It's sometimes amazing (and disappointing) what you find when you scratch beneath the surface of headlines. Take this one from Mashable: "Social Media Not a Big Factor in Holiday Purchases." It’s a big, eye-catching, alarm-raising headline, but as I dug into the story beneath the headline, I found my impression changed considerably.
The article reports on a ForeSee study that, according to Mashable, demonstrates that "social media may be an underwhelming driver" of retail sales. Based on the Mashable article, I downloaded the report from the ForeSee site, expecting a thorough exploration of social media's role in holiday shopping purchases. I was surprised to find that the portion pertaining to social media was a mere two sentences in the 22-page report. (In fact, ForeSee notes that its report could not contain all of the findings of the study, so additional information relating to topics like social and mobile will be made available in future weeks by request.)
Is it possible that in 2011 social media could help bring peace on earth, goodwill toward men (and women)? I’m enough of an optimist to hope so but enough of a realist to appreciate how naive that sounds. Still, I believe there are encouraging signs that social media can have a positive impact on the world — but only if it first has a positive impact on each of us.
If I predict that social media will bring peace to the world and am subsequently proven wrong, at least I’d be in good company. History is full of examples of technical advances that carried the promise of beneficial change but delivered something less. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, a more stable version of nitroglycerin, to make mining safer; he eventually used his wealth to establish the Nobel Prizes after reading an erroneously printed obituary that called him “the merchant of death” for “finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.”
‘Tis the season for gifts and wishes. I have no presents for Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo and Google (and giving them gifts would violate Forrester rules), so instead I’ve dug deep into my bag of hopes to offer some wishes for these leading tech and social media companies:
For Twitter, the gift of distribution. I’ve argued plenty on this blog that Twitter has already become mainstream based on the impact it has on our culture, if not on the number of people who use the information network. It must be rewarding for Biz, Ev and the Twitter crew to see tweets become news on CNN and in Entertainment Weekly, but that doesn’t pay the bills. For Twitter to become an ad-serving powerhouse (without annoying its loyal user base), it needs more people consuming tweets — it won’t be the number of people who tweet that drives Twitter’s revenue but the number of people who read those tweets. If Twitter is to maximize the potential of its Promoted Tweets, trends and accounts, it needs as many eyeballs as possible, and so in 2011 I give Twitter the wish of wider distribution. If Twitter can succeed in being integrated in sites across the Web (as Facebook has) not just as a button but as content, the future will remain very bright for the ubiquitous blue bird.
I've always loved examples of the crossover between online and offline influence; my 2009 report The Analog Groundswell contains some of my favorite examples of that overlap. Our new London-based Interactive Marketing Research Associate James McDavid is here with the story of how Smirnoff brought social media into the real world -- and how it had a bit of fun in the process:
The weekend of November 27th saw the culmination of a multinational marketing campaign by Smirnoff that showed the extent to which a clear, well-executed social media strategy is able to drive engagement with a brand across multiple regions and interactive channels.
Using Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, Smirnoff asked fans and followers in 14 cities (such as London, Rio, Miami and Bangalore) what made the nightlife in their city unique -- and then wrapped all the best elements from each city into shipping containers and delivered them to other host cities. Smirnoff posted a steady stream of Facebook status updates asking fans to say which city they’d like to exchange with. The company also made videos showing the shipping containers being filled -- as well as videos of the parties to celebrate the crates' departures -- and posted them to its YouTube channel. Once the crates arrived, Smirnoff threw the parties in its new locations, with its fans and attendees generating even more content and sharing it online.
One common complaint I hear from marketers is that social media is not (yet) a mass medium. For example, the circulation for Cosmopolitan is 3 million, while the magazine counts just 700,000 fans in Facebook. And while it seems (almost) everyone is creating, using or consuming social media today, it is a highly fractured channel. Thirty years ago, almost every person watching television was tuned into one of three networks; today, 550 million people use Facebook, and each and every one of them is their own network.
However, the fact that social media is fractured and personalized does not mean that it isn't a mass medium; it just means it is a challenging mass medium. Here is the evidence for social as a mass medium: