‘She’s just choking on the long tail’

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By Francis Moran

Although I am utterly persuaded of the efficacy of new and social media as potent marketing, communications, outreach and customer service channels, I am also utterly persuaded that far too many so-called social media marketers are, quite simply, drowning in the Kool-Aid.

An early indication of this social media myopia became apparent in a conversation I had a year or so back with one of these self-styled new media gurus. She and I got into a discussion one evening about the value of social media channels. Her argument was that any and every new media channel trumped any and every so-called old media channel; that this new media model had completely disrupted the old media model.

It was well into the evening and I was tired so I probably got a little more heated than I might have under different circumstances. Finally I said, “So you think 100 followers on a blog is worth more than a story in the New York Times?” Unbelievably, she said yes. I rolled my eyes and walked away.

When I shared this tale a few days later with my pal Tony Lyons, who clearly draws more deeply on our shared Irish heritage and so has a wit far sharper than mine, he said, “Oh, she’s just choking on the long tail.” Boy, did he nail it.

As a marketing strategist, the trouble I’ve had in dealing with social media enthusiasts is their conviction that it’s a brave new world now in which everything has changed. Maybe it’s because I take a more strategic view of things or maybe it’s just that I’ve lived long enough to see more than one communications revolution come — They still used typewriters and triple-copy paper in the first city daily newsroom in which I worked so I’ve been around a long time — but this new social media stuff ain’t so different.

At our recent Zone5ive presentation, Kathryn Schwab and I dealt with the challenges PR people must now overcome in the face of suggestions that social media has trumped older tactics. The same strategic considerations apply. Do these new channels reach your intended audience? Do you have effective messaging that is suited for the particular attributes of these new channels? Will the resources necessary to succeed on these new channels deliver a return at least as good as the same resources spent elsewhere?

Far too often, choking on the long tail, social media Pollyannas can’t take the deep breaths necessary to ask these questions and wait for the answers.

And please do not let me leave the impression that all social media enthusiasts are drinking the Kool-Aid. One of the best presentations I’ve ever seen is by unchallenged social media maven Tara Hunt, someone who has built a sizable reputation navigating these uncharted new waters. While Tara is a huge fan of social networks and an enthusiastic user of them to promote both her personal brand and that of her company, she is also well aware that your social media strategy won’t save you.

Image: Hugh MacLeod, gapingvoid

/// COMMENTS

6 Comments »
  • Don Bates

    March 18, 2011 10:26 pm

    I like and agree with most of your thinking in this matter. Social media has been hyped to heaven as the savior of all that is worthy in life. Clearly, it isn’t. It’s important, of course, but it isn’t without serious challenges that affect the conduct of branding, advertising, public relations and public affairs. Anyone who puts all their eggs into the SM basket is going to end up walking straight off the cliff. In PR, in particular, you need all media — “traditional” as well as “social,” earned as well as paid. The good news is that within a few short years, all media will have converged so much that we’ll be back to using “media” to mean the whole ball of wax, not just the online or offline half. I can’t wait. For one thing, we’ll get rid of all the posturing and back to reality.

  • Francis Moran

    March 19, 2011 10:34 am

    Don, your comments remind me of the early days of the Internet when media outlets first appeared online and pitching them was believed to require special skills. Over time, the distinction disappeared, and online media were understood to be included in the unmodified noun, media. I am with you in expecting social media to eventually be seamlessly folded into the mix, where it belongs.

  • Sylwester Pyrka

    March 24, 2011 2:09 pm

    Social Media Is only part of reality (what an irony in the fact that virtual reality has such a huge influence on what is real). Whether it’s just a channel of information, processes and behaviors. With its pros and cons. The strategy relies on the skilful use of all elements, not a priori focus exclusively on one element. It is plain fetishism of the new media.
    PS translating its conduct on a wider field of psychological and sociological venture I put the thesis that she had no contact with the marketing and PR (fear of the unknown, rejection and negation).
    PS PS Of course you can point to cases of successful campaigns and activities conducted solely for the social networks, but whether they are effective for a large number of companies or brands?
    PS PS PS The fact is that Coca-Cola has more than 23 million fans on Facebook, but whether this is due only to create a fanpage?

  • Brennan

    April 06, 2011 11:05 am

    I totally agree with this. Sometimes a social media campaign is doomed to fail. Why? Because people believe they can use it as their only tactic, instead of part of a mix. While this might work for certain techies (App makers, online e-commerce types) nothing beats seeing someone in person and connecting in real life.

  • Lucia Harper

    April 15, 2011 8:19 am

    Social Media is just one of many tools in our arsenal to use in any campaign. It is there to augment a great campaign, not to BE the campaign

  • Mani

    April 21, 2011 10:26 am

    IMHO, I feel that this discussion needs to have a boundary as in, is it with respect to B2B marketers or B2C marketers. To the extent that I have read, practiced and understood, the B2C are fairly realizing the benefits of the existing social media while the b2b by and large are yet to find a way out.

    Adverting to the “choking on the long tail”, may not be as appropriate in the b2b ball game as the typical sales cycle times here is any where between 6 to 8 months. Here in, I would like to place “Social media” above the existing media for the following reasons. But nevertheless, wouldn’t call it a doomsday for traditional media.
    1. Effectiveness of most of the marketing campaigns can be easily found with actionable metrics derived from social networking / business networking platforms while the same can’t be expected from the traditional media without appropriate research.
    2. You not only can derive metrics but also engage your prospects, customers, vendors etc in a fruitful manner.

    Well, the above things may not exist with the existing social media like LinkedIn, FB, Twitter etc but Wapr.com surely has this for companies. Should you need more information on how social media power can be used by the entire b2b audience role wise, please click the following link http://www.wapr.com/marketingmanager.php

    Bottom Line: I feel that we are moving towards a time where the traditional media will augment the social media campaigns.

    Love to hear all your thoughts on this :)

    ~Mani
    http://www.wapr.com
    Connect & collaborate with companies worldwide

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