Eric Phu | July 11, 2011
For the past few years, Facebook has been the juggernaut of the social media world. Having defeated and picked clean the carcass of many a social network before it (MySpace, Friendster, etc.), it has seemed unstoppable as it makes its way towards a US$100 billion evaluation, and giving both Microsoft and Google a bloody nose along the way.
Having spent the week trialing Google Plus – Google’s fourth attempt into social media (after the three lukewarm failures of Orkut, Buzz, and Wave), it feels like Facebook finally has some serious competition on its hands.
Firstly, the roll-out of the ubiquitous black bar across all of Google’s properties is genius. As a user of Google Search, Gmail, and Google Reader, for instance, I am now always connected to Google Plus.
But that is not the main reason why I think it will succeed. It’s because of the new, incredibly clean interface. The user experience is incredibly focused and distraction-free – no irrelevant game invitations, and significantly, no advertising.
And here is the disconnect: the billions of dollars and the concentration of the smartest programmers on the planet is not really about just ego or who has the most fans. Fundamentally, this is a battle for advertising dollars. He who has the most users commands the most advertising income.
This is what gives both Google and Facebook valuations of over US$100 billion each. This social media war is in essence the defining battle for the future of the advertising business, and we should all be paying close attention.
In the same way that Google redefined the search business model by making ads non-intrusive, it will undoubtedly do the same in what is considered its most urgent and important initiative.
The interruptive model of advertising is already in decline, but we’ll also need to rethink how to do social media. It’s not about building apps, games, or even collecting fans. Here are four shifts in thinking that we as an industry will need to start preparing for…
1. Focus on conversations, rather than propositions. This is not a new concept, yet how many briefs and planning departments still have propositions as the central pillar to their communications strategy? How many creatives reading the briefs still look and ask for one? Instead, what we should be asking is what sort of conversations we want to facilitate with our audience, and how we are going to manage that.
2. Focus on cachet. In a highly connected, social world, we know that word-of-mouth reigns supreme. This means that it will be increasingly important to answer why a consumer should lend their names to your brand, rather than the other way around. Our entire business for the past few decades has been built around the notion of creating desire for our brands, but in the media hyper-saturated future, we will need to demonstrate why our brands are worthy to be talked about.
3. Focus on brand behaviour rather than promise. In the traditional planning model, a lot of the brand equity is built around what the brand promises. This will no longer be enough – BP can spend billions advertising on how it is environmentally responsible, but it takes just one Deepwater Horizon incident for it to be totally destroyed overnight.
4. Focus more on what you do outside of social media. As marketers, it’s convenient for us to compartmentalize social media activities. It can be a defined budget, it can be a “toe dip” in the water. In reality, it’s not an isolated test chamber. And all your activities – your brand’s behaviours, its cachet, are much more driven by what you do in the offline space than whether you have a Twitter or Facebook account. So rather than asking for a social media campaign, ask about how your social media fits into every part of your organisation.
So the future of advertising is going to be a complex, paradoxical battleground in which advertising will no longer be advertising as we know it. It will be a war for being social – earning a rightful place in the clique of the kids you want to be with, and earning their approval.
The very thing that Google and Facebook – amongst many others – are literally betting the future of their entire existence on.
Ignore it at your peril.