Social media as used by brands today appears to be one of two things: entertainment or customer service. This general categorization isn't to say that either approach is wrong, bad or unnecessary — though it may be those things if done badly. Still, these general categories serve to highlight that there should be more to come.
Though social is still at the frothing state and enjoying the warm glow of hype, until it moves beyond customer response and entertainment, there’s an argument that social will not accomplish more than what an effective call center and FAQ could.
As we have all realized the limits of a 30-second television spot, print ad, banner and even — dare I say — mobile ad, the same has to be said for social. We are on the cusp of something that will need to evolve to be more than the sum of its parts today.
Time and again you see campaigns that simply fall flat, but not everything we do is going to be amazing or groundbreaking. Social by its nature demands and needs constant support to maintain and foster it. Do you have a long-term plan for it? Can you provide the resources necessary to compete? Can you make it a core offering? Should you?
If you are on the fence about this, I think a great question to ask is, “How do you see social media helping your current tactics?”
For example, websites that are rooted in branding but don't have a social element often serve to highlight the gap between something like that of a lone pitcher and catcher — one without the other is quite meaningless in effect and impact.
So We Need It, But What Do We Do About It?
Too often we are distracted by abstract buzzwords that must be rooted in practical need and ability. Social can doom a campaign in ways that we never imagined, but it can also elevate a campaign in ways that nothing else can. With great risk comes great reward, and delightfully, our business doesn't shy away from risk too often — right?
Sometimes it’s funny (or Kafkaesque) how difficult it can be to get a single line of copy approved, and other times — from the various social media faux pas we have all witnessed — it’s warranted. It is clear though that brands with a voice, a point of view and great attention to detail can cover a lot of ground, respond well to their audience and engender good will.
The point is, social can be a great place to test a vision and a voice. Or it can be used to focus attention in places it’s either too costly or not as compelling to bother using other tactics. This is the precipice where campaigns and agencies need to be judged. The balancing of it all is greater than the sum of its parts.
The bottom line is that social needs attention, and it can’t necessarily be scheduled or slotted in. Quick reactions to opportunities and immediate responses are major cultural shifts for agencies, but they offer more compelling opportunities.
Practice Makes Perfect
Practice social by building up an approach to handling the oddest of odd cases that seem to strike when you least expect it. This doesn’t need to apply only to social; if an agency is going to invest in the future, they also need to look at how they can apply a quick reactive solution to as many opportunities as possible. This is mostly a cultural change, and not an easy one having lived and worked primarily in the advertising-as-reaction-to-client-by-campaign world. There are obvious opportunities missed in this approach, and that is really the heart of what I am writing about. Agencies are fortunate in their positioning to be able to see the landscape and shape it for themselves and their clients. Social media is that opportunity, which has yet to be defined.
People dreaded digital a decade ago. The fears and the hype were wildly overblown, similar to TV when it was introduced. Social is a practice that isn't going away, and it would be fantastic to start seeing people give it a fair shake and watch how far things like storytelling and our craft can truly evolve with it rather than alongside it.
Social is like a canary in a coal mine — if used properly, it can help make your work stick. If you take your eyes off it, you could wind up losing more than just your next campaign.