Monday, August 4, 2008

OnlineSpin: Don't Say New: Digital Delivers On What We are Calling 'Social Media'

Last week Seana Mulcahy wrote "School's Out; Shopping's In."

Paula Lynn wrote in response, "Ya gotta touch it to see how it feels, how it sounds, how it goes together, how big/small it really is, what the store specials are, what else will be needed and not realized, SHOPPING (even the boys don't want mom's yukky stripes she thinks is masculine), get more even stuff they donÂ't need when it's there.

My favorite designers are sale and clearance. Yours, too?"

Thom Dinsdale wrote, "I guess that as online and offline shopping become both equally valid options from a pragmatic point of view, consumers will differentiate the two from an emotional point.

The fact that shopping online is so easy means that buying something offline is all the more emotionally rewarding."

Monday, August 4, 2008
Don't Say New: Digital Delivers On What We are Calling 'Social Media'
By Kendall Allen

It's common sentiment among the digiterati: social media is not new. The core truth of course is that "new media," tossed around since easily the '90s, has always been a misnomer itself. And today it is outright outdated.  Social Media, with a capital S and a capital M, however does represent one of the most dynamic and true opportunities to really begin tapping the power of digital. This dawns on us as we see digital marketing, community, content and trans-media storytelling, technology, and an array of mature platforms, start to conspire like never before.

 So while we digital gray hairs knowingly chuckle that social media is "oh, just not so new" -- I find a few areas of activity, advancement and remarkable playfulness worth calling out as signs of more digital goodness to come.

First, a look in the rearview. Just moments beyond the super-precursor that is the listserv, the early years of content and community online -- message boards, chat rooms, online auditoriums -- foreshadowed today's digital hilt. I helped launch an AOL/Time Inc. joint venture, Thrive Online, back in the mid-'90s. This was one of the first content and community sites on the Web in all its wideness. Built as a dual-platform "experience" on health & wellness, we drove an AOL member site and a site on Pathfinder (correct), cross-pollinating programming, consumer interaction and traffic flow. 

 Before we hired a remote staff, I used to monitor chat rooms in my PJs and issue TOS warnings at ungodly hours, moderate virtual auditoriums and all kinds of other strange but pioneering things in "community online." I remember talking one of my print magazine elder stateswoman friends - a well-known food writer and editor - into coming to our offices and conducting a live chat called, "Turkey Talk," about Thanksgiving. Of course I had to ply her with quite a bit of wine. But, this type of session was an interactive hit and represented one form of our growing consumer dialogue. We would steer programming based on what went on in those chat rooms night after night -- or what we gleaned from the message boards. There were numerous companies up to similar things, as the years went on, paving the way for some of the most lasting foundational trends in play today.

Of course it would not be long before online community bred "social media sites" and things like IM and chat opened the door to new forms of photo, file and content sharing. Also not long before rich media became entry-level stuff - and in fact took on new life, as new creative formats, video utility and sharing entered the scene full-force.

Looking forward. Whenever you are able to take a step back from your practice, it's key to ponder how any medium and method comes of age - and then commit to progress. The lazy will look at digital and provide a litany of options to their clients or teams - rattling off that we will "do" a little rich media display advertising, SEM, leverage online networks, build some "targeted" microsites, implement video sharing, chat, file sharing, blah blah. Oh, and maybe we will build a game. This kind of banter reminds me of a certain ilk of radio commercial I hear out on the North Fork. One in particular is for a local Mexican restaurant, and the announcer quite literally lists every darn thing on the menu to entice you to come into the place. "And then, we also have tacos. And manchego. And burritos." And so on. It's bad.

Digital is everywhere. So, just as we have seen the growing up of "Content and Community" online to become today's iteration of "Social Media" -- I would argue that digital is more than just lists of options; it is everywhere. And, digital gives Social Media an amazing opportunity to have its day. A new depth and dynamism is possible.

1. Harnessing of digital identity for brand notoriety. As brands and individuals realized the power - it could be truly leveraged. While it is true that we have seen lame use of social media by brands, or maverick misuse by celebrity individuals, there have been some exciting success stories. For example: the wrapping of various social utilities around podcast programming and downloadable media to truly extend an entertainment brand; the use of Facebook to propagate a new community and then parlay it to other forums once outsized; the dexterous use of Twitter and the tapping of the blogosphere to perpetuate the cult of personality. Check out the press release detailing the retirement of Jason Calacanis from blogging: It illuminates the power, for better or for worse. Satire maybe, or not.

2. State of the toolbox and experiential marketing.  The consumer has increased power to control social media - met by a greater focus by marketers on actually developing and programming to that control. The quality of today's toolbox, the means that exist for sharing, communicating and building relationships and immersive, connective social media experiences, are at an all-time high. We are seeing movement beyond the usual suspects and reinforcement for getting beyond the intrusive "app," encouraging marketers to provide consumers truly valuable social-media-building assets. Everyone benefits from the higher state of the tool. Marketers who get it, will truly be able to leverage digital to create immersive, experiential relationships with their brands. And this does not mean just building a game.

3. Optimization of social media - seriously. It's happening. While there are all kinds of crazy propositions, inklings of baiting and more, there is some real attention being given to optimizing social media. Marketers are using bigger, established social media sites to drive traffic to custom microsites or deep-linked, well-optimized areas of their mother sites. People are using progressive commerce and community sites to build pages/profiles within the networks that rank well and drive product sales through additional points of entry. There is a greater emphasis within the blogosphere on optimization techniques centered around content management and publishing. These trends are everywhere.

As we embrace digital and all that it can do to deliver for our brands and drive the progress of community and social media, we will continue to fail and succeed along the way. But, just as this thing called social media is not new  -- digital's ability  to quickly course-correct is not new, either. Digital is nothing if not quick on its feet.

Kendall Allen is currently advising clients and partners on digital marketing and convergence media. Previously she was managing director of Incognito Digital, LLC, a boutique digital media agency and creative studio. She also held top posts at iCrossing and Fathom Online.

Online Spin for Monday, August 4, 2008:

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