Social Media 'Weak'

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As I took my seat at this morning's Social Media Week New York panel, "Pay Attention! Social Listening Done Right," the social media director of a relatively popular brand said hello and asked me if I had been to any of the event's other sessions. I told her I had not. We opened our laptops and went about our business for a few minutes. When it became clear the event would not start on time (it actually started 30 minutes late) I asked her whether she'd enjoyed Social Media Week thus far.

“I have,” she said. “Most social media events are so remedial. This week has actually been pretty informative.”

The subsequent panel discussion, which was entertaining and intriguing (but definitely not informative), featured the following speakers, all of whom were intelligent, passionate and delightfully opinionated:

  • Kyle Monson, senior technology editor, JWT
  • Ed Sullivan, VP of strategic alliances, Radian 6

The conversation began with a discussion on how to separate noise generated by consumers on social networks from actionable, meaningful data. The panel members seemed to be in agreement that sorting through massive amounts of consumers to find crowd influencers was the best way to go about finding the sources of important data that can be acted upon.

An excellent example, according to Singh, was Pepsi's response to an ad for an Eminem party being hosted in Brooklyn post-Super Bowl. Because PepsiCo had just done an Eminem/Lipton Brisk Iced Tea commercial for the big game, the company decided to send reps to the party to promote the tea.

“A few of our folks went to it,” Singh said. “Brisk got amazing attention. This party had 900 hardcore Eminem fans and we did our best to make them become hardcore Brisk drinkers as well.” Although Singh admitted that 900 isn't an astronomical figure, he said it could “serve as an amazing launching pad [for the product].”

Jaindl, whose company Buddy Media provides social marketing tools for brands, said the key to characterizing influencers is by listening when brands still have a relatively small following.

“You have to filter out noise when you have 5,000 to 10,000 fans,” he said. “Find out early what and who you want to respond to. Identify those 80-20 people early.” (80-20 refers to the idea that 20% of members of a brand's social community will produce 80% of the content.) “Involve that 20% in the community. As you start to scale allow those people to [participate].”

The discussion veered into familiar, though significant, territory when Clark, of GMD Studios, argued that professional social listeners are actually “professional voyeurs.” Although he said he views social as a way to create a two-way dialogue with fans, he also understands that there are “creepy ways to use social” and that “listening and stalking have a fine line.” He implored brands to toe that line gently as “every brand that messes it up hurts the entire process.”

Singh argued, however, that additional listening should be done.

“Twenty-five percent of all time spent online is spent on Facebook,” Singh said. “We only get to see and listen to a small slice of that. That [larger slice] is the missing link. We sometimes overstate the benefits of listening and we don't acknowledge the fact that we're not listening to everything as a whole. Mark Zuckerberg and his team at Facebook are brilliant, but if there's one thing that keeps him awake at night it's that the default state for profiles is not public.”

Clark countered by saying that he would use Facebook differently if the default state were public. “I use Facebook more than I use Twitter because Twitter is more public. When I leave a joke on someone's Facebook wall, it feels like I'm telling a joke at a cocktail party.”

The differences between the two social sites are plenty. So why is it that we so seldom hear panel discussions about distinctions in the way marketers use each network? Singh's point about Facebook being private (if you can call it that) is an interesting one. But are Twitterers different than Facebookers? If so, is it because of the privacy features? Also, assuming there are major differences, what should my brand do to differentiate itself on both networks?

This topic — among many other relevant ones — is never the focus of social events. Instead, attendees sit through conversation upon conversation about “noise” and “influencers” and “engagement.”

Even Singh interrupted his own “influencers” point to say, “When we talk about social listening we're having a 2007-2008 conversation.”

As the event ended and everyone filed out of the space, the social media director I was seated next to began a conversation with someone else. I wish I had asked her what she thought of the event. I'd bet my whopping 337 Twitter followers that she would have said she'd love to get these five minds back into the room for a more in-depth, more pointed discussion about social media. I bet she would love to hear more stories like the one Singh told about the Eminem party in Brooklyn. I bet she'd want to hear more use cases and more strategy discussion.

I know I would.

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