Monday, November 24, 2008

Putting the "media" in social media.

As an up-and-coming media professional, and, admittedly, a sometimes flighty little person, I like to take a step back from time to time and have a think about the career path I’m currently skipping down. Especially when someone says something that gives me a jolt in regards to what it is I value about the profession. The kind of stuff that makes me go for a three-mile jaunt on the treadmill to clear my head and ask myself if I am out of my mind. What is it that I am doing with my time and brainpower? And why?

The topic in question is social media. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, linkedin, Flickr, Vimeo, what-have-you, the communication lifelines of the young and interactive. And lately, not even the young - just the interactive. The innovators, the influencers, the opinion leaders, along with pretty much anyone who has a computer and an internet connection – people are talking to people on the internet. Interaction via internet – and to think, it has only been 38 years since we walked on the moon (okay, I stole that, but it's funny). And, I find it quite surprising, or, ridiculous is another word, to hear media folks disregard the social media world as dumb, stalkeresque, time-consuming, childish, etcetera. Seriously?

What is media, really? Media, as a discipline, is many different things, but to me, it all boils down to creating a logical avenue for message delivery based on the psychology of an audience – it’s the precise artistry of lending credibility to the message per the target. Media is research, reporting, flighting, balance, budgeting and negotiation – and the sweat put into fine-tuning these items is for the purpose of perfecting our client’s channel of communication, and the communication itself, while we’re at it. We pour over syndicated research, we create storyfinders and build daypart analyses, we comb through SQAD and focus group findings in an effort to unravel the audience, to see how they think and breathe and go about their day – to determine how our otherwise insignificant message can reach them based on their raison d’ĂȘtre. We strive to show our audience that our message is credible and worthwhile to their lives because we understand them. Really, media, as with any other aspect of advertising, is people talking to people. And it is beyond confusing to me that people who like research, and want to understand people and how they dole out and accept communication, could disregard something as simple and useful as social media.

There are certainly less than desirable activities that take place surrounding social media. But at the core of the idea is a hothouse of basic media principles. Social media takes an abstract and slippery-to-track concept like communication and makes it tangible, measurable, and historical. It literally provides a concrete framework on how people communicate. It’s tracked and recorded in the catacombs of the interwebs. And, it’s free, simple, and brilliantly easy to study – just go play in it, to quote a friend. Sign up for accounts, find your friends and family, and start talking. Meet new people based on industry and interest groups. Download widgets and gadgets to change the way you use the applications, based on how you best communicate. Check out the other ways of looking at it, to see how others are communicating. Build feeds to keep everything in line and see what you want to see of what others are posting. Really, it’s an incredible wealth of information and insight, and it’s easy and fun. How better to understand how people communicate than by taking part?

And the value as media vehicle - people have historically devalued blogs, social apps, things of this nature in media planning. Clients want to stay far away from social media, because it is unpredictable. But people are unpredictable - communication reflecting life, go figure. These avenues are where people are seeking out credible messages, because this is where they are talking. Obviously it will not necessarily make sense to use social media in a plan, but to not even consider it when determining media strategy is to overlook an incredibly potent vehicle of human communication.

As media buffs, we are in the business of talking to people. How can we talk to people if we are writing off the ways that people are talking to people? I am not trying to say that social media should be a replacement for planning tools. All I am saying is that this movement is relevant to us as media planners. We say we want to know how people receive messages, but we are ignoring the fantastic insight that social media provides. It doesn’t make sense. I asked this question of one of my favorite social media junkies, and his response – I couldn’t have said it better myself.

“People are talking to each other online. It's measurable, and you can find the right people easier than you ever could before. If you want to ignore that, feel free. I, on the other hand, will not be ignoring the fastest-growing, most networked channel of communication we have ever experienced.”

Amen. I’m-a gonna go tweet about it.

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