known to criticize Social Media and its experts in the past. To be fair I have also raised the flag of “we’re too cool to be true” from time to time. Mea Culpa.
Being somewhat violent and critic of one’s own line of work should be implemented as an exercise for all employees, but particularly for those of us who work in Marketing since, given our above-average exposure, we tend to believe we’re more important and enlightened than those working on less “gracious” activities.
Social Media Marketing is far from perfect or being perfected. It is a very novel field of work. There are tons of things to be discovered and explored and there are a lot of mistakes and learning to be made. Probably that is the reason why it is so exiting to work with in the first place and what causes what Joel Mark Whitt calls “Social Media Incest”: Social Media analysts and specialists tend to write and talk about just social media (I’m personally more fond to the term “in-breeding” for some undetermined reason).
Although I do speak about more stuff than just Social Media, I am guilty as charged in that matter as well, since this blog revolves almost exclusively around Social Media / Web Marketing / Web Analytics.
So, we’re in love with ourselves, like the sound of our own voices and are enchanted by the stuff we do for a living. That isn’t necessarily bad, right? It is when we fail to be critic about what we do and when we stop caring about what the outside world says about us and the things we do.
That is the reason why I think the recent attacks and criticism are positive: they get us off our pedestal. Royal pain in the ass, but a necessary and much needed one.
It is time to think again, guys.
We can’t base our work and expectations on just Cluetrain and The Long Tail. Both are awesome, interesting and radical; but things are changing: audiences, markets and companies are evolving and we need to revamp our “theoretic” baggage pronto.
Whether the current economic state is the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it or just a rather big bump on the road is irrelevant. Companies can’t or will no longer fund programs that can’t prove its worth. And by worth I mean money. We need to put “brand” and “reputation” in a slight pause for the time being. Let me rephrase that before I start to take flak.
Companies need to make profits while they build brand and reputation.
In other words, CFO’s and CEO’s won’t wait until Social Media programs are fully built, running and start to indirectly make profits. Might be tough, but such is reality.
The risk under such circumstances becomes one of trying to make profits at any cost.
That is why I don’t like the pay-per-post model. I don’t care how much sense it might make for some. I don’t even care if authors put “sponsored post” in double underline, bold and blinking text, pay-per-post it is (under my black-and-white perspective) just plainly inappropriate. Yet, the whole izea ordeal got me thinking that this type of program makes paid writing “official” and I’m certain that there is a lot of pay-per-post going on under the table.
But I digress. (I do that).
One of the latest attack has to do with the long tail theory, or rather a contradiction of it recently published by the times. Since the data set and sources are still undisclosed it is yet unclear if the authors have a real theory-breaker or just a minor setback of limited reach.
Even if the study has sturdy data to back it up it does not necessarily mean the theory is wrong, just that the model might not apply to everything at all times. It could also mean that just stating that something like the long tail is possible does not make it happen overnight.
The particular universe analyzed by the study published by the Times is the music industry. And although some of the fundamentals of the long tail apply to it better than they apply to other merchant models there are some dark spots in it which might of been overlooked when Chris Anderson draw his conclusions.
The music industry has over 70 years of doing business the same way: Scout or find an artist; make a record; promote, promote, promote; hope for a hit; sell millions of albums. This has two very obvious consequences: a. the audiences have been trained for over 4 generations to be spoon-fed music and b. the record industry knows no better model. This might very well be the two reasons why the long tail might not (yet) be successful for selling music.
But there are other scenarios where the long tail has proved to be right to its full implications.
Content publishing and distribution comes to mind as an obvious example. The proliferation of blogs that focus on a single topic and from a single perspective have had moderate success all around the globe. This has forced traditional publishers (Newspapers & Magazines) to change their perspective towards content generation and open blogs on their own to stay somewhat competitive.
There is another thing we tend to forget given how used we have become to changes. The Long Tail as a book and as a formal theory has only two years of age. I’ll risk it and say that most companies have not even give it a thought. Also, most consumers are unaware of the new and endless options available nowadays. How can I purchase a track from an obscure band at the other end of the world if I don’t even know they exist?
That leads me back to the need to develop new theories that adapt to shifting times. Long Tail, for instance could take advantage of a “nouvelle promotion” theory, or: “how to market for the long tail”. The risk resides in assuming that just because the options are available, they will be magically found by users.
When TV advertising was in its diapers, agencies struggled for well over a decade before they hit the right formulas and perfected their methods. and they have kept evolving as their target audiences evolved with them.
The real point now becomes: Now that novelty has worn off and that social media marketing needs to become mature: how will things evolve?
The criticism and attacks are just signs of the fact that people are no longer blinded by the glitter and brightness of “Social Media”; but are starting to demand real and tangible results. It is up to us, the people that make a living out of it (analysts, marketers, corporate bloggers, everyone) to step up to the challenge and prove its worth.
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