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Sailing the Seas of Social Media…

The days of ‘fire-and-forget’ marketing campaigns are numbered. It’s time to take control of your brand’s marketing success in the unpredictable, ever-changing ocean that is social media.

There are two ways of doing marketing, the traditional way and the social way. The traditional way can be compared to launching a rocket ship where social media marketing is more comparable to negotiating the wind in with a sailboat.

In traditional marketing you plan and estimate and in the end you push the launch button, keeping you fingers crossed, hoping that the rocket will land in the right place. Social media marketing is totally different from the ‘fire-and-forget’ world of campaign marketing.

Social media is an environment where the only constant is that the pace of change, and the number of factors that are changing, are ever increasing. Nobody questions the power of the wind and waves at sea, and nobody should enter the world of social media without accepting these core conditions: Only a fool doesn’t fear the sea, or at least respect its unpredictability.

Its 2014 and radical changes in consumer behaviour have pushed brands out to sea. It’s not up to you to decide if you want to be there, and it hasn’t been your choice for a quite a while.

The only question that brands should ask themselves is: How are we going to deal with it and which of the many accepted ‘truths’ about marketing do we need to question, to quickly shift the organization to a new understanding of consumer engagement and communication?

Here’s my view on some of the existing perceptions about marketing that you might want to re-consider.


A lot of companies think that taking no action equals not taking on any risks – but on social media, the act of doing nothing equals stopping steering the boat and letting the currents drag you wherever they want. At some point you’ll meet a reef and then it’s too late to start building a rudder.

When a brand perceives risk as something that can be mitigated by test and analysis (and worst of all: politics, compromises and internal consensus), the problem is two-fold. Doing too much testing and evaluation means building up risk by the shear amount of time and resources being spend on the test phase. Time and resources that you can’t spend in the field; influencing consumers, building relationships and learning from your actions.

Let’s face it, our notion of ‘risk’ was born in a world with different constraints and it doesn’t apply in the same way to the world of social media: Risk can be mitigated by not doing anything in the same way stopping swimming will save you from drowning.

Compared to planning, executing and placing conventional media, the cost of trial and error on social channels is almost non-existentRemember: On social media, your risks are quite low at the beginning: There’s little or no initial spending, you can build on scalable 3rd party platforms and try out a lot of stuff in real life without spending half of your analysis budget doing it. Compared to planning, executing and placing conventional media, the cost of trial and error on social channels is almost non-existent.

Imagine yourself a sailor preparing for a race: You want to get out there to test your skills and your hardware. The sooner you get moving, the more you learn. You don’t learn how to sail by talking about it.

The Campaign

As long as there are products to market there will be campaigns. That is a perfectly valid statement, but the problem is that some marketers also deduct from this statement that all marketing equals doing campaigns!

From the first day at business school, every marketer is taught to adopt a discourse focused solely around the Campaign with a capital C. We’ve developed a whole industry around the Campaign, lauding and awarding the best Campaigns while ignoring most non-campaign marketing efforts.

The Campaign metaphor is absolutely useless for social engagement because it’s signals the complete opposite of what social media is all about.

The word Campaign originally meant a connected series of military operations forming a distinct phase of a war. So basically it’s an army term, it’s about taking over something by force, beating the opposition. Campaigning is a one way, short term, high investment, winner takes it all-action.

Social Media, on the other hand, is about creating connections, building long term relationships, and it’s all about patience and understanding. As a social media marketer you’re in it for the long run, keeping your reach and engagement growing.

We don’t want to take over anything, we want people to trust us and to decide to invest in us, to invest their attention and time, their creative skills and hopefully, at some point down the line invest in our products.

Paid Media

Let’s revisit the rocket metaphor: I like to compare paid media and traditional campaign planning to launching a rocket into space. The core message (typically a TV commercial) can be compared to the crew module, which is then fueled by giant booster rockets – which basically is the paid media. Prior to the launch you do a lot of calculations and test your flight path and make sure that everything is correct – then you await perfect conditions before you push the launch button.

Traditional campaigns and paid media work the same way, you test and you analyze and you try to predict what is going to happen – because when the plan is executed, you can only do minor corrections and the investment is so big that you’ve only got one shot at it.

But rocket fuel and sailboats don’t mix. Fortunately we have the benefit of not having huge startup costs and the benefit of actually knowing if we are on course before be turn on the boosters.

Paid media is a great support to social media engagement, but it should always be directly controlled by the social media crewPaid media is a great support to social media engagement, but it should always be directly controlled by the social media crew. This clearly goes against the traditional separation between content development and media buying that an industry based on TV advertising has created.

The problem is, that if you don’t have the right understanding about what drives the engagement you’ll end up driving the wrong parts of the engagement at the wrong time and in the wrong direction. And in social media you also have a lot of stats that can help you out, but only bringing in the human element lets you really understand social media.

So in a world where paid, owned and earned media have converged, you need people in the front line that are able to understand and execute immediately across these three areas as if they were a crew on a sail boat.

Radical changes in consumer behaviour must lead to radical changes in the way that we understand and perceive marketing and the understanding of risk, campaigning & paid media.

A lot of companies are out there, getting their feet wet – but in my mind we have so far only seen the very early beginnings. A whole industry has been built on creating TV advertising. The rocket-ship way of working is deeply rooted into the business models on both agency and client side, into our work processes and into our pre-supposed assumptions and discourse.

We need to go through the painstaking process of questioning the fundamental taken-for-granted truths of marketing before we really are reading to embrace a new environment and sail the seas of social media.


This article was featured in the ‘Global Marketing’ special edition of Brand Quarterly produced in association with the Brand2Global conference 2014. View the original post in the Brand Qurterly magazine with further insights from thought leaders, marketers and globalization/localization experts.


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