Question Reality

Jason Baer, writing on Marketing Profs Daily Fix, argues that there’s a power struggle over social media and who will “control it”–the ad guys, PR, digital or the client. Baer believes there’s “much at stake” and that ad agencies won’t miss this ship, like they did with digital.
I couldn’t disagree more.
For one, most “ad agencies” will miss the ship, since they don’t see social media and content development as advertising. Secondly, there’s no power struggle going on. For a power struggle to occur, lots and lots of money has to exchange hands. What is going on is an increased need for social media services and consulting. So, there is a scramble, but it’s not happening in corner offices, it’s happening in coworking digs and coffeeshops.
My friend Spike Jones left a comment on the Marketing Profs post that I like a lot.

IMO, social media is the flavor of the month. There are waaaaaay too many people on Twitter and Facebook (talking to themselves) who think it’s the be-all, end-all. It’s a great tool. But it’s just a tool. It’s not the answer. And it can easily become part of the problem.

Spike also reminds us that 92% of all WOM happens offline. Spike’s a smart guy.
I think it’s great that independent professionals who have made a name for themselves in this new media arena can and do consult with marketers, large and small. What’s not great is approaching marketing problems from too far inside any one discipline. Marketing is more complex than that. Thus, the answers clients seek are also more complex. There’s a place for the social media expert on the team, for sure. But someone at the client or at the agency has to configure all the pieces–direct, content, advertising, events, digital, WOM–into a workable whole.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. First of all, thanks for considering me a friend.
    Secondly, I’m with you. Social media has its place. And this rise of the SM evangelists is great – good for them. But the ones that think everyone should be on Twitter/Facebook/new shiny thing to come out tomorrow – both customer and brand – is smoking something. It’s a tool. Treat like one. Respect it like one. But don’t tell me it’s the magic bullet, because it ain’t.

  2. As marketers we are all scrambling to see what will come out of this social media uprising. The power transition from Marketers “pushing” messages to consumers “pulling” relevant, personal information has all of us in a tizzy. Traditional media is dying, so social media has to be the answer, right? I highly doubt it. There is a place in “communications” for all of this, but we need to identify what the end goal is with our brand communication…That is to create a malleable brand that will actually integrate into the lifestyle of our best customers. Doing this will incorporate a great deal of marketing strategies including traditional, social, database, and WOM. There’s no magic answer. Just an actual, real life relationship with the consumer.

  3. @Paul – I like your end goal of creating a malleable brand that will actually integrate into the lifestyle of its best customers. That’s good. And there’s room for all the different players in that. There’s room for the people who make TV and for the people who make and do other things.
    Media is actually flourishing right now. Despite all the bad news, there’s more media and often times better media available today than ever before. However, this fact poses a bit of a problem for brand marketers. For how can they possibly keep up with it all? Media is multiplying too fast. There are to many questions and not enough answers: Is it safe to advertise on blogs? Do we really need a Facebook widget? How do we leverage Twitter? What’s Ning? Will this gain traction on YouTube?
    It is dizzying but here’s the thing, people are talking right now about brands, about a company’s customer service and about their products, just like they always have, but now it’s amplified worldwide thanks to the Internet. For marketing organizations, staying on the social media sidelines is not an option, no matter how dizzying it is to get up to speed. Staying put in traditional advertising or direct marketing is like going to a party and doing nothing but handing out business cards. Lame.
    To stick with that metaphor for a minute, brands absolutely need some form of business card, or advertising today. But that’s not all they need.

  4. Hopefully, this shake-up and repositioning will be the catalyst for brands – and their products – to consider whether or not they’re adding value to the world. Including social value – as in the TRIPLE bottom line.
    If the product is not adding value, rethink it, because it will need to in order to compete.
    Or at least, that’s my 2 cents as the partner of a super smart content machine.

  5. “What’s not great is approaching marketing problems from too far inside any one discipline.”
    This is something the SEO/SEM crowd hasn’t grasped yet.
    As for SM, I think it’s given more voice to consumers than it’s actually strengthened brands. Many brands keep messing it up because they want to shout the same messages with it. Consumers just want to be heard.

  6. David –
    Thanks much for the citation. I’m perfectly happy to be disagreed with about anything.
    I agree that social media is completely overheated at present. In fact, I wrote a post to that effect last week called “Let’s Stop Swooning Over Social Media” advocating that real-world marketing and offline WOM remains a critical component.
    But, I believe that “social media” (perhaps the most misguided name of any communications component) is really not a marketing tactic at all, but a fundamental change in the historical relationship between brands and their consumers – enabled in large measure by new online capabilities.
    I have written extensively on the point that social media is a philosophy more than it is a set of tools, and those that are tool centric don’t understand what social media can do for brands that use it as a manifestation of a shift toward conversations and brand advocacy (like Spike espouses).
    Because of people like Spike and firms like Brains on Fire, companies large and small are recognizing the benefit of treating their customers like equals instead of like servants. This is a major change that is happening simultaneous with the decay of traditional media as an effective channel for customer and prospect communication.
    Consequently, I believe this confluence provides an opportunity for agencies of any stripe, working in cooperation with client operations and customer service teams, to flip the script on the marketing methods of the past 50 years.
    That’s not a coffee shop scenario. It’s a game changer.
    While large ad agencies may not be talking about who is going to help the client navigate these new waters (big surprise, since they missed the digital boat entirely for 10 years), I can tell you for certain that digital agencies and PR firms are indeed talking to their clients about the importance of conversations.
    While the dollars associated with “social media” are not yet large, they will be eventually, and the “power struggle” I referred to in the original post isn’t as much about money today, as it is about which of the clients’ agency partners will lead the conversation-oriented marketing of the future.
    I’ve been in meetings in 2009 where ad agencies, digital agencies, and PR firms working for the same client have had this exact discussion, which is where the kernel for the “struggle” post was discovered.
    Clearly, your results may vary. But in an era where almost everyone is having their budget cut and is looking for new services to offer, Crispin just launched perhaps the best Facebook application ever, and PR firms are changing their tagline to “conversation agency” something is afoot.

  7. Thanks for the added insights, Jason. For certain, something is afoot. My last agency job was all about bringing social media to the forefront and I’m glad to say we had success doing so. I’m acutely aware that clients are interested in social media now and they want their advisors to offer some suggestions and new ideas. It’s all good, yet, I struggle with the philosophy versus tools argument. I don’t see the weakness in viewing Facebook, or its ilk, as a tool. Maybe I’ll come around. But for now, I’ll say Social Media is a big idea, not a philosophy.