The Last Temptation Of Social Media

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There’s a growing lesson for big brands in Social Media.

Unless you own the platform (like a Blog, Podcast or your own, personal, online social network), ensure that everything else is a channel for you to connect and not the entire platform. In a world where Facebook has close to one billion users and a day’s worth of video is being uploaded to YouTube every sixty seconds, it is tempting for brands to forgo their own spaces and just do everything within someone else’s environment… it’s dangerous.

Direct relationships.

In a more simplistic way: if everything you do happens on Twitter, who owns the direct relationship with the consumer? You or Twitter? The answer may not be as simple as you think. While you are the one interfacing with people, and they know your brand, should you want to move that moment of engagement elsewhere, you really can’t. Twitter owns the data, analytics and information behind it. There’s nothing wrong with that… it is their business model, but too many brands are falling into the vortex of not differentiating between a channel of communication and ownership of the platform.

It’s also not a zero-sum game.

There will be instances where the value of leveraging a network of connected people (in places like Google +, Pinterest, Facebook, etc…) makes sense as a sort of mini-platform (a quick contest or to test out a new product innovation), but ownership of the direct relationship will become an increasingly important element to maintain as Social CRM becomes a much more prevalent part of the marketing equation. What we’re talking about isn’t the surface engagement that everyone sees on a day to day basis, but all of the data and information that lies behind it.

The Last Temptation of Social Media.

It is the success of Social Media that created this beast, but step back and ask yourself this question: what makes YouTube, Facebook or Twitter any different from the initial portal plays of AOL and Yahoo back in the day? It’s not hard to argue that the online social networks of today have fundamentally taken on this role and their walled gardens are more impenetrable than their predecessors. The Last Temptation of Social Media is for brands to give up and relinquish that information, engagement and data over to these third-parties. Brands must be vigilant. The problem with this vigilance is that it doesn’t seem like the terms of service agreements between the users and the these online platforms is going to change any time soon. In fact, it will probably never sway in favor of the brand. The last thing consumers will want to know is that their data is now being shared to "third-parties" by these online social networks. You’ll note that any time data has been shared between a Social Media channel and a third-party, there is total upheaval in the online channels because it is a core breach of their agreement with the users.

What’s a brand to do?

Build a better brand narrative. Create engaging and real experiences for consumers. Then, leverage Social Media as a channel to share, connect and tell your stories in new and different ways. Scott Stratten (author of the best-selling business book, UnMarketing, and a well-documented Twitter celebrity) is the first to admit that by building his platform through Twitter, he is at risk. Twitter must maintain its popularity and growth for him to benefit from it, and should Scott ever change his mind about how he connects to the people that matter to him, he suddenly has to figure out how to get those one hundred thousand-plus followers to now go where he is (not easy). Should Scott even be able to make that happen, all of that historical information and data is not his to take, use or even look at. The temptation for brands is to initiate their marketing tactics where the people are (which is smart), but the long-term outcome of these activities could well be that the brands do not have the data and insights of their own, direct, relationships (which is very bad). This is the digital marketing equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face. The challenge (and you always know that there is always a challenge) is the hard work it takes to actually get that direct relationship with the consumer on your own terms… and your own platform. Part of the solution to this challenge is to always ask yourself if you’re using Social Media as one of your channels to extend the brand narrative or as the entire platform.

What’s your take on this issue?


  1. Mitch,
    I *completely* agree! You need to control your own destiny and OWN your content. As you said, use all the social media services as distribution channels for your content and for places in which to engage in conversations. But keep your content under your own control. Drive everything as much as possible back to sites under your control where YOU can gather the analytics and retain the connections.
    Beyond the analytics and the customer info, security/availability is also a concern. If you rely on a third-party like Twitter or Facebook, you are at the mercy of their services and THEIR security and availability. It is out of your control.
    Plus, we don’t know what the next amazing service will be. Two or three years from now, will something new be the hottest platform around? And what will then happen with our investment of so much time into one of today’s platforms? Better in my book to control your own platform as a foundation and then extend your communication out into other channels… but always with a base from which you can extend into newer platforms.
    Definitely a critical topic… and one that it is so easy to forget as we all get caught up in chasing the bright shiny objects of new social services.

  2. “Ditto” to Dan’s comment “Drive everything as much as possible back to sites under your control where YOU can gather the analytics and retain the connections.” And Mitch…you practise what you preach…I scan Twitter every morning for insights and most every time I come to your posts I click through to Six Pixels. Simple yet effective strategy to build your brand. Marketers of any stripe should attempt to connect with their targets in as many platforms as possible and tbem drive them to their organization’s websites or blogs and capture informatilon there.

  3. This is a wonderful big picture perspective, my take away message is that newish Social Media efforts need to make their first steps on the carpetted floors of Facebook and Twitter. They are 365/24/7 tradeshows custom made to start the conversation. Thanks, and see you in the lounge for a Manhattan to compare USB powered branded keychains.

  4. Mitch, great insight into this, and I definitely echo Robin and Dan’s comments. It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the popular platforms we are so used to today will always be there (and be popular) as long as we need them. Look at the recent example of MySpace…its fate was sealed when Facebook came along and did the job better than MySpace ever did.
    This reality is something I know I will keep in mind while building out my own strategy for marketing my fledgling business and with my clients as well.

  5. Let’s be honest for a second: just because you own the platform doesn’t mean you have a brand narrative that connects with anyone.
    You actually have to pry your potential customer’s attention away from the platforms and portals where they WANT to spend their time to the content and branding that you want them to consume.
    We’re entering an era where the brand narrative has to be platform agnostic. It can’t be just on your website or blog…it has to transcend that and connect with your consumer or potential consumer on whatever platform or screen they are on.
    If that’s the case, how they connect with you is less important than the fact that they connect with you.
    Take Scott Stratten’s case as an example: building his relationships on Twitter has allowed him to build his business, write a book, get speaking engagements, etc…but the relationships are his, not Twitters.
    If Twitter dies tomorrow, will Scott’s brand really be impacted, or will his “tribe” seek him out no matter which platform he’s on?
    The brand narrative is the key.

  6. Completely agreed. I also think Dan’s got the right idea. The right way to go about things is to use Facebook, Twitter, LI and G+ to drive customers back to your content on your website, where you control the analytics and data. I’m seeing a lot of businesses who just say “Why do I need a website, when I can do everything with Facebook?” and that is a dangerous path to head down for the reasons that you stated.

  7. Mitch,
    I was fortunate enough to run across your podcasts about six months ago and have great appreciation for your views. I’m glad you dedicated an entire blog post to it.
    Are we on the same page with the definition of Social Media? I believe it includes the direct relationship of a brand to its’ customers if that channel utilizes similar techniques as social networks. That is, a brand’s online community IS (or could be) a Social Media channel, no?
    Next, I think your title could be “The First Temptation of Social Media”. Instead of recognizing emerging trends and adjusting existing CRM channels, some saw it as a separate effort. They hired unique groups of people to mange the external channels rather then enhancing or establishing new, direct channels using social media techniques.
    Maybe it’s because of a division of responsibilities (silos) within some of the brands. Is it a given that Social Media Directors have the authority to help enhance existing direct communication channels? Or, are existing channels even capable to applying social techniques? If not, do Social Media Directors have the authority of creating new direct channels? To do so they need cross-departmental support, funds, resources and IT help or they will never be able to get off the ground. In other words, it either takes upper-management direction or a very persuasive Social Media Director. Or, perhaps, an external expert like yourself! Keep up the great work!

  8. One of the bigger shifts now is based on sheer mass and volume. I think Twitter and Facebook make it increasingly difficult to leave because of how many people are there and connected. This may seem like panacea to brands, but it could cloud the brand’s judgement in terms of understanding the opportunities during a marketing initiative.

  9. My philosophy is very similar to what I heard Jeff Jarvis say about newspapers: do what I do best and link to the rest. I would only add on that what I do best, I try to maintain the content and platform.

  10. I don’t think that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are going anywhere any time soon, that was not the intent of this post: I was simply to highlight that with so many people there, you may be tempted to do everything there… and that’s where I caution. I think they are great channels for awareness and engagement, but the opportunity is much bigger than that.

  11. Ask many musicians and bands how they felt about that, exact, strategy in a post MySpace world. They basically lost everything… not because they did anything wrong, it’s just that MySpace changed. All of that data and information… gone… poof (unless their fans were still there, but many did abandon).

  12. Completely understood Mitch; still, I think it’s a good ancillary cautionary tale. No matter what we think today, any platform on the ‘net is subject to becoming obsolete quicker than we can possibly react. Twitter and Facebook may very well be here and relevant 20 years from now, but I’d be willing to wager that something else will be the “next big thing” sooner than later.

  13. Yes, the brand narrative, and the relationship you have with your fans and prospects, are paramount.
    However, it does matter where you engage with your community.
    Like Mitch says, if you put all your eggs in a platformed owned by others you are at risk if the platform falters. The real question is, who owns the relationship with your fans? Although the article doesn’t state it this way, the bigger question is, when do you create your own community space, and when do you use others’?
    Getting the analytics regarding your community interactions is one thing. Owning the community space, like Intuit and Microsoft (their MVP program) is another, I think better, thing.
    So should brands’ social media end games be proprietary, branded community spaces?

  14. I’ve been having this conversation with a lot of clients and potential clients lately. Some of the solo entrepreneurs I work with don’t have a lot of web presence to begin with and are now tempted to do everything through Facebook, etc. because it’s “free”. There’s also a consultant in my area who teaches “how to use Facebook for your business” classes and I hear this person has been encouraging people to do everything through their Facebook page, even e-commerce. I’ve been trying to reinforce the message that social media is not a final destination for your traffic. It’s simply one additional way to get people familiar with your business and eventually call, email, join your list, buy from your website, etc.
    I love the MySpace/bands analogy – I’m going to start using that as an example if you don’t mind!

  15. Great post Mitch. And I love the insightful comments from your devoted followers. This whole debate reminds me of the fable about the frog and scorpion. It’s worth a quick read.

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