Self interest or principle?

Now, many people believe I am a cynic.

I’m not so sure myself, but I think I do have a healthy amount of cynicism around the industry I find myself in.

It could be said that advertising and media is an industry that is opportunistic at its core. But I don’t think any other current trend symbolises opportunism more than the world of ‘social media’.

Opportunistic – taking immediate advantage, often unethically, of any circumstance of possible benefit (

Is it just me, or is the recent wave of social media consutancy/consultants/experts/strategists/firms etc more about self interest than a real need.

Now, I am aware that media agencies and large ad groups (not to mention publishers, creative agencies etc) initial embrace of digital was in most cases driven by the same underlying factors … but I truly believe now they have moved beyond this into addressing an important issue – the evolution of media and advertising.

And are the new bunch of overnight social media experts opportunistic salesmen looking for the quickest way to generate the highest yield in a topical and not yet defined space?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying all involved are like this … but it seems to be a space populated by numerous ruthless self promoters whose generally sales tactic is to dismiss the opinion and thoughts of those who have preceeded them.

It also doesn’t help that when many try and explain what they try and do it becomes a horrible mutation of words that really don’t mean too much.

It’s typified by brazen predictions about the death of ‘heritage media’ and the irrelevance of anything non digital. These are generally backed up by loads of stats from sources no one has heard of and referenced from like minded ‘digital thinkers’.

Anyway – advertising is full of people whose words don’t mean anything so this is really nothing new.

However, the dedication to selling service/tools/monitoring etc is a new phenomenon in the levels we’re seeing now. Consulting, monitoring, community building, dialogue facilitation.

Social media monitoring is a decent little business. You know … the ‘we can monitor what people are saying about you in the blogosphere/twittersphere’ and whatever other spheres have popped up in the last few hours.

They all have funny names and no one really knows how well they work, and generally what the data means.

These tools are being wheeled out by loads of groups/people to gullible marketing types who believe that they can tell them things they don’t already know.

It could be argued this is technology for technologies sake. Sure, it can be done … but does it need to be? And who really benefits from it?

These tools are sold into brand managers who truly believe that thousands of people are having a conversation with others about their brand of hand sanitiser and it’s something they need to be across.

Many are sold under the thin premise that these companies can also ‘influence’ or massage the conversation.

Here’s the question. It might be great to know that there were 450 mentions of your brand online in the past x days – but what does it mean and does it really matter?

Does it matter to McDonalds if some dude Twitters at 5am saying ‘am at maccas bourke street waiting for the nightrider, wasted’?

And what about the conversations going on in the real world – the places we have REAL CONVERSATIONS. With family, friends, co-workers etc.

It’s my belief that digital still isn’t taken as seriously by marketing folk as it needs to be and the ‘dedication to the new’ is probably at the heart of this.

It is hard to take seriously an industry that constantly changes its mind around what works for advertisers and keeps rolling out ‘game changers’ that don’t really change the game.

All industry is driven to an extent by a combination of ego and commercial gain, but when ego and commercial gain is all that is driving something then it’s a problem.


10 responses to “Self interest or principle?

  1. That was a long rant.

    Advertising should stick to the basics: change consumer behavior. Whether it’s social media, direct, tv, etc doesn’t really matter.

    Social Web does have the benefit of putting a number on those customers, with almost instant feedback, a long walk since the days of John Wannamaker.

    As for the social media experts snake oil, unless they starting presenting results, they probably will end up like ‘heritage media’. But if brands like Google or Wikipedia are were they are (mostly) without advertising, it’s about time we should consider social capital, customer service and iterative product design as a worthy alternative solution.

  2. joelyrighteous

    Great post and it brings up some a lot of points that echo my recent thoughts.

    I personally have a lot of belief that the social web holds massive potential and that some verticals (music, entertainment, etc) should definitely be utilising the marketing potential it holds.

    However at the moment it feels like a bit of a gold rush with too many marketers rushing to the hills, all the while forgetting that the people getting rich are the shovel salesmen.

    Once again, not all the SM strategist/expert/specialists fall into the realm of the snake oil salesmen, but a lot do.

    My guess is that over the next 12 months we will start to get a much clearer picture of the effectiveness of these campaigns and their real impact on the bottom line.

  3. Some fair points Shep. I agree with your call on the existence of ‘experts’ in the Australian social media industry today. No such thing. I think the Australian market is at a stage where somebody may have seen enough social media campaigns to be a ‘consultant’ but an expert. Not quite. Unless that is they have come from the US and worked on many more campaigns over there. Even then does 2 or so years of experience make one an expert? I’d say more of a consultant. There is a difference.

    And re: “It could be argued this is technology [social media tracking] for technologies sake. Sure, it can be done … but does it need to be? And who really benefits from it?”

    Sure not every social media mention is worth responding to (as Zak M discussed in a post recently) but I personally see a lot of value in rewarding those who mention your brand in a positive light. These consumers are natural brand advocates and should be appreciated. By rewarding these twitterers or bloggers with free product (or anotehr reward) they are even more likely to speak positively about your brand. And as all marketers know, the most effective form of advertising is word of mouth…

    So I reckon all brands can potentially benefit from these tracking systems?

  4. Roger Lintzeris

    I consider myself quite active within social media.

    I use some form of social media every day of the year. Yes, more than I listen to the radio. Yes, more than reading the newspaper. Yes, more than reading magazines.

    It’s obvious there is a space for brands to be active within SM and there is space for brands to do it really really well.

    However, all good media strategies (be it in offline/online) should be able to answer some basic questions – How? When? Where? Why? Who? What? These are the building blocks of any campaign.

    To my knowledge – these are questions that haven’t been answered correctly by any Australian brand using SM. Why?

    To quote a friend of mine – ‘It’s Hot’.

    SM is hot. It’s new, it’s cool. Our brands are cool, our brands are new. Perfect fit. We love SM.

    Probably not a good way to go about things.

    Yes, there are brands (Skittles, Prototype, Burger King, Dell etc) who have used SM effectively – in the USA, but Australia – no.

    So what are the social media strategists in Australia doing?

  5. How’d you know I was outside Maccas at 5am?

  6. Hi Ben,

    You raise a really big issue.

    I’ve met/ talked to/ read the ravings of some utter charlatans in the last few months.

    Of the shoddy operators, it strikes me that they form two groups. First – the cynical ripping off the gullible because they see a few bucks. Second – those who don’t know that they don’t know.

    That said, I don’t think the question should be about people getting into this for self interest. Capitalism is about spotting opportunities in the market. Surely, it should be about whether they add genuine value for their new clients. It really shouldn’t matter if someone is being opportunisitic if they are providing a genuine service.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  7. Add to this bullying behaviour and I reckon you got the makings of a typical school yard.

    I agree with Tim though as I’m all for opportunism, and I don’t mind people spruiking their wares as long as it’s warranted.

  8. Loved that rant Ben. At the moment Anyone with a facebook + linkedin + twitter profile is a social media expert. The social buzz is also attracting clients and sometimes you have to use that stupid phrase. (Is it better than web2.0 though? We’re trying to call it “earned media”. What do you think?)
    Personally I find it hard to talk about social media campaigns. I believe talking with people should be an integral part of the business like customer service. Have you ever heard of a customer service campaign?

  9. talkingdigital

    hey tamir – that’s a pretty good observation around ‘Have you ever heard of a customer service campaign?’. A different way of looking at it but probably the right way.

  10. Pingback: FRANkVizeum’s three step earned media strategy Or: why can’t we have a customer service campaign? | FRANk

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s