Social media, social marketing: getting behind the YES

Great: but will they do it when they're home alone and there's no one to tell?

I got into an interesting conversation the other day about social media as a channel for social marketing – and, oddly enough, came over a bit socialist. Social marketing is where the thing being marketed isn’t a product or service – i.e., something you want your readers to buy – it’s a behaviour you want them to adopt. Social marketing applies to things like quit-smoking campaigns; 5 a day is social marketing. The conversation I was having – on Futerra’s blog – was about using Facebook to get people to go green, and the fact that Facebook is increasingly like a big shopping mall, with shops – or adverts – all round the sides of it. It was quoted (from Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy) that ‘marketing has done a very good job at creating opportunities for impulse buying’.

Now, this is true. But social media, while it contains marketing, is more flexible than that – it contains the constituent parts of marketing, broken down and rearranged. And as various as people are, they are that various in how they use social media.

Look at how two lovers can stand and kiss under a hoarding, oblivious to its message.

I can say that I have never once clicked on an advert on Facebook. I’m a writer: the writers are all over Facebook. We use it as an office. It’s like a big office block with levels and floors and meeting rooms and water coolers and corridors along which no one wants to be seen to prowl. We use it for networking, debating new developments in the publishing industry, debating prize results, debating new books, debating literary politics.

Debate is an intensely social experience, with all the ups and downs and subtleties of a social experience, and it has the power to change minds. Look how important the agora was in Ancient Greece, or the forum in Rome.

I’ve made strong professional alliances on Facebook, as well as actual friends. I’ve bought books I wasn’t planning to. I’m sure social media influenced my purchase of a Kindle. It’s influenced my attendance at book launches and other events – an influence on both my networking and exposure to new work, and also my book purchasing.

I’ve also commissioned writing – excellent writing – from people I’ve only met or heard about via Facebook, which means that to some extent they acted as ads for themselves. In many cases, such is the facilitating nature of the medium, they were people with whom I already shared big things (such as a publisher) in common.

In a social marketing sense, and specifically a green sense, it’s harder: as it was said in the discussion, it will be very interesting to see someone try to influence people to buy (or do) LESS.

In a specifically green sense, I ran the blog and tweeted at the Energy Saving Trust for nearly a year – and the irony of the audience having to switch on the electricals in order to receive the message was not lost! On us or, as it happens, the readers, who really know their stuff.

Come to that, there was also considerable irony in the fact that a single Google search uses as much energy as boiling a full kettle. (Try watching a smart meter while you boil a kettle. You might think twice about making tea for a day or two.)

Clearly, social marketers in social media need to recognise – and learn to negotiate – this irony.  We need to remember that in some area, or on some level, the reader almost certainly knows at least as much as we do. You can’t pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. This is something lots of organisations are not yet quite to grips with.

Neither has anyone yet found a fruitful way to ‘negative-advertise’ back into NOT. (Even the word ‘fruitful’ negates the NOT.) We have to create the positive, YES, value, and – in Ogilvy terms – sell the sizzle back to the public. But this is more than just sizzle. We need to find out what the positive value is – is it the neighbours smelling your sizzle? Is it future, the kids? In the immediate term, is it low energy bills?

David Ogilvy’s book , while we’re on the subject of things Ogilvy, is full of masterful long copy, which relies on facts and information. He sold his agency itself on its knowledge. Knowledge appeals to people in all kinds of subtle ways. For one thing, they feel flattered to have it. For another, it is power. I myself feel the power of knowledge every time I feel guilty for making a Google search, and using all that electricity. Someone should do something on Facebook to deepen this guilt, so I’ll start really wanting to avoid it. Or maybe innovate a less energy-intensive , crowdsourced way of getting information…

So back to Rory Sutherland. He says another thing social media marketers need to think about. (It’s all in his TED talk, ‘Life lessons from an ad man’.) He says: ‘The interface fundamentally determines the behaviour.’

This is a fancy way of arriving back where we started. We need to learn, as fast and well as we can, what are the best, most reward-driven, most delayed-but-gratified, and most social ways of getting people to say YES, and MEAN it. We need to forget the whole selling-and-consuming paradigm, and find something new – or, maybe, as old as the forum.

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