Friday, November 20, 2009

More than meets the eyeballs: seeing differences through social media

Much is made of growth. Growth is about energy and possibility. It's heady, exciting, and fun. In life, growth defers hard questions about the future to...the future. Which, for some, has the distinct advantage of always being tomorrow.

In business, likewise, growth sings a siren song of temptation...putting off hard questions about profitability, efficiency, and change in the name of doing it, scaling up, gaining critical mass! People jump on the bandwagon, join the fad, and ask each other "hey, have you seen and heard?". Marketing is genius when growth is the mode.  And this all works...until it doesn't. What then?

Take social media. Here's Compete's comparison chart of 12 month's traffic for Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

What's notable isn't that Facebook continues to grow. Rather, what seems notable is that MySpace is in essentially the same place it was back in February 09. It ceased to grow sometime ago...and now it seems to have stopped shrinking. Of note, it has double the unique visitors of the now-flatlining Twitter.

The stats are here to make one point only: Growth is good, but it seldom lasts forever: and when it stops, that's when marketing gets harder.

What about that isn't obvious?

Danah Boyd has an article in the November issue of Interactions titled "Implications of User Choice: The cultural logic of MySpace or Facebook?" The article speaks to what isn't always obvious in marketing's social media embrace: there is more to marketing online than meets the eyeballs.

Though not specifically addressing marketing, Boyd's interviews and research illustrate the many ways online audiences define themselves and how these definitions affect where they engage with social media: often in different terms than marketers use.

For instance, how many Nielsen or MRI reports identify social media audiences as Wangsta's, Emo's, or Honors kids for instance? And yet, it's precisely this type of engagement around cultural differences that is driving many choices about social media selections among teenagers. Is it such a stretch to think that an adult accountant by day might be a hipster online?

So What?

The promise of teh interwebz has been described, among other ways, as a great force for democratization of communication.  Online, noone knows your a dog. Or a dork. Well, ok, you can probably figure that out pretty easily.

The good marketers take steps to avoid letting their own biases drive decisions about who and where their customers are online. They recognize that their brands have to be wherever their prospects are...and in a context that reflects who they are's not so much the other way around.

It's easy to see a world of hip, middle income, early adopters using iPhones to update their Facebook Walls, clicking on ads when that's you. It's important to remember that customers online engage with others around powerful long-tail self definitions of their own making. Definitions that may look nothing like what we see in the mirror.

And that's when marketing through social media gets harder than it already is. Because growth isn't a's an outcome. And eventually, when growth flattens, every one of those self-defining prospects + customers becomes precious.

Question is, were you there for them...and did they see themselves in you?

1 comment:

  1. I'm tellin' ya, FB is hot! Great article.