My comments on Seth Godin IlSole24Ore interview

Seth Godin

Seth Godin did an exclusive interview with IlSole24Ore as a promotion for his This Is Marketing Italian book launch. He was conveying a clear message: brands do not need social media.

I understand the Godin’s motivation to make extreme statements and agree with it. In today’s PR atmosphere one can participate only with an extreme statement which is opposite to another extreme statement. The audience is mostly deaf to reasonable and moderate statements. If you want to say something you must actually say the most extreme version of it very loudly and maybe part of the audience will move from the opposite towards you. Godin is rightfully trying to motivate managers and the audience to obsess less over vanity metrics and focus more on offering real value. This is his life mission and I agree with this fully, and thank him for it. Our software itself does rate social media as the least relevant interactions (not that we rate billboards and electronic ads much better).

However, I am not a fan of extreme statements. Luckily, on this small blog I have the luxury to be more detailed and moderate. Here is what I would add for the readers of Godin’s interview:

Social media is media where many communicate to many. It emerged from forums and chats of mid 90s. Facebook and Twitter are basically glorified 90s forums. Not much has changed in their basic functionality since then (many users can input, publish, refresh on the same page). It is important to acknowledge that social media also includes Wikipedia, Yelp, Vimeo, Quora, Flickr, Pinterest, Tinder, to name only the few top ones. It also includes thousands of other more niche applications, intranets, SaaS, etc. There are probably tens of thousands of different social media which all serve different purposes. Even the top ones which are experiencing a bad PR patch lately have not became so popular for nothing – they offered real value and still do to many users.

Social media works best in niche, which is almost impossible to penetrate for big brands. My mom follows my sister’s and my kids photos via Facebook. I follow few dozen experts on Twitter (including Seth) who are relevant to my work. I have a private Instagram account which I share only with friends. I use various other social media for separate activities such as going out, mountain biking, marketing, etc. Most people on social media rely on it for specific personal and work activities. But there is also a percent of users who are more extrovert. These users create a lot of content, sharing, likes, comments. I do not think this is a large percentage, but it can still be tens of millions. If you have a country only of youth who do selfies daily, this can create a very strong impression and distort the overall perception.

Multinational consumer brands have the biggest problem because their messages are generic and they have no possibility to enter niche communities used by most people. How can Coca Cola become relevant to me or my mom? It can not. Part of this problem also is that Coca Cola is not a good product and we do not want it. This kind of brands definitely have a hard time offering real value and they do waste a lot of resources on social media even though they have a high engagement with the more extrovert users.

Younger brands know how to be relevant because they create new products and new values. Every once in a while I see a post or an ad which hits the right spot and I buy. These are smaller brands that communicate to few instead of everyone (note that few can still be millions on social media). For example, I am very happy to follow a local restaurant or a niche writer and I do purchase more as they produce more content. This is the new world of smaller brands which is catered to by Google and Facebook, and not the old world of Coca Cola and Philip Morris which is catered to by TV media.

In a conclusion most simple advice on how to approach social media is: companies must understand what they are, what their values are, and what their customers want, and try to use social media as one of many ways to establish a connection between the two (values to customers). Social media is no different than any media and I do not see a problem with it, but I do see a big problem in brands not understanding themselves and their customers.

More importantly, social media is far more sophisticated than most think, and we still not have the right tools to use it in marketing. While print and electronic media were far simpler in technology and therefore limited user behavior, digital and social media are extremely complex and it will take much more time before the right tools are created which allow value delivery.

Thank you Godin and IlSole24Ore. Thank you Anna Baldo for A2A.

Other critics of social media worthy of reading are Scott Galloway and Jeetendr Sehdev.