I’ve recently been seeking advice with Social Media, speaking to a lot of experts, both agencies and individuals looking to work client-side: every one of these experts had a different background, outlook and approach, but they all seem to agree on a few points:
- Social Media is very difficult
- Social Media doesn’t provide a clear ROI: you need soft measures and lots of investment and time in order to evaluate benefit
- Brands do not understand social media, they’re not used to being publishers, they need expert help
I have been around for long enough to recognise the flaws in all 3 arguments, because I’ve heard them before. Every time a new digital development goes mainstream, agencies and would-be experts jump at the bandwagon. During a short but critical time in the adoption curve, these players have relatively more experience and volume of information (anecdotal and spotty) than the majority of the digital industry. They are recognised as experts and market themselves as gurus of a new era. As time passes and real trends emerge -nothing like the proper passage of time to bring statistical significance to data- most will fade into oblivion, some will be identified as having damaged their clients and just a tiny few will be proven right.
It makes sense to take a step back and think about the adoption cycle. We are not far past the gap and still quite a way away from adoption peak. Even if everyone we know seems to be on Facebook, most people in the developed world are yet to adopt Social Media as part of their daily lives. Their doing so will dramatically impact Social Media itself, making the future of Social Media impossible to predict even in the shortest of time horizons.
I remember when the commercial Web was young. I attended a conference in L.A. where a lot of self-styled experts took to the stage in turn to make exactly the same arguments to an audience of business types eager to get online: brands will be publishers online, and as they are not publishers offline, they’ll need to step aside and pay a lot of money to the experts without demanding immediate returns. It’s the nature of new media. Of course it hasn’t turned out to be like that: the Web didn’t turn out to be an editorial medium but a transactional one, and brands have mastered the editorial aspects of merchandising, leaving most of the experts in the dust.
I look forward to looking back at Social Media from a few years into the future and reminisce at this moment when the snake oil merchants were pushing their wares and people were falling for it. And to feeling smug about not having gone for it, demanding commercial benefit from Social Media investments and having reaped the rewards. Time will tell I’m right.