Monday, 21 September 2009

Measuring Social Media Influencers' "Value" Ensures We'll Ruin Marketers' Credibility, Again...

Comment on Fast Company article by Adam Penenberg, author of "The Viral Loop" and inventor of a new Facebook metric to measure contributors social networking value:  How Much Are You Worth to Facebook?

Adam, like the work you've done, especially the widget and what it does in terms of making another step towards ascribing a value metric on social network marketing value. I beg to differ a tad with what you and Lotame are using as a premise, however.

The entire "above the line" advertising business model for the past 100 years has been 'push marketing' -- keep hammering away at the masses with the same message until they cannot forget it and they'll buy your stuff. Virtually THE INSTANT that consumers were given a voice via the internet they told us all loud and clear they did not want any more 'push marketing'. This brought about predictions that brands were about to be killed off and that marketing was soon to become extinct. Turns out that since the day that the chief of a cave-person tribe donned a rare shell necklace, humans have craved brands, however, so they'll never go away.

What the latter suggests is merely that marketing has to evolve into a 'pull model' that consumers like better. To one of the points I keep banging my drum about, this means that, versus the complacent (and hugely egotistical, looking at Cannes) ad agency business model we had for almost 100 years (did I mention 'lucrative' -- up till 1995?), what were formerly called "ad agencies" must now evolve from paying lip service to being 'partners' to their clients, they actually have to now become "marketing agencies", inventing new business models for their clients' brands and insisting up on a revenue sharing model (I hear collective gasps from both sides of the fence).

Perhaps the biggest casualty of all this evolutionary change has been what I call "the death of frequency"; NOT the death of reach, but a switch to micro/hyper-targeting; NOT the death of 'reminder' brand messages, but the death of stultifying repetition. Nor is it the death of the tried and proven marketing model of "you can watch something fun/interesting/entertaining if you're willing to watch my brand's message". People are more than happy to make that trade, whether the channel is TV, online or their mobile phone, as long as the ads are pertinent to them and don't get repeated endlessly (think "Mac vs. PC guys").

But what do we do with tens of thousands of ATL media people around the globe who have never worked with anything but GRP's (reach times frequency)? Right now most everything that Andy Monfried, and yourself, Adam, are doing, along with anyone else who is getting any 'ear-time' from the big media influencers, smacks of GRP calculation and 'push marketing' thinking. Naturally, it has to, as the media people have no other familiar measure to work with yet and we have to continue to use language they're familiar with. That doesn't mean that turning individual 'influencers' into 'measured media' is going to be the marketing metric of the future.

Sometimes I think my teachers were all wrong back in school and that I really am just stupid, not a 'creative thinker', but the only natural solution that will work for the future of 'pull marketing' is something we're close to, but no one has 'thrown the switch on' yet. It is the 'Holy Grail' of marketing, first really seriously bandied about in the early 90's when the Psion and Palm became ubiquitous: fully addressable advertising. (No, NOT LBS coupons for coffees, but having ads played to you that you really DO want to see.) Someone could do it tomorrow with teens via their cellphones (teens have low 'privacy panic' thresholds), but as all the decision-makers are old farts well-versed/immersed in 'privacy panic', they haven't seen the light, yet...

Once you have fully addressable advertising, tested with youth and filtering up into the older demographics, you have no need to pay people 5-10% commission on what their friends buy, as Vasanth Sridharan has suggested because people will all watch ads for free and, also for free, will influence their friends. What we're all doing by trying to monetize socializing (there's a reason I'm using this parlance) and measure influencers' value, then pay them for leveraging it ('people as a medium' in the words of Aidan Tracey from Mosaic XM) is killing our credibility all over again as marketers.

Anything that is labeled "social" is NOT an advertising-appropriate medium. Period. It is people SOCIALIZING -- marketing, an activity that inherently involves making payments to help push products, has no place in social discourse. The MOMENT we inject financial incentives into social discourse the 'influencer' loses all credibility. For example, 'socializing' happens in a market square, but there's a clear and distinct line between a chatty tomato farmer and a transaction they make. Yes, being chatty (social) helps make a sale, but the consumer has gone there to buy stuff. This is only the case in 'social media' when I have announced my willingness to buy by logging onto Crest's Facebook fan page (a cute experiment that is likely to go away over time).

What Lotame is doing is highly suspect over the long-term (although I'm sure they'll evolve/morph along with how people use emerging media), as is your attempt to evaluate and ascribe a value to social network members. Anyone who gets financial compensation for endorsing something is automatically judged non-credible. Yes, there's tremendous value in better understanding how it's all going to work as these new media emerge, but paying people to endorse or 'chat-up' products is not a viable marketing tactic any more than paying bloggers was. Successful marketing efforts will continue to happen outside people and groups' social interactions, but they'll continue to 'talk about our efforts around the water cooler' like they always have. Social media's real value is in LISTENING to how well our marketing activities are doing, not in injecting our message into people's conversation.

As I've blogged before, just because the masses socialize via emerging media, doesn't mean we've got new mass media!

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