Where's the payoff?
The more the recession takes hold, the more time at home people have and the more they invest that time in a range of media.
In part it's because social support has always been a way through hard times; in part it is because staying top of mind means
you are most likely to get that posting or e-mail about a job that has become available or a program that can help you.
But even with social networks as a point of entry to blogs (via links to expanded content), the founder of Facebook recently
said that social networking sites could not be "monetized" in the same way that search sites had been.
Out of jargon, he meant that advertising on social networking sites has a very mixed track record.
On the one hand, the sites know a vast amount about their users and can target ads extraordinarily accurately; on the other,
few advertisers are nimble enough to take advantage of this. Social networking users rarely click through to corporate sites
and, when they do, they don't stay for long. Because they are not searching (and because Facebook charges differently), the
Google click-through model doesn't work.
Usually to win users over, you have to do something bold that suits social networking. British rugby player Ben Cohen, for
example, attracted a vast gay Facebook following by posting nearly nude photos of himself on his fan page (he's happily heterosexual
with two children, by the way)—users rapidly discovered them and referred other users.
Nike found that the Nike Shoes page on Facebook had become a hit all by itself so they teamed up with it to offer money-off
coupons for users who referred friends—they now have almost two million fans. The Samsung Omnia has 100,000, very sad people
who have signed up to talk about features on their phone. It has done wonders for sales of Cohen's calendar, for Nike's recession
busting, and for Samsung's geek chic, but it is difficult to imagine Andrew Witty being a major hit in the nude or two million
people posting pictures of themselves popping Losec.
By now it is no doubt apparent why this frightens all of us who work in consultancy and in agencies as much as it probably
frightens you in the industry.
Social media content is nearly all user-generated, and none of us have figured out how to make real money out of it. I write
the occasional reports for clients that back up the theory in this article with facts and examples; sometimes I even run a
board training or a senior management planning session. While agencies may have been responsible for some of the clever online
ideas, it is nothing like as profitable as the work that we have all relied on for years.
We consultants encourage ourselves: Social networking requires a strategy and Facebook groups need to be fueled by viral videos
and neat ideas. There are always the ads that a few users will click on. However, that will not pay for a Mad Men lifestyle—it
probably won't even pay for the Series 2 Blu Ray discs.
For Adidas or Honda, the obvious route is to get involved in user-generated content. It means relaxing a few corporate standards
and being a bit less obsessive about brand values, but it's doable.
For pharma, it is inconceivable. To make life more difficult, FDA appears to be becoming more restrictive (it has objected
to some advertisements on Google search pages—see the following article), and European reforms that would permit more online
DTC communication appear stalled by furious opposition from consumerist groups.
Mark Chataway is co-chairman of Baird's Communication Management Consultants. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org