The Social Element Is Everywhere

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There’s a saying that likes to dance around the Internet. It goes something like this: "all media is social media."

That’s not entirely true. Media (or anything) only becomes social when there is an opportunity for those who are consuming it to react back at it with some kind of interaction. You can still use the Internet (or even the telephone) as a broadcasting channel. The thing is, by doing so in a world where people are getting more and more used to having an interaction back and forth with their digital media channels, the more anti-social a brand can look.

What does that really mean?

  • If people can leave comments, rate and share anything and everything on a website and your website does not allow that kind of interaction, what does that say?
  • If people can tweet about a brand (positive, negative or neutral) and get a response, but all you’re doing is broadcasting your specials and discounts, what does that say?
  • If your competitors have an iPhone app making it easier for their consumers to connect and get information and you don’t, what does that say?
  • If people see that brands are on Facebook and interacting with their consumers and you’re not, what does that say?
  • If people are posting video testimonials, reviews and unboxing of products and services, but there are none of yours, what does that say?
  • If people are talking about brands on Blogs and getting feedback in those comments from those brands, but you’re not listening or engaging on Blogs, what does that say?

Always remember…

When people can speak back, the social engagement is implicit.

What does that really mean?

You can avoid it. You can assume that it’s not important to your consumers. You can assume that your consumers are different. They’re not. Everything online and in the mobile space is social… even the broadcasting part (you can comment, rate, share and embed videos from YouTube, in case you haven’t been over there in the past little while). If you don’t offer that same type of functionality as people have come to expect in their day to day digital interactions, it’s not that you will be perceived as old or traditional, it’s that you are not meeting the bare expectations.

Doing it to just do it is not the answer either.

We’re closing out 2010. 2011 is going to be a big year for brands. It’s also going to be a very challenging year as more and more viable competitors enter the fray. Figuring out your online and digital marketing strategy going forward is critical. How your brand interacts with your consumers and meets (or how about exceeds!) their expectations is also going to be critical.

It’s going to be interesting to see which brands are really up for it.


  1. A crystal clear thoughts. Mitch, you inspire me a lot since I read your first book, Six Pixels of Separation 8 months ago. Keep it up and thanks

  2. I do agree that TV is not social media. It is one way media (at least in its present form).
    The confusion you mention is probably due to people mistaking social media for social artefacts. Even if TV is not the venue for the discussion about the media, the media on TV is still the focus of discussion.

  3. I agree completely. I have always maintained that brands are built by customers, not companies. When you give customers access to your brand, you allow them to define it for you, making you better for their lifestyle. You become a brand that solves a problem, not just sell a product. What is remarkable to me is how fast this is evolving. At just about the time when brands had the traditional platforms (TV, radio, newspaper) figured out, we went and threw all of them a big fat curveball. So they have to adapt to us now. And that’s great.

  4. Clear story and this is again a good definition of social media.
    Anthony, true, TV is media but not social media.
    Although there are programmes you can react with twitter and they show the tweets on the bottom of the screen during the programmes. To bad they don’t use the tweets as input for the programme.
    So by combining media, they can become social media.

  5. You are right there Mireille, I am interested in seeing if we start to have those kinds of tools rolled into the viewing experience. Both Google and Apples TV platforms, at least in the near term, promise this capability. Even Xbox live has the hardware in place to go this way too.
    I actually wrote a brief post on this topic back in May, it is interesting where this might go

  6. Hi Mitch,
    Great post.
    I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people now expect to be able to interact. If I read a news story and there is no option to comment, I feel pretty miffed. If a site makes it hard for me to share the info I have just read, I don’t tend to go back. Like you say, if it can’t generate interaction, then it’s not social.
    Have a great holiday.

  7. Brands tend to do things because it’s the thing to do. Then, once they’re doing them, they tend to do them the way they’re used to doing everything else – from the strategy and creative to the metrics and results. Just because it’s a media, it doesn’t mean it’s all the same media.

  8. I’m not sure that I would agree that brands are built by consumers. I think consumers buy into brands, but the brands are built by companies. It’s definitely a mutually beneficial relationship when both parties are engaged. That’s for sure.

  9. Some shows do have tweets running at the bottom, etc… I think it’s important to say that television is a very social media. People watch it, they talk about it on the phone while’s it’s happening, Blogs are written about it, friends text each other and tweet it. They go online and look at a website.
    We may need to define when a media acts in an interactive way vs. a passive way, but TV is highly social. Haven’t you ever been around the water cooler after something exciting has been on TV?

  10. Much like we have seen reflected in the PR surrounding successful social media campaigns. There are references to number of participants, of shares, retweets, impressions and so on.
    Personally I think the intersection between social media and broadcast media will be bringing the watercooler conversations you refered to in another comment into the open. Hashtags on twitter are a great example of this behavior. Online communities from forums through to facebook groups based around content like shows and franchises is another.
    The interesting question here is how should media and brands respond to commentary? After all, there will always be commentary, the only question is where and who is watching?
    I work with a product, and not media, but we as a brand can’t bring anything more to the conversations happening about us online than our more passionate customers can. Most of the time, we stay away from the conversation, letting it happen without our input. I feel that we would not have the same impact as a user, even if we were both saying the same thing.
    Have a great break, and enjoy the holidays too, by the way.
    Thanks for all the content throughout 2010

  11. Regarding brands and consumers, I think we’re both saying the same thing, but using different words. Starbucks, for example, may put out a suggestion on a new type of drink. They interact with Facebook fans to learn whether it’s viable. Enough interaction leads to brand development through products and services, and fans/customers tout that the brand “listened.” The company sets the brand boundaries, surely, but within that, they offer a degree of freedom for the customers to engage with the company and each other. That’s where I see the strength in engagement.

  12. “Most of the time, we stay away from the conversation, letting it happen without our input.”
    There’s no doubt that allowing your most passionate customers to evangelize your brand for you can be valuable, but I would hesitate to go so far as to simply let it happen without any input or interaction. Brand/Product evangelists want the interaction, IMO. They want to know that their voice is being heard, and that the brand is listening and acting upon it, even if it’s just to thank them.
    One of our seven pillars of our blog is “Consumers Control Brands” which is only slightly tongue-in-cheek. The power is certainly shifting, and we like to point out those shifts, but as Mitch said previously brands are built by companies. Like a dog-sled driver, he appears to be following the lead of the dogs, but he’s truly steering them as a whole. Companies should be monitoring the conversation around their brand but ensure that the brand story remains in tact.

  13. One addition –
    Not to say that brands can control the conversation. They can’t, or at least shouldn’t try to. Bad form, I think. I envision the brand elbowing their way into a conversation and saying “Hey, that new Widget really improves throughput, eh??” It’s not organic.
    Instead, ensure that they’re marketing themselves in a way that appropriately tells that story. If consumers are talking about the brand in the wrong way, brands need to react appropriately on their end to find out why the conversations are going in the wrong direction and how they can retrieve brand story accuracy.

  14. Agreed. I haven’t found any research on this but I know for online forms/donations more than 2 required fields and involvement starts to drop. I’d assume it’s the same for comments. In today’s world with OpenID, Facebook connect, Twitter API’s and things like Disqus it really should be easier than it is on most blogs.

  15. I really like the conversation.
    I also agree in this. It takes a lot of effort to sign-up just to post a comment. It doesn’t have to like this anymore.
    Thanks for opening up this kinds of topic!

  16. Thanks for the response Jon, we do have a few branded spaces in social networks where we do respond directly to our customers as well. The conversation is actually happening outside of these areas through. I find that most of it is in topic specific forums, and the occasional descriptive mention on blogs. The majority of the time there is nothing we can add that would actually improve the conversation.
    Where I seek to move our social media policy is to providing content to help to frame the conversations that already happen. Provide them something to talk about that is linked to a point of our brand identity that we want to promote.
    We have been lucky as a brand in that the conversation held by key markets is usually positive. The biggest challenge as I see it is a tendancy in the market towards comoditisation our product.
    I think this is because we still need to make a good case for why they should care.

  17. It depends on the conversation, brand and the type of engagement that makes sense for the strategy. The tragedy here is to create one kind of metric as a baseline for everyone.
    That makes no sense to me in this brave new world.

  18. Two thoughts:
    1. Figure out the strategy and the level of the brand’s engagement first.
    2. Spend time feeling out the community to see if your strategy is in alignment with how the community receives your engagement.

  19. … but there are plenty of brands (of course, Apple comes to mind) who simply do what they do and they allow the community to say/do what they want without it really having any direct impact on the brand innovation.
    There are many sides to this story… to be sure.

  20. So long as it fits their over-arching corporate strategy and it’s tied to business objectives. To do it, just to do it is not worth it – that being said, the expectation for this type of functionality is there.

  21. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve never bothered to leave a comment because of registration. That being said, I hate being a “market of one”, so I could well be in the minority and this sort of thing doesn’t bother anyone else.

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