What’s in a Word?

I have been worrying about social media forms. This is I admit a little sad, but the main players do seem rather beleaguered, what with Facebook’s share-price struggling to get back to IPO levels, Google coming under attack for not paying their taxes (quite aside for demonstrating a remarkable lack of regard for the facts by claiming that they’ve already killed TV as a medium), and Twitter for apparently failing to appreciate their responsibilities to those users attacked by trolls.

If you are one of the very few people who notice my Facebook comments you’ll be aware of my regular reporting on the (in)appropriateness of the ads served to me. I’ve never ridden a motorbike and am unlikely to start now – which no doubt makes me an ideal target for Harley Davidson. I have been very happily married for 30 years, so singles dating sites don’t really do it for me. And although I suppose I am mortal I don’t really engage with funeral planning services. And as for the portable catheter on offer at an attractively discounted price…

Mind you, LinkedIn isn’t much better – recommending as ‘news for you’ today a piece on America’s most miserable sports cities.

The fact is – targeting aside, social media ads don’t really seem to work, on any level. I suspect the reason is that social media is akin to a chat amongst friends, and when we’re chatting with friends we don’t really enjoy being interrupted by someone we don’t know barging in and banging on about the latest developments in sensitive toothpaste.

A key problem lies with the word ‘advertising’. Social media doesn’t lend itself to ‘advertising’ per se. ‘Advertising’ implies the old form of interruptive messaging (a form that still works very well, in its place by the way). Say the word ‘advertising’ to most people and they think of TV, maybe a brilliant print or outdoor execution. But in just the same way that no respectable creative would want to see a long-copy print ad on a poster on the M4 approach, so we shouldn’t be placing ads designed for one thing into a medium designed to do something else.

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for brand messages within social media – just that we don’t seem to have found the key to unlock that particular door yet. What’s required is a strong link between the message and the medium in which it’s placed. Unfortunately the trend amongst creative agencies to employ media strategists seems to have stalled (with one or two notable exceptions); whilst media agencies seem more interested in hiring creative thinkers over and above collaborating with creative doers.

To crack this one there is a need for a degree of collaboration between media and creative people that goes deeper than is typical today. Media people understand how these media forms attract and engage users; they need to work closely with their counterparts in creative agencies to ensure that that level of understanding feeds through into creative executions. At the moment (aside from the occasional stunt) that doesn’t seems to be happening most of the time on most social media sites.

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