Frank Lloyd Wright As Social Media Marketer

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BG and I recently watched a documentary about Frank Lloyd Wright and I found that it related to the work we do in social media marketing (natch).

There were two instances in particular that related to social media marketing. But I need your help in making sense of it all.

An Open Plain

The documentary explained that before Wright, rooms were frequently closed off by doors. Each room in a home had a purpose and each purpose was discrete. You eat in the dining room and that room alone; sliding doors separate the dining room from the sitting room and library.

Wright's homes, however, have an open feel. You can often see through several room at a time - your view is rarely blocked with doors or hairpin turns. The corners aren't obtrusive. There is a flow and openness that many find appealing.

Of course, this made me think of old and new media. In earlier times, we relied on journalists to provide the news; it's what they did and they alone could do it. We staffed a PR person to speak to the press, and only with canned, pre-rehearsed statements. There was a strict hierarchy to be obeyed. The org chart was scripture.

Hasn't social media marketing changed all that! Now, some blogs outrank The New York Times in search engines. Peter Shankman's HARO directly connects journalists and sources. A Zappos employee - any Zappos employee - is allowed to speak to any member of the press.

Amazing things happen when walls -  literal or virtual - are broken down.

Technology As Benefit Or Impediment

Later on in his life, attention shifted from American architects to modernists in Europe. They build sleek, austere buildings, using different industrial materials. It was a 180 degree shift from the organic feel of Wright's work.

Sour grapes or not, Wright hated these buildings, claiming that the modernist architects were using technology for technology's sake - not to improve the building or make it more livable, but simply because it was new. He felt their designs were lifeless, especially compared to his natural homes with their autumnal hues.

How often do we fall into the same trap? Did we join Twitter and Pownce and Orkut and any number of other networks because they improved our lives or simply because they were the shiny new object? Does that iPhone app really help your clients and their customers, or are you building it because it's new and exciting?

Technology can easily become an impediment to communication and community, rather than a facilitator, especially these days.

What Do You Think?

Are these apt observations or am I grasping here? I wonder what you think.

I also wonder where this is going. One of the last projects of Wright's career was taking on the challenge to build a $5,000 home - a house for the mass, a democratic architecture. But he couldn't do it. Wright always ran over budget. He could never give everyone what they wanted for the right price without compromising his standards.

Can that example relate to social media marketing as well? Is our lesson that community cannot be faked? That customers simply cost $X to retain or engage? That our tools (i.e. blogs) might be free, but the investment in time and energy for quality connections will remain high?

What do you think? Is open architecture like our flatter organizations? Is our obsession with technology like the European modernist architects? What is on the horizon for social media marketers?

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When ROI Measurement And Actual Effectiveness Are Mutually Exclusive

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In The 2009 Social Media Marketing and PR Benchmark Guide, MarketingSherpa explains a conundrum marketers are facing in a web 2.0 world:

What do you do when the ability to measure your return on investment (ROI) is mutually exclusive to the effectiveness of a particular campaign?

In other words, how do you sell a tactic up the chain of command that you know will work but can't provide definite numbers? Or conversely, how do you dissuade a course of action that has proven ineffective, but which your executives embrace because they understand the number of impressions or "hits" or lives interrupted by the campaign?

It's a difficult predicament, to be sure. And it appears that's the situation most marketers are facing.

Known Badness vs. Unknown Goodness

Traditional PR and marketing has never had much measurability, but it is a known entity. What was the return on investment for your PR firm to make unsolicited calls on your behalf? How many sales resulted from your Times Square advertisement? Traditional marketing has always had terrible measurability.

But, it's what your boss knows. Now, we have new technologies that can show an amazing array of ROI statistics, but they're new. They're "untested." They might fail. (Because that never happens with old media!)

Yes, I Can Back That Up

Don't believe me? Take a look at the report.

The executive summary shows that most marketers think the ability to measure ROI (also reported the second most significant barrier to social media adoption) has "nothing to do with the effectiveness of the tactic" (page 6).

In fact, MarketingSherpa goes on to say that:

"Marketers obsessed with only tracking social media results quantitatively are missing the point and may find themselves employing much less effective social media tactics for the sake of measurability."

How about you? Would you rather fail than tell your boss she's wrong?

Budgets Going...Up?

So, are marketers telling their bosses about social media? Quite possibly, yes. But marketers might not be educating their bosses as much as they need to.

MarketingSherpa reports that "social media and email are the only to tactics on which more companies are planning to increase spending than are planning to decrease spending" (page 4). This matches Forrester's recent report entitled Social Media Playtime Is Over. They report even higher numbers, saying that over 50% of marketers will increase their spending on social media in the coming year.

If you're a social media marketer and think this sounds great, think again. Just because marketers expect the amount they spend on social media to increase, that does not mean it'll be a lot. In fact, B.L. Ochman says that Forrester reports three-fourths of marketers expect to spend less than $100K on social media marketing tools.

Read the conversation B.L. includes at the end of a recent post. I think she correctly portrays a set-up for failure, where marketers are expected to spin social media gold from corporate hay, stymied by every other department in their company.

So What Do I Do?

As a social media marketer, you have the proverbial wind at your back. You must seize this opportunity, but don't forget to lobby for the resources and permission you will need later.

Personally, I recommend buying MarketingSherpa's Social Media Marketing and PR Benchmark Guide. Their research is among the best, their arguments are persuasive, and, to be honest, it's expensive enough for your boss to trust it. Or buy Forrester's report. Or another one like it. But, do something.

We have fought for so long to be taken seriously. Remember being scoffed at five years ago when you claimed Facebook would be huge and a decent marketing tool? Remember when Twitter was just a fad? You get it. You see further down the road than most people. (Strategy is part of your job, after all.)

Well, part of your job is also being an educational resource for your boss and her bosses, too. Buy them a report. Send them information from sources they trust. Hell, reserve time on their schedule and read the damn stuff to them. But make them listen.

Otherwise, you will be one of the poor marketers tasked with doing "something viral." If you hear "we need a Facebook page" and don't hear mention a strategy or goals, you are about to get screwed.

But this is your chance! We finally have the green light to participate in social media marketing in a responsible way! But leverage the resources you need (don't forget staff time!) and the backing to make it all possible.

Then, come back and let us know how it went!

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(Note: I am a MarketingSherpa affiliate which means that I make a little beer money if you buy the report. But I'd tout their work even if I wasn't. It's great stuff, period.)

A New Business Model For A New Era

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I think Mitch Joel is one of the brightest minds in social media. But today, I've gotta take issue.

Mitch recently responded to a new Pew Research Center poll showing that television has been overtaken by the internet as a primary news source. I highly encourage you to read Mitch's thoughts here: Breaking News On The Internet. His concern is that new media (blogs, Twitter, etc.) has overtaken traditional media too quickly for a replacement advertising model to be accepted. After all, who is going to pay for all of the content online?

Now, I almost always think Mitch is right on target. But his recent post harbors some assumptions that I've been hearing more and more often from a lot of sources, but which I think are detrimental to social media marketing in its current incarnation.

In other words, it's not just Mitch - we all need to be careful about how we consider social media and how it relates to a business model.

Here are 4 assumptions I hear in the marketing community that need a good debunking:

  1. Traditional media and new media are selling the same thing: It's simply not true, so let's not talk about the two systems as though they were. TV and radio were made to sell ads; the internet is advice and expertise. Rick at eyecube said it well: "Television isn’t a medium for telling stories and disseminating information, it’s a medium for selling ads. As such, the goal is not to produce quality programming, the goal is to produce programming that will attract the most eyeballs." He goes on to make salient points about the quality that results as such, but my point is to take caution when comparing apples to oranges.
  2. The old business models were correct: Sure, advertising worked, but that didn't mean it was good. As long as a terrible product brought eyeballs or cash with them, do you really think the fat cats cared? In the old business model, marketers were shills. But now, good products tend to succeed and bad products tend to fail (and at a faster rate too). The old model sold people Ford Pintos. Now, we recommend Amazon.com to our friends. Who would want to return to the old model?
  3. Advertising is the only business model: The most surprising aspect of Mitch's post is that advertising is the only business model mentioned. There's no talk of a donation model (open source software), a merchandise model (Toothpaste For Dinner), a gimmick model (woot.com), a subscription model (The Bitterest Pill podcast), a community outreach model (Lululemon), a recommendation model (Zappos), or any other type of business model. None of these companies engages in advertising on a large scale (if at all), yet they are all very healthy businesses.
  4. The lack of a business model is a bad thing: Why? Unlike TV and radio, the content is already great. Mitch kind of admits this in both the Pew post and one from a few days earlier, named Bad TV, respectively:

    “Any idea how long it took channels like newspapers, radio and television to optimize their product to make it so appealing to advertisers? Most advertising professionals would argue that all of these channels are still working at it.”

    "[T]here is so much good content on the Internet that it is overwhelming. Where both [a DVR and an online news reader] enable you to avoid a lot of the noise, the Internet just has way too much relevant and good content - no matter what your varying interests may be."

    In other words, the hard part has been done: good content is everywhere! That's great! People find new ways to make a buck everyday online, so don't worry about it - the hard part is creating good content and cultivating an interested community.

Mitch says the internet is growing too fast - for whom exactly? Obviously not the viewing public, especially the young, if you read the Pew survey results. Obviously not us social media early adopters. So who? The suits? The record labels and the movie studios? Everyone else who tries to make a buck off of the content producer? Hey, screw 'em.

Out Of Whose Wallet?

Despite the assumptions I drew from Mitch's post, his main point is this: Who is going to pay for all of the content we consume online?

It's a valid question. Of course, good content has a price tag. But I think we've gotten too used to advertising paying for everything and it's turned advertisers into editors. That mentality won't work in this new era.

And Mitch and others get this, I think. In a post on Christmas Day, he wrote about a potential journalistic endeavor: "Hustling for banner ads is not going to generate the revenue that you were hoping for, and by focusing on this - instead of the quality and relevance of the content - it is only going to cause you to be distracted."

So let's not get distracted because of the business model. Tell business owners and old-school marketers this for now: Provide content, then build trust, then rake in new business. It's uber-simplified, but that's how you provide content at a profit.

This Isn't Personal

I count 10 blog posts in the last year alone where I had nothing but glowing things to say about Mitch. He and other new media folks are providing a light in the darkness to millions.

My concern is only that we keep moving. Sure, let's talk about business models and figure out how we can all provide the most use for our clients and make an honest buck doing it. But let's do it in a spirit that fits the new era, one where we don't get tripped up comparing things to how they were in the past.

Why? Because we're in a freakin' awesome point in time! Social media marketing is creating more honesty, value, and conversation - and I suspect that both Mitch and I would agree that's a wonderful thing.

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