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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  When is Media not Media? When it’s Social

When is Media not Media? When it’s Social

Posted on February 6, 2012 and read 4,951 times

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nick smile When is Media not Media? When it’s SocialNick Bailey
AKQA Amsterdam

When I was at art school, I understood what the word ‘Media’ meant. It was paper, charcoal, pencil, canvas, paint – and later, in my YBA phase, it was telescopes and pocket televisions. It was stuff you could see, hear, touch, (and sometimes taste and smell). It was the stuff I used to express my ideas.

Then I started working in advertising, and I still understood what the word ‘Media’ meant. Print Media meant words and pictures on paper. Out of Home Media meant words and pictures on a surface outdoors. Broadcast media meant words, pictures and sounds filling time on TV or radio. And online media meant words and pictures made up of pixels on screens.

Media was stuff you could see, hear, touch, (and sometimes taste and smell). It was the stuff I used to express my ideas.

But I’ll admit: I’m having trouble with what the word ‘media’ means when it has the word ‘social’ attached to it.

Everybody in our business talks about Social Media. Everybody nods when they say how important it is. Everybody seems to agree that there’s an awful lot of it. But what no-one seems able adequately to explain is how you make an idea out of it.

There’s a very simple reason for this.

It’s because you can’t see, hear, touch, taste or smell ‘Social Media.’ It’s because ‘Social Media’ isn’t stuff you can use to express an idea. It’s because ‘Social Media’ it isn’t media at all, in the sense described above.

‘But’, goes the argument; ‘you can see it when someone writes a Facebook post or Tweets about, or comments on your idea; that has the same effect as a media placement’.

It may have the same effect. But two similar effects are not proof of a common cause. There’s an important distinction, and it’s this: you can make your media do what you want. You can’t make other people do or say what you want. People talking about ideas online is not media, it’s plain old word-of-mouth. And that’s been around for an awfully long time.

Why is this important? Because thinking of human beings interacting socially (which is after all what a social network is) as ‘Media’ can lead brands and agencies to a series of unfortunate misunderstandings about the social web and its potential.

The most important of these is the audience myth:

People who talk a lot about Social Media like to talk about how extraordinary and unprecedented it is that there are 800 million people on Facebook. On one level they’re right. It’s extraordinary and unprecedented that social interactions are being facilitated by technology so effectively, and on such a massive scale.

However, what these 800 million people are doing on Facebook is far from extraordinary and unprecedented. It is as old as human interaction itself.

They are sending messages to their friends about what they are thinking, feeling or doing. They are showing each other stuff that that they like. They are having conversations. They are doing what the other 90% of the world’s population is doing offline. Facebook is a large collection of small interest groups, connected by Friendship, concerned first and foremost with people with whom they have a personal connection.

It is no more meaningful to talk about a ‘Facebook audience’ of 800 million, than it is to talk about a ‘planet Earth audience’ of 8 billion. A brand is just one voice in the crowd, competing for attention with conversations that are generally more meaningful and more interesting, because they’re personal.

There is nevertheless, an extraordinary and unprecedented opportunity for brands in this space, and it’s this: for the first time, it’s possible to find the people who care about the same things you do; to listen to what they are saying, to converse with them directly, to find out what they really want, and to provide it directly. To do this, brands must listen, brands must be responsive and, most importantly, must have something tangible to talk about.

Nike Football has been phenomenally successful on Facebook because they’ve done just this. Instead of pushing content out to an imaginary audience, the brand has earned a place in the conversations of millions of football fans, by responding directly and providing real access to athletes and real inside information on products and content the community cared about (for example previewing the ‘Write the Future’ TV spot on Facebook first). In doing so, Nike gained 15m fans in 18 months and – much more importantly – became the most talked-about brand on Facebook during the World Cup, with Nike posts achieving 176,000 interactions on its busiest day.

Which brings us to the second ‘Media’ myth: the Facebook Fan Fantasy. Clients love high Fan numbers because they’re an easy metric to claim success with, and few people really understand what the numbers mean – all-too-often they equate the number with reach. As Nike knew, it’s not the headline number, but the extent to which they’re interacting with your brand that matters.

Here are some numbers to conjure with: 96% of people who ‘like’ a brand page never return to it. Moreover, Edgerank, the algorithm that determines what content gets surfaced in people’s newsfeeds, will only display brand content on the feeds of ‘active’ fans (those who interact with the brand). Typically this is 0.5% of people. So, for a brand with 1m fans, a new post will appear in the newsfeeds of a grand total of 5,000 people. Clearly there’s some value here – but not enough to tear up your whole Media strategy yet.

Finally, there’s the ‘channel’ myth, which is that people treat social networks as a destination to go and seek out content from favoured sources (see the ‘Fan Fantasy’ above). There is no destination on the social web – only a continuous live conversation. A tweet has a ‘half life’ of just five minutes. The Social web is primarily a communication space: relevance is everything.

But it’s also a space where content matters. Mark Zuckerberg recently came up with his own version of the famous ‘Moore’s Law’ of computing power: the ‘law of social sharing’, which dictates that each individual will share 100% more content with each subsequent year.

The opportunity is there: brands that recognise that content is part of conversation and not a destination in itself, which are quick to respond, which are responsive timely, relevant, and which listen as well as talk will reap the rewards.

So, if not ‘social media’, what? How do we describe the opportunity that the Social Web offers to participate in conversations, to inspire, move and connect with people? We could do worse than the increasingly current ‘earned media.’ I like this, because it recognizes that the stuff we want to use to express our idea in the social space does not initially belong to us. It’s not ours to control. It’s something we need to respect and, crucially, it’s something we have to work for.

  • Allister Hercus

    Great article. Thanks for sharing.

    I’m curious about this statement: “Edgerank,
    the algorithm that determines what content gets surfaced in people’s newsfeeds,
    will only display brand content on the feeds of ‘active’ fans (those who
    interact with the brand).” 
    Do you have a source for this?Cheers

  • Anonymous
  • Eric Woning

    @twitter-205688082:disqus Allister – how about F8 2010?Facebook announced it then.
    Otherwise Google it…. you’ll see it.

    I am quite wondering in what way Social Media is so different… especially to let’s say Outdoor?The analogy is quite there: there’s an open space and you can put your ad there. The more relevant you are, the more eyeballs you’ll get. However the number of people who will actively do something with it is quite small as they as driving by/ walking by/ talking on the phone/ talking to friends etc.
    No forced exposure.
    No reason to do ANYTHING with it whatsoever.
    Except now it’s also in the same space you can actually connect.

    See it instead of a static ad as a person who is standing on that space preaching. Most people will just walk on by… but someone can hear something and ask a question…. there’s lies the real added value – as well as the opportunity for the person to listen to what the people walking by are saying, what brands they are wearing, etc.

    As for the definition of media….if the space outside is defined as media, I do not understand why the space on the internet shouldn’t be addressed as the same

  • Eric Woning

    BTW – though this might seem contradictory:

    I think the biggest mistake people are making is saying that social media is a certain space on the internet.
    I try to define it as the filter which makes interaction amongst peers possible. Everywhere where this is possible is a social space.

    Too often the mistake is made to directly think of Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn. While social networks are interesting – they do NOT comprise the total social media.

    Just saying




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