What worries me about Social. Social Media Breakfast Club talk

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Last week I presented at the Social Media Breakfast Club event organized in conjunction with Social Media Week and sponsored by Crimson Hexagon. The event was held at the Roger Smith Hotel in midtown. They're a big supporter of everything social and have archived the presentation at Roger Smith Life.

I broke my twenty minute presentation into two parts. In the first I discussed digital darwinism and how digital brands are different from traditional brands based on research conducted by Joe Crump at Razorfish. I then moved onto discussing what worries me about the social space. I raised five concerns and for each concern I polled the audience to understand whether they agreed with me or not. Here are they are, let me know what you think of them.

1. Structure: As I've discussed on the blog before, the way most large organizations are structured and especially their marketing departments hinders their ability to leverage social strategically. It's owned party by PR, Media, the website team, the direct response folks, strategy and sometimes market research too. As a result, it is everyone's step child and doesn't get the attention it deserves. Organizations need to rethink how social fits into their business and where best to place it. I believe they need to organize around the three pillars of marketing - brand, direct response and social influence marketing. The audience at the Social Media Breakfast Club talk agreed with this.

2. Overheating: Social Media in one sense is overheating. There's too much buzz about it, too many vendors, too many offerings, too many consultants and too many promises being made. This year we're going to see consolidation as fewer vendors survive the downturn. We'll all also learn what vendors can really deliver on their promises and which ones aren't strong enough to survive. This will help the space in the long run and hopefully it'll mean better integration with other digital efforts too. For the most part the audience agreed with this though there was interesting comments about what we'll see in 2009.

3. Budgets tightening: We're in hard times and everybody knows that marketing budgets are tightening. This is going to be a good and a bad thing for social. Good in the sense that marketers are going to be more careful with their spending and they're going to look to social influence marketing to harness the multiplier affect. They'll pay more attention to earned media. Bad in the sense that marketers will be more revenue centric and even more direct response oriented. Encouraging them to think more broadly and take a few risks maybe challenging at times. There was general agreement here too though many in the room saw this as a big opportunity.

4. Sentiment Clarity: The brand monitoring space is crowded with several large players like Cymfony, Visible Technologies, Umbria, Neilsen Buzzmetrics and Motivequest. Each one very strong in its own right and they're doing their bit to move the category forward. However, there's one very important unanswered question. Are the insights derived from brand and conversation monitoring statistically significant? Do they represent an accurate sample of the population for a given category? That's something that every vendor needs to answer when they recommend using brand monitoring to drive consumer insights. When using these tools for PR purposes its less of a question. This was a little controversial but by an large there was agreement and some of the vendors present felt this wouldn't be hard to do at all.

5. Relationship with offline Word of Mouth: There's no question that social influence marketing and the way people influence each other online across the social web around brand affinity and purchasing decisions has a tie with offline word of mouth marketing. The critical question though is how important or impactful is the online social influence relative to the offline word of mouth influence? Recent research from the Keller Fay Group seems to imply that offline word of mouth is significantly more impactful than online social influence. Whether that is the case is a subject of much debate (as it was at the Social Media Breakfast Club) but we do know that its something that needs to be understood better. This was the most controversial point as many folks felt that the answer depends. For them in some cases social influence is much larger than WOM but in other cases it may not be.

All in all, it was a great discussion and I enjoyed presenting and learning from the others in the room.

Follow me on Twitter (@shivsingh) for more insights on digital strategy and social media.


JasonB said:

Wonderful post, Shiv! Several of us who are leading word-of-mouth marketing initiatives for corporate clients and members of WOMMA were a bit skeptical too of the offline WoM research done by Keller Fay. Not because the data might not be correct and gathered correctly, but that they have a conflict of interest given their close ties to Bzzagent, who are heavily dependent upon offline WoM as their primary differentiation. In their WOMMA presentation on this research, they never discussed their opinions why offline ended up so strong in their findings.

Shiv Singh Author Profile Page said:

Jason, thank you for your feedback. I feel Keller Fay recognizes that no one has figured out how to measure social influence perfectly but I certainly valued that they were raising it as an important question. For me their research really represents a start of the debate more than anything else.

Ed Keller said:

Very interesting presentation. I'm glad to see you referenced our research, and that it sparked what seems to have been a good discussion/debate.

Just to clarify, the point we have made is that there is considerably more offline word of mouth conversation than word of mouth conversation that takes place online; and that the conversations that take place offline are quite different from those that take place online in terms of the profile of who participates, the brands that are discussed, and the "quality" of the discussion from a brand perspective (e.g., offline is more likely to be positive and is seen as more credible by "receivers" of info).

However, our research also shows that the internet is a very important driver of word of mouth -- so while it might not be the medium through which conversation takes place, it can (and often does) help to influence conversations no matter where they take place. We agree with you that this is a topic that is worthy of continued debate, discussion, and further research.

As for the comment from Jason B, I don't know what "close ties" to BzzAgent he is referring to. We are an independent research firm specializing in word of mouth research and measurement of all types -- online and offline. We have no vested interest other than to report what our research shows and to interpret what the results mean for marketers and others interested in word of mouth.

Ed Keller
The Keller Fay Group

Laurent said:

About the insight(4 in your list), I think if brands monitor conversations broadly, then there's the statistical challenge you highlight.
Another option which works well in my opinion is to first target a relevant niche and monitor conversations for insights within it. Relevant experts will often discuss 'insights' before the mass and it's easier to sift through 100s of conversation per day vs 10000s.

JD Lasica said:

Shiv, had hoped to follow you on Twitter, but the Twitter link in your right nav goes to a dead page: http://twitter.com/sszd

Let me know your real ID!

jdlasica @ gmail.com

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