It’s time for brands and agencies to look beyond platforms and jargon and realize the purpose of social media is no different than traditional media channels. By its very nature, all media is social.
This year, organizations will invest more than ever before in social media. But segregating it from other campaign elements risks ineffectiveness. Instead of launching poorly connected initiatives for TV, print, digital, and social consumption, the companies that succeed will focus on platform-agnostic social communication.
"Social media" remains a source of profound confusion and challenge to brands around the globe, resulting in siloed marketing departments and social campaigns that suffer from a lack of support and the increased awareness guaranteed by traditional media.
But the golden rules of social media—be transparent, honest, and consistent; listen, respond and be respectful—aren't foreign concepts to any communications expert (or, that being said, any socially balanced individual). Many people proudly declare, "I don’t understand social media."
Specialist agencies, "digital ninjas," and the social platforms themselves have succeeded in generating a digital snowstorm of confusion, leading the marketing world into the belief that theirs is a totally new universe of communication.
Is the oldest manmade media ever found—Paleolithic drawings of bison and bears in the Chauvet cave in southern France, which date back almost 32,000 years—any less a means of communication than a Facebook update?
Although there can be no doubting the power, impact, and revolutionary empowerment social media has given both the individual and organization, its function—to enable the telling of a story, spark conversation, or record a moment in time—is no different to forms of communication that are thousands of years old.
Remove the debate regarding technical merit or effort and focus on these platforms as a medium for communication and the only true difference between "social" and traditional media is the potential audience and immediacy.
Much of the confusion is understandable: Platforms feed it with conflicting limitations, unique terminology ("Like" vs. "Favorite") and conditions. Instagram’s recent disastrous communication of its updated terms and conditions is a perfect example of a social media platform causing huge confusion and concern for users and brands alike.
This confusion is unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future; as platforms try to establish sustainable revenue streams, tweaks and changes, which often make little sense to the user, will continue to occur.
But marketers both in agencies and at brands need to look beyond platforms. If we accept that just as each year new words are added to the dictionary ("tweeps" and "lolz" made it into the Oxford Dictionary in 2012), new-media avenues will emerge and evolve—and, with focus on the goal of communication and not on the colloquial nuances of platforms, brands will be free to focus on the story they want to tell, be it bison or bi.tly’s.
—Tomos Evans is director of social engagement for Saatchi & Saatchi LA. At Saatchi LA, Tomos acts as a leader in the agency's drive toward digitally centered thinking. Follow him @tomos_says.
[Image: Flickr user Andrew Fallon]