Just when I thought social media was hitting its marketing stride, our friend Beth Kanter posted a recent article on her Facebook page by BBCnews.com co-founder and journalism professor Alfred Hermida, in which he declares the now ubiquitous phenomenon is about to become – ready for this? – “boring.”
“Technologies reach their full potential when we forgot [sic] about the novelty. Instead they become boring and blend into the background. How often do we think about the technology behind the telephone, or the television set in our living room?”
What Hermida seems to be getting at is that we’re entering an age where social media is becoming, as he puts it, “routine.” Its aforementioned ubiquitous quality, he says, is itself causing the medium to fade to the background of the message. Indeed, he sees this message-centric (over medium) texture as a good thing, and welcomes a new era where “the technology will become invisible as we shape it to meet our political, social and cultural needs.”
But boring? Uninteresting? On the surface, it seems it would be unwise for anyone to take this medium – any medium, in fact – for granted when it comes to delivering the message. To dig a little deeper into what this means to world of marketing, I had a chat with Gordon Plutsky, chief marketing officer of Boston-based King Fish Media, an integrated marketing firm that is dedicated to “the belief that brands should own their own channels.” While not exactly disagreeing with Hermida, he fleshes out the notion of what it means for this media system to become so omnipresent that it might seem, well, boring.
“As a marketing tool, social media is no longer an island or an add-on or some kind of ‘special, cool thing,’” says Plutsky. “A lot of the magical cure allure of ‘it’s free and cheap and it’s going to replace advertising’ has gone by the wayside. We know now that like direct mail or email or events, social media is simply another channel that you have to master.”
Plutsky argues, however, that rather than seeing this acceptance as initiating a time to lower or shift away attention paid to social media, it’s a time for increased vigilance toward the medium. “There’s a new understanding that social media is now a communication ante,” he says. “It must be part of your mix.”
Not only that, he adds, but the very nature of the beast also requires ongoing attention.
“With Twitter and Facebook and the rest, communication is now thoroughly interactive and immediate. This means there’s no time lag between messaging, either between you and your audience, or between individual users of your product or service.”
The implications of this are far-reaching and immense. “You no longer own 100 percent of your brand,” Plutsky says. “Perceptions of you are now an amalgam of discussions that are happening ‘out there’ in real time. It’s no longer simply about pushing information, but rather about affecting and initiating those discussions that are continuously happening – whether you want them to or not. Dropping the ball on this can have grave consequences in term of how you’re perceived and thus your ability to achieve your goals and objectives.”
On the upside, says Plutsky, the opportunities for creative messaging and community building have never been greater. Everyone from [online retail giant] Zappos to Keurig [coffeemakers] have consumer communities following them and talking to each other around the clock. From their own sites to Facebook to Twitter, organizations have the chance to monitor, participate and initiate conversations – in the industry, we call that ‘priceless.’”
In the end, Hermida’s notion that “mediated sociability will be with us at all times, no matter what we are doing” and that for some, “social media just offers new ways to do old things” are both true. But characterizing the medium as on its way to becoming boring (read: not drawing our attention) might be best seen in the world of marketing as a warning as much as welcomed observation. Whether you’re selling products or services or promoting work dedicated to changing the world, letting social media and its unique properties and implications drift to the background of your attention is surely a quick way to get in your own way.
Therese Grohman is the Director of Marketing at Event 360, where she focuses on building Event 360’s thought leadership platform and developing relationships with organizations through impactful and relevant communications. She has also worked directly with a variety of organizations to create and implement event fundraising strategies, drawing from her experiences working in the non-profit sector.