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One of the biggest impacts of social media is the way that traditional forms of advertising have had to adapt to it.

As companies begin to embrace social media marketing, that means that a portion of their attention, time and marketing budgets are being diverted from traditional print and broadcast media to address social media opportunities.

But beyond mere resource allocation, social media have become a filter through which consumers and customers experience traditional advertising. Social media have created platforms for the audience to critique, recommend, forward, and even mash-up mainstream advertising.

The media is being mediated.

What’s more, websites like CNET and Trip Advisor redirect millions of dollars every day from one company to another based on their social media-style reviews and recommendations. Traditional advertising may draw attention to your product or service, but the online recommend-o-sphere will inevitably mediate your message—maybe for good, maybe for ill.

While the effect of social media on traditional advertising was first felt in the consumer sphere, a recent study found that nearly one in five business executives make purchasing decisions based on the advice they glean through their social media connections. In other words, they are allowing the traditional advertising messages they receive to be mediated by social media.

While social media marketing has created new opportunities for most companies, it has spelled disaster for others, especially traditional media companies. For example, as Bob Garfield points out in his new book The Chaos Scenario, Google bought YouTube for over a billion dollars and Viacom is suing You Tube for a billion dollars—and for the same reason:You Tube has completely disrupted the way people interact with the media.

Newspapers, radio and television are, of course, the main victims here. They depend on the unsustainable model of mass distribution of ads to an untargeted audience that is used to getting more and better customized media online for free.

Demand for advertising is falling and with it the price of ads. The audience is used to free media, so they aren’t going to pay any more for it than the cable bill, and even that is under pressure as YouTube, Hulu and the television networks’ own sites make high quality current content free on demand.

So just where is there any leverage? Two places: creativity and integration.

The only way to captivate imagination is creativity. Big creative breakthough ideas that engage an easily-distracted audience. And this creativity must be integrated in a strategic, intentional way across traditional and social media.

The integration comes in traditional media’s ability to drive traffic and involvement in social media. And social media can hand the microphone to the audience to let them weigh in on your traditional media efforts, even help you perfect your next message.

The risks and the rewards are there, but more and more, the audience has the final say. As the power structure of communication shifts from a top-down, narrowly controlled flow to a widely distributed, highly granularized base, creative ideas will still get noticed and foster customer relationships.

Just be prepared for some of those ideas to come from the audience.


(C) 2009 David Heitman. All rights reserved.    303-665-8101