This is my third installment in a series I’m titling “The Measurement of Us” – measuring the impact of the time and attention we pay to social media in our lives, companies, and communities. In this post I dissect what is meant by “earned media.”
The social media sector is at a crossroads. Two competing mental models for what social networks can do for companies, brands and advertisers will shape how the social networks evolve, and how they will serve as a customers, socializers, and citizens.
The ClueTrainers – Building Social Selves
On the one hand is all of the social media gurus new and wizened who like to espouse the tenets of ClueTrain Manifesto (even if they weren’t born yet when the first edition was published 10 years ago) – markets are conversations. The ClueTrain philosophy for companies once corporate, monotone, and deadening – “1. Relax 2. Have a Sense of Humor 3. Find a Voice and Use It …” and the list goes on, sounding human, real, authentic. Social Media marketing and PR people talk about the ClueTrain strategy, which is to allow open access to everyone in your company who wants to use social media to do so, as long as they represent who they are and follow the policy. ClueTrain adopters are big believers in delivering excellent products and services, responsive customer service, and delightful customer experiences as a way to earn attention and respect.
Even though the original authors of ClueTrain have admitted that they were wrong about thesis number 74, “We are immune to advertising. Just forget it,” today’s ClueTrain adopters tend to be much more critical of advertising-led social media marketing, and suspicious of efforts organized around short term campaigns, rather than longer term relationships. They are more excited about the potential for social media channels to plug into customer experience, to inform a crowdsourced method of innovation, to serve as a model for service delivery, or to change the way the whole company is organized.
The Advertising 2.0 Evangelists – Building Social Hooks
On the other hand is an emerging set of newcomers to the social sphere – marketers from traditional and digital advertising and PR who see a huge opportunity in gaining traction for their paid media campaigns. Ad 2.0 people include agency types in traditional media, client side on brand teams, and even in what is now traditional-digital media. Their intention is often genuine – to connect authentically with consumers – but the difference is that the Ad 2.0 crowd sees their purpose as spreading messages (primarily). For these marketers, social is exciting because of the potential to launch campaigns, and have people talk about them in their own social networks. I’m lumping in some of the PR social people into this camp who orchestrate buzz campaigns around product launches and company stories – in the form of tweets, youtube video views and followers. It’s the campaign that defines the efforts of the Ad 2.0 Evangelists.
It is called getting “social traction” and success is measured in the ability of a paid ad to go viral, be seeded successfully with influencers, get talked about in social media, and have a life of its own beyond paid media insertion orders. Case in point – the Whoopi Goldberg ad from Kimberly Clark, which “earned” an SNL skit and over 200 MM PR impressions for a talkative take on female incontinence. While ClueTrainers may laugh at this kind of commercial-generated buzz, the ad 2.0 crowd often succeeds where the ClueTrainers fail – in reaching a critical mass-sized audience needed to promote and sustain big brands. The less than 1% of marketing dollars siphoned off for social media are not likely to grow if the audience sizes remain too small (3k twitter followers, 8k Facebook likers) to be considered credible.
Earned Media is a Messy Metrics Problem
You start to see these two worlds collide in the messy space of earned media metrics if you spend time on the popular listening platforms like ScoutLabs or Radian6 The graphs look clean, but look closer and you will see one blip caused by a twitter contest, another from a successful PR-led product seeding effort, and yet another from a company product recall scandal, and this is all in the same month. Scale your view to a full year, and you’ll notice that people that talk about brands are not always customers, are not always positive, and are not easily classifiable as prospects or potential leads.
Some brands have started to employ their web analytics tools to the challenge of tracking earned media – tagging links and social ads with code to understand the click attribution model. Facebook has launched the beta version of their Conversion Tracking system which connects on-Facebook behavior like viewing ads, and forwarding to friends, to e-commerce shopping cart results. This method works for the ad 2.0 view of the world, but you will miss all of the company trust and reputation conversations if you only track messages and shopping cart orders (per my last post).
But Earned Media is Where We Can Move the Needle
Both ClueTrainers and Ad 2.0 social media practitioners will likely stick with their messy listening platforms. They will sift through all of the noise in order to find the signals. Because the most interesting part of social media is how the adoption of technology is shaping our culture, shifting our patterns of consumption, and changing our mindsets. We can only get to move the needle ideas if we’re quiet enough to hear what’s really going on.