Social Media Is The Largest Cocktail Party On Earth. Good Luck Pitching Your Wares There.

I’ve been looking at making the move to a client side position and last week I had the opportunity to learn first hand just what that could mean.
There’s a Fortune 1000 company here in Portland that wants a Social Media Specialist to join their marketing team. Even though I’ve said several times that “there is no such thing as social media, there’s only media people interact with and media people ignore,” I pursued the job anyway. Why? Underemployment leads to hazy thinking and bad decisions.
But seriously, I try hard not to judge until I have a reason to. You can stand outside the corporate tower and imagine how stifling it is up the elevator, or you can go inside and see for yourself. In this case, that’s what I did.
What I saw turned me off, big time. I could detail for you all the reasons why, but airing dirty laundry isn’t what we do here. What we do is find something instructive about the experiences we have. So, I’m not going to dwell on the fact that the company in question doesn’t pay well, but is still “one of the best places to work in Portland.” And there’s no reason to dwell on the marketing director’s blatant disregard for ad agency people, nor her dismissive attitude toward blogs and the people who write them.
Let’s just get to the heart of the matter. I asked what she hoped to find in the Social Media Specialist. She said, “I don’t want the person to just get us up on Facebook and Twitter, I want to know what’s next.”
That’s fair. What is next? People like Steve Rubel have already groped for that answer and come up with this: lifestreaming is next.
I have a much different answer.
We need to stop focusing so much on the “media” in social media. Instead let’s focus on the “social.” Media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and blogs are not the plot drivers here. What matters is that people are talking, and that marketing is becoming more human in response to all this talk.
Media fragmentation and the loss of a guaranteed mass audience is the big news of our day, not social media. Social media is simply enabling conversations and elbowing broadcasting into another room.
Social is the real trend and it’s not dependent on media. So, if someone were to sincerely (not rhetorically) ask me what’s next I would say, social media opens the door to better relationships, but the hard work of solidifying these relationships for the long haul has to be done, at least in part, offline.
Social Media specialists toiling away in yet another silo is unnecessary. The more pressing need is for people who understand experiential marketing and how the brand’s promise–whatever it might be–has to play out in the physical world and online. Zappos is a good example of company that understands this. They’ve made a huge effort to be social, but it wouldn’t mean a thing if their customer service wasn’t best in class. Put another way, if being social–which means being real–isn’t in your brand’s DNA, it would be best to stay far away from anything resembling a conversation.



About David Burn

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.