Not the worst kind of feedback you can get. Scott Stratten heard Jay Baer’s interview with me on Convince & Convert and phoned me up to get more input because he wanted to talk about the Maersk Line case in his keynote at the B2B Marketing Forum in Amsterdam, 20 March 2012.
When embarking on social media most companies ask themselves: “What do we get out of this? What’s the ROI? And how do we measure it?”
While this kind of thinking seems reasonable, and quite logical too, I believe it also poses a big problem for most companies, not least B2B companies where an actual conversion is often far away.
Actually, I have reason to believe that today hard metrics are hampering at least every second B2B social media programme around the world. Why? Because hard metrics force the companies down a path that’s too rigid and focused on short-term success.
While the discussion of what success means in a social context is often neglected social media managers end up navigating according to hard metrics with limited ability to manoeuver and be creative, i.e. find new ways that add value.
Writing the script as we go along
Let’s backtrack a bit and ask ourselves what kind of rules or logic we should apply when engaging in social media: Is it business rules or social rules?
The answer is evident: Business rules don’t apply. Social media is about the users connecting, and companies rely on the users’ mercy.
So it must be social rules then, right?
No, not really. Because there are no rules for how to be social. As Darwin taught us, the world is changing constantly, and we as human beings therefore need to improvise, not least when it comes to being social.
We need to write the manuscript as we go along.
This goes to tell that there’s a basic creativity aspect in our lives: We’re creating the social in every now, and we need to be creative in order to be successful in social life.
Translating this into a company’s social media engagement means that creativity and ability to improvise is necessary in order to engage successfully. Plans and measurements only make sense insofar they improve our ability to perform “social creativity”.
Here, creativity doesn’t mean something strange or even mad. It’s something we all do. Creativity is when we create something new that adds value in the given situation or context.
An end in itself
You might even claim that “social creativity” is the true engine behind the progress of mankind. Our social nature and structure is what has made us successful (“we did it together”), and being social is therefore an end in itself.
In other words, the ultimate goal with any social media campaign must ‘simply’ be to create new and better ways to be social. And in that scheme of things soft (qualitative) metrics are much more valuable than the hard (quantitative) ones.
Last week I was phoned up by Janus Boye who is the CEO and founder J. Boye “the international community for web & internet professionals”. In other words, a quite influential blogger on things like internet and not least social media.
Maybe it’s due to the fact that Janus is a Dane, but he had nevertheless noticed the recent success of Maersk Line within social media. And he found it to be interesting and even surprising, given the fact that Maersk Line is a B2B company in a quite conservative industry. The background being that B2B companies have struggled for years to find meaning in and reasons to engage with social media.
In a way, we in Maersk Line have somehow succeeded in paving the way for other B2B companies. Quite flattering if you think about it. And maybe stretching it a bit too far.
From the early topic-based Internet to the egocentric digital network connecting people rather than homepages. In a few words, that’s the development we’ve witnessed the past 15-20 years. But what’s next? And what if we look ten years ahead?
This can only be a game of qualified guessing. It’s a cliché… but we never know exactly what lies ahead. Or to quote Jim Morrison: “The future’s uncertain and the end is always near”. A statement you cannot argue with.
But returning to the topic of the future of social media you could say, as Austen Mayor does on socialmediatoday.com, that we’re already in the future: “social media as an industry is very well versed and experienced.”
However, there’s no doubt that we’ll see social media and web-network technologies grow immensely the next two years. There’s plenty of room for improvements and growth. Geolocation is one prominent area where we’ve only seen the beginning.
Augie Ray discusses this issue in this interesting interview:
And ten years from now?
If we look ten years ahead the way of interacting and communicating introduced by social media will be the standard. Simply because the decisions makers in societies will be part of a generation where social media is the DNA.
This also entails that technology will become more sophisticated and almost invisible.
We tend to forget it but technology is not a goal in itself, only a means to an end. And the ‘end’ is ‘the community’, i.e. a network that enables us to connect with each other in more optimal, efficient and meaningful ways.
For companies, marketers etc. this will mean a move away from ‘channel thinking’ towards ‘relationship thinking’. We’re already talking about relationship building, and has been for a number of years, but the ‘channel thinking’ is still pre-dominant. Today, it seems no one disagrees with the need for multi-channel approaches.
But the channel thinking is basically sign of us still being at a early stage of the evolution of social media. Let’s hope we can pass that stage one day not too far away.
Three stages/decades visualized
Below you find three visuals describing the three stages mentioned above.
1) The early technology-oriented and topic-centered years with homepages, AltaVista.com etc. (the 90’s)
2) Web 2.0 and the rise of social media (the 00’s) (companies on the sideline)
3) Technology made invisible, network prevails, companies are an integrated part of the network (targeted messages, less or no mass communication) (the 10’s?)
I just came across Fred Cavazza’s updated overview of the social media landscape. By mapping the main players in/on the field and studying user behavior across the various channels, an actual center has now formed, according to Cavazza. And in the center we find… Google and Facebook.
To most, this is probably not very surprising. However, when you think about it, his new landscape model alters our standard perception of Facebook as ‘merely’ being a place where people can connect and share details about their lives via updates, posts, likes, movies, photos etc.
Facebook is becoming more like Google. The place where you start your digital journey. A form of navigator.
A new way to navigate
Why is it so? For two reasons, I suppose. 1) Because of the sheer size of the media/network (more than 750 million users); 2) Because the users are getting more and more accustomed to navigate according to social recommendations and interactions (“my friend is doing this and that, so I will do the same and check out what this link or story is all about”).
(It’s surely not because of the search engine functionalities of Facebook. They are not worth talking about, as far as I can see. But again, that’s due to media’s dependence on its social structure.)
So the user behavior is changing towards using social recommendations as a first step.
The end of the portal?
I can understand why. Google is so objective in it’s suggestions (in spite of Adwords, SEO etc.) that you need to be pre-occupied with something in order to benefit from it. You basically need to know what you’re looking for, in advance.
However, it’s not that we don’t need Google any more. Unlike many others, I don’t see Google and Facebook as competitors.
Those who should be worried about this behavioral change driven by Facebook are portals, news sites and similar, i.e. the sites users would normally go to in order to get updated on what’s going on in the world. And in order to get entertained.
A wake-up call for B2B companies…
Moreover, this tendency should underline the importance for companies to be present on e.g. Facebook. Many companies are of course already there, but most B2B companies still continue to struggle to see why it’s relevant for them. And how they can benefit.
So here’s the answer: Facebook has become the starting point for many, many users. And it’s therefore difficult to apply a multi-channel approach without a decent Facebook Page.
Please bear with me, I believe it does make some sort of sense in the context of this site and its overall digital theme.
I must admit my thoughts on the importance of avoiding typos and silly mistakes have changed during the past decade. Back then, ten years ago, a grammatical error was a source of shame for me. And my fear of erroneous writing could even wake me up in the middle of the night and make me go check if this and that in my latest writing was spelled correctly.
During my studies at the university I was even hired as proof-reader on Weekendavisen, a respected Danish weekly. One of the paper’s prominent writers, Arne Hardis, gave me a small tour around the newspaper and introduced me to their way of working.
At one point, in his office, he said: “I always look up the words. It’s the only way you can make sure the language doesn’t erode. But, you know, I’m the only one in here who does that. That’s why we need someone like you. All these highly esteemed writers, they think they don’t need to. They think they’re too good to make errors. They can’t be bothered by dictionaries.”
As it turned out, he was right. And I was stunned by the amount of errors in their articles. And proud that I could help them out.
Later on, when I myself began writing for the newspaper, it was sometimes overwhelmingly difficult. Fear of failure. Vanity. Call it what you will. It was there all the time. Not to the degree that I couldn’t write. But I believe I was somehow tied up by the grammatical minefield I envisioned right there in front of me.
Then later, when moving on to become a copywriter on a digital agency, my approach changed. Now, it was no longer about my own vanity. I was not the named author. I was the machine behind the words. It became about making the texts work. To make them do their job. And in that process you get more occupied by the content and the literary effects than grammatical errors.
It also has something to do with the speed of the digital media. The online users are less patient and less demanding. They browse. They are restless. So you need to catch their attention. Not necessarily with fancy puns and wordplays, but by telling a story. It’s less wordy. It’s less grammatical correctness.
So to wrap it up, what I found within the genre of digital writing was two things: 1) A freer tone-of-voice, enabling me to “take it as it comes” and play around; 2) A shorter and stronger prose directed by a clear purpose, focusing only on what works (and not necessarily on what I like).
I ask myself: What would be interesting to know more about? What’s going on out there that I would want to know, but don’t know yet?
And so it all begins.
Let’s start with social media. I would like to know more about the social media landscape globally. I would like to get to the bottom of this phenomenon.
First, is it a phenomenon, or is it just a name for the way digital medias are organised today, i.e. user-centric? How does the social media landscape look globally? What does it mean for our lives? And what does it truly mean in terms of the way we communicate with each other? What kind of implications does it have for companies? And where are we heading?
Based on that, it would be far easier to grasp the current state of the social media phenomenon. And to come to terms with the future developments.
That being said, the digital landscapes are characterized by their ever-changing nature. New ideas and developments happen at such a high speed that we all need to filter them in order to make some sort of sense of it.
And that’s a theme by itself: Transformation. The speed of life has increased dramatically during the past decade.
Eternal acceleration is of course not a universal truth. Take the area of storytelling, for example. Here, the good old discipline of telling a story that’s engaging, beautiful, erotic, humorous, exciting, scary, surprising, empathetic etc. is as promising and necessary as ever. Even though the possibilities and premises for telling a story has changed with the availability of new digital medias, techniques, equipment and ways of communicating.
So there’s still plenty to explore within the storyteller’s field.
For example: What is the key to successful online storytelling? What can we hope to achieve by telling a story? Has the anatomy of storytelling changed? Is it changing all the time, or will “the good story” remain forever young?
The answer to some of the latter questions might seem obvious, to some. And to me, I think.
But closure is a thing of the past. Today, we need to re-open all the thoughts and notions we have on a specific topic. It must change. And it does.
Maybe that’s one of the biggest achievements of the digital world. That it has emphasized the fact that nothing is dead.
We inhabit a world full of both opportunity and risk. It’s wide open.
This site is meant as a place where I can accumulate and keep track of my work with communications in the digital age.
It’s a well-known fact that we need to filter, process, reflect and not least articulate in order to make the most of what we experience. Or as David Bowie states in the song “Fantastic Voyage” from his album Lodger (1979): “I got to write it down, but I’m still being educated.” I would re-phrase that and say “because we’re being educated every day.”
So what, more specifically, is it that I’m writing down on this site?
Broadly speaking, it’s research, insights, reflections and ideas regarding the ever-changing digital landscapes that most of us are somehow trying to manoeuvre our way through on a daily basis.
For me, it’s also an integral part of my daily job as chief copywriter on a medium-sized digital agency in Copenhagen, Denmark. A job that’s basically about providing strategy, concept and content (copy, film) for the various digital communication channels, e.g. social media, websites and apps.