Why I Love and Hate Social Media in Equal Measure

A colleague at White Horse brought to my attention a recent screed by Matt Jones in Ad Age Digital, entitled “Why I Hate Social Media.” Let me tell you Why I Love this Article, despite the fact that as the head of White Horse’s emerging media practice, I’m hanging my hat on the continued growth of the very practices that Jones decries.

I’ve always been a fan of the shameless rhetorical gambit of taking an extreme position in order to bring the conversation back to center, and that is, in substance, what Jones has done. He ultimately argues for a measured and judicious use of social media to support traditional marketing tactics that start with better content. Rather than trying to retro-fit crappy content–stuff that no one wanted to look at when it was paid media–we ought to focus on doing more interesting work and letting the inscrutable laws of what’s worth sharing and what isn’t take effect. I think you’d have a tough time finding a social media strategist that would disagree with this logic.

I welcome arguments like Jones’ because I’ve worried for some time that social media marketing is due for a backlash (you’ll find this worry threaded throughout most of my past posts). We ought never to embrace social media as an end in itself, but only and always as a means of brand dialogue where and when such dialogue is meaningful. That’s probably stating the obvious, but take a look at some of the more parlous content that brands are Tweeting, just so they can be on Twitter, and tell me if those aren’t backlash clouds gathering on the horizon.

In a presentation on social media earlier in the year, I used the example of Ford, one of the top 10 brands in terms of social media presence, with over 90 million mentions in 2008 alone. Impressive? Yes, but that’s less than one-tenth of one percent of the impressions Ford allocated to paid online media in the same year. Paid media continues to get most of the budget, but very little strategic mindshare, because we’re all too busy going gooey over social media. Might a discussion around the integration of the two be useful? I think so, and so does Jones.

Call it self-justifying, but I believe that being a little jaundiced on social media helps me to be a better social media strategist; I owe it to my clients to look at their marketing budgets holistically and not chase after shiny objects. But my perspective is still different than Jones, who proposes that we ignore this phenomenon until the hype dies down. Instead, I borrow my social media philosophy from Woody Allen’s satirical essay on the French Existentialists, in which he professed that he hated reality but found it was the only place he could get a good steak. Social media is in many ways overblown, chaotic, and unreliable, but when it comes to true brand dialogue, it’s the only place you can get a good steak.