Purist versus corporatist. That’s what Shel Israel and Josh Bernoff are arguing about right now. Josh says that neither side will prevail, but rather some hybrid of the two will result.
So it is no sin to conceive, create, and deploy a corporate social
application. If you have a clear objective and can measure it, you are
even likely to succeed. Just recognize that you must start from
authenticity, it’s a dialogue, and that the social world cannot be
controlled. The companies I work with are starting to do this. It’s not
impossible — in fact, it’s the beginning of an incredible
transformation. And their participation won’t kill the groundswell, it
will make it richer.
Likely so, though I think he overlooks the most compelling reason which I will discuss below. But my friend Shel disagrees:
If his implication is that corporations can treat social media as
another traditional brand extender, as another place to push messages
into the foreheads of people who do not want them, I agree that
companies are free to try.
But I think it’s bad advice. It just will not work. It’s not about purism. It’s about pragmatism.
And he’s right, too … except only as it applies to people like us. What all of us who effectively act as social media evangelists must understand is we are not normal. An absurdly small minority of the American public has any desire to join in the "naked conversations" popularized by Shel and Robert Scoble.
That doesn’t mean that authenticity and listening aren’t important. Clearly they are. But a significant portion of consumers are just fine with marketing. They may say they dislike it, just as they say they hate "negative" political advertising, but the bottom line is that both work. And that isn’t going to change anytime soon.
Look beyond your immediate circle and find out how many people you know regularly participate in the "conversation" by posting reviews, commenting on blogs, or creating social media themselves. It just isn’t that large a number. What we all create will certainly be read by a number of people, but it is likely that corporate marketing messages will continue to be seen by more people for the foreseeable future.
Think about your own activities. Do you turn to social media before buying cereal or shampoo or clothing? Or are you more likely to respond to advertising and other corporate messaging? Chances are, you respond to marketing yourself on a daily basis, perhaps without even knowing it.
And despite the distaste so many proclaim for TV advertising and the proclamations that the medium is dead thanks to Tivo and other DVR’s, the fact is that we all still hear and often discuss advertising marketing messages. They still seep through.
Companies should continue to take social media seriously, however, because those who have chosen to join the conversation are likely to be more vocal and cultivate an important audience for or against a product. But the significance of these conversations are still at their very earliest stages. Despite widespread dissatisfaction with Wal-Mart and its policies online, millions of people still shop there and the company remains successful. Strong disapproval of Target’s approach to bloggers brought some calls to boycott the company, but I don’t see the lines getting any shorter there. When I used to frequent woodworking message boards, there was great disdain for Home Depot (referred to frequently as the BORG — big organge retail giant) yet it, too, keeps on selling to the vast majority of consumers.
For smaller brands, the impact can be more immediate. Certainly in my own companies I have seen the value of participating in the social media conversation. And the significance will likely grow over time, even for the larger brands. But ultimately there will still remain a place for more controlled marketing.