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social media disruption – the wordy version February 2, 2010

Posted by nicholas gill in social media.

I’ve been meaning to write up in long form the words to go with the various decks I’ve done of late on the themes of social media disruption & Digital WTF? Pressed into action by an impending speaking opportunity next week, here it is:

Social Media Disruption

Social media is disrupting the way we do business; the traditional models don’t work anymore. Mass advertising is expensive, focussed on reach and diminishing returns. People are exposed to over three thousand ads per day that are neither personal, relevant nor timely. We have developed natural filters that help us ignore this advertising noise to the point where the industry believes returns of 0.1% are standard. That’s 99.9% wastage. Technology has enhanced our ability to filter; browsers can be reconfigured to turn off ads, some 70% of PVR owners fast forward through ads and don’t watch programming at the time advertisers want us to. This notion of time-shifting is now a common practice.

We should be engaging, not advertising. We think there are several trends that are shaping how consumers expect to be engaged by brands:

Three-screen nation

We are still watching TV even if we’re not cogniscent of the advertising. And that’s because we’re watching telly not on the telly. We watch on our computer screens (witness the iPlayer explosion), when we’re using our games console (ditto iPlayer) and on our phones. Increasingly we’re a mobilised community that is always on the go. We don’t have to be hard-wired into a wall socket to send and receive. The mass adoption of 3G networks and the increased Smartphone competition mean that some 40% of all internet traffic will be on mobile devices by the time the Olympics comes to London.

Content Supply Chain Evolution

Frankly a ridiculous thing to say in a piece about marketing but what we mean by this is finding new and disruptive ways to do what we’ve always done. Take the record industry. A&R men trawling the circuits to find new talent, sign them up for an advance and make the money back on album sales. Except that album prices are falling and we can just buy the hits not the fillers anymore. And people like Radiohead can give it to us for nothing. So people are finding new ways to create and bring us their music. Google Kutiman and you’ll see a splendid example of creativity in action. Take a look at gaming where  the iPod Touch is now the biggest selling games console (based on US sales data from Amazon) because it’s Wi-Fi enabled for social gaming and games cost a fraction of a portable device such as the NDS. Farmville costs nothing until you actually want to buy well, farm stuff. They’ve changed the revenue model: start free, buy virtual stuff. It has 60 million users and $150m sales. Still annoying in your news feed though.

Content explosion

We don’t need to code anymore to share our stuff. That’s why there’s over 13 hours of video content uploaded to You Tube every minute, nearly 1 million blog posts banged out daily and over 5 billion tweets created in twitter’s short lifetime. Facebook is the world’s biggest photography repository. This won’t slow down anytime soon; Google Wave, mobile applications and the constant need to stay in touch and share, experience and comment on content is overwhelming.


Twitter has led the revolution in real time life streaming. Facebook followed with their ungainly live feed option and new, shiny boxes such as Foursquare and Gowalla will increase the content explosion but also the desire to share what one is doing right here, right now. Smart brands will work out how to monetise that geo information and reward loyalty. Google and Bing are already engaging head on to win the real-time search war. Why? Because 83% of us use search to research purchases and soak up between 4-7 peer recommendations before parting with the notes. And with 1 in 5 tweets mentioning a brand (positively, negatively or neutrally), real time searching and influence will become increasingly important.

Slippy, not sticky

We need to shift away from digital sites that keep people on there just because that was all the rage a few years back. Make all your content detachable and distributable. Allow enjoyment, information, participation and entertainment in the spaces where people do that. With over two thirds of consumers time now being spent in social and entertainment spaces, guess what, it’s not your site they want to consume that content in. Re-look at how you interact with your consumers. Take away barriers to purchase. We like it. Look at Amazon checkout. And take iTunes – you don’t even get an immediate confirmation until a few days later that then hits you with your impulsiveness. And this goes against all user experience conventions but we love it. How can your brand be more digitally lubricated?

Data: so hot right now

Often left in a corner at parties looking unattractive and wearing mis-matching shoes and outfit, data is so hot right now. We can use software tools and bright people to make sense of it all to create actionable insights. One of the oft heard complaints about social media is that it can’t be measured. Pah! Engagement, influence, infectiousness, share of voice, sentiment, increased traffic leading to sales. All of this is measurable today. Pizza Hut’s iPhone app delivered $1m. Dell’s Twitter activity alone realised $1m incremental revenue last year and at a recent Revolution event, Michael Buck from Dell stated that a 10% reduction in customer service calls would enable the investment in social media to breakeven. Fundamentally it comes back to your objectives and making sure they have measurable components baked-in to them.

Social media is about conversations. Not one-way push messages but meaningful engagements. It’s not a fad or just for the kids. It’s ingrained in our behaviour and culture. That’s why print and TV budgets are reducing, digital is bigger than TV and social media is the highest growth area in the digital bag.

Social media should be treated with the same reverence and long-term engagement as your brand. It is not a one-shot deal. It’s a long-term commitment to openness, experimentation and change that requires time to truly bear fruit.

Advertising in this space is just as pointless as in the spaces where they’re not watching. Relevant engagement is how brands connect with their audiences in this ever changing world.

The strategic intent should be for organisations to be an authentic part of the social media community and engage appropriate conversations that deliver tangible direct and brand returns.

Above all, it’s about doing something interesting.


Continue the conversation

Thanks to the lovely Laura Rees for the image.

Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn |nicholas.r.gill@gmail.com

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1. Today’s Tweets | The Magical Tablet - February 9, 2010

[…] social media disruption – the wordy version (bluurb.wordpress.com) […]

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