More and more, I hear murmuring whether social media will become the new Second Life for marketeers.
The answer: Yes. And no.
Yes: it is a hype. For most brands it is not a question of if, but of how. Social media presence has become a goal in itself. And after lots of trial, there will be significant error. Especially, since most brands hardly took the effort to find their natural place in this new environment.
To understand where tension can be expected, two things are worth noticing. First, there is a fundamental mismatch between the way people use social media and the way brands approach them. People are using social media structurally, 24/7. It is an integrated part of their daily lives. Most brands have an ad hoc involvement, they have been raised with a campaign oriented approach.
Second: the term social media is misleading. It is about much more than a communication medium. Social media are introducing a new infrastructure, which can be compared to the freeway or energy grid. It can be used for communication, but it can do so much more. It offers a framework for service innovation, new kinds of cooperation, new propositions and disruptive distribution models. The fact that most brands are still following their broadcasting approach can be compared to a freeway that is only used as a medium for billboards, not for driving.
Importantly, this social infrastructure resonates with the essence of human beings: connectivity. Everything we do has a social layer and we need this. We want to know what others think of our clothes, what mortgages friends are choosing and get inspired to run when we see others doing it. Digital is turning this social layer into oxygen: it is everywhere and its supply is unlimited: it hardly matters whether you want to know which music one person likes or a million people. And the social layer can now be analyzed as well: you can instantly know which jeans are the most popular amongst all of your friends.
To explain brands how they can - really - use this new social infrastructure, I developed a new model together with Hyves, the largest social network of the Netherlands: 24/7 marketing on social media (http://socialmedia247.net/). It explains in what ways a business model can fundamentally, 24/7 connect to the new 'social freeway', which departments of an organization should be involved and how a brand can develop its own roadmap.
The moral of the story: social media is not a hype, it is creating a fundamentally new infrastructure. Brands can be part of this, if they are focused on 24/7 involvement and engagement. The key is to add real value to this infrastructure, and not approach it as just another medium. This process influences the whole organization.
The model has a creative commons license (http://creativecommons.org/