Friday, November 21, 2008

"Who Said This Isn't Media"

The "Digital" column in this past Wednesday's had a surprising headline: "P&G Digital Guru Not Sure Marketers Belong on Facebook."

It seems that P&G's general manager-interactive marketing and innovation, Ted McConnell, in speaking to a program presented by the Ad Club of Cincinnati, thinks that social networks are the wrong places for brands to be. The Ad Age article quotes him as saying, "What in heaven's name made you think you could monetize the real estate in which somebody is breaking up with their girlfriend?"

Hey Ted, a friendly piece of advice, in today's job market you may want to keep your profound lack of understanding of the social networking world to yourself. You know, it's bad enough you tasted shoe-leather with the Facebook line. But then you go and follow it up with: "Who said this is media?" Media is something you can buy and sell. Media contains inventory. Media contains blank spaces. Consumers weren't trying to generate media. They were trying to talk to somebody. So it just seems a bit arrogant. ... We hijack their own conversations, their own thoughts and feelings, and try to monetize it."

His Ad Club speech might have worked out better if he'd been invited to participate in P&G and Google's -job-swap program, where, in an effort for P&G'ers to understand Internet users better, and for Google to win a larger part of P&G's ad budget, staffers from each company spend time at each other's staff training programs and business meetings. (WSJ, Nov. 19)

Or he could have read Danny Flamberg's excellent and thoughtful recent post on MediaPost's Social Media Insider, titled, "Making Sense of Social Media."

Or, he could have simply done some homework to get a little historical context.

To anyone who has been paying attention, the proliferation of social media shouldn’t be a surprise. Ever since 1985 when Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant began the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, which became The WELL, people have been flocking to converse with, learn from, and establish relationships with each other in an environment free conventional time and geographic restrictions. These “virtual communities”, as Howard Rheingold called them, were powerful lures to a universal, deep-seated desire to reach out and be social in a way that creates local, people-operated neighborhoods in a global context.

This ability to create communities around shared interests, as well as the instantaneous connection of email was a powerful driver of the first online services, like AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy.

Social communities like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, are simply the latest incarnations of this quest to connect. From the start, though, marketers have failed to understand the Web as the interactive environment that it is, and have continued to engage as if it’s one of the passive mediums they’re comfortable with. It’s as if brands and marketers are the online equivalent of the ugly American tourist who travels abroad, and when the locals don’t understand their requests, simply repeat it slower and louder, as if the listener is simple-minded and deaf.

We need to help brands (as well as brand "Digital Gurus) understand that the Web isn’t a magazine with hyperlinks or TV with text. It’s a constantly evolving environment where information will always want to be free, it’s a democratic publishing forum, and it’s a place where dishonesty is outed at the speed of sound. So, s’il vous plait, before you open your mouth, learn to speak the language.

*Photo by Tarnie