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One Day All Media Will Be Social

Posted by: Serge Barsotti on April 16, 2010

As already discussed in a number of our “That’s Debatable” posts, social media empowers consumers and has forced brand marketers to adapt and evolve. As the power of “social” makes itself clear, we look to the near future and wonder: What is the limit of social? Is it possible for all media—even more traditional media, like television and print—to develop a social aspect? How far will social spread? And how could the stretch of social change the way we think about communications— forever?

While it might be difficult to imagine social shifting from a subset of communications channels to the overarching category, it’s an interesting thought experiment—and it’s actually not so far-fetched.

Below is a breakdown of a few key factors that could foster the spread of social media–and some that could limit or halt a complete social takeover. Signs that social media is taking over.

Signs that social media is taking over:

1. The media landscape is going digital.
Although traditional media seem to be fading in popularity at first glance, in reality, traditional channels aren’t disappearing but evolving. Newspapers are becoming online news sites. TV shows are moving online. Magazines are offering online content. While the technology changes, content and format is evolving to incorporate more aspects that facilitate social behaviors. The New York Times already includes a “social sidenote,” if you will, to each article. TV shows like American Idol encourage interaction through text votes; others almost ubiquitously send you to “see more!” or  “see behind the scenes!” on dedicated blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. As traditional content increasingly expands into the digital space, the content will increasingly mash up with social media services.

2. Digital properties are dissolving barriers and opening a direct exchange between brands and people.

It’s an obvious but important point. Brands are given new possibilities to interact with and gain key insights about their customers. From customer feedback to crowdsourcing, social media platforms enable two-way communication that can be both risky as well as enriching for brands. But the fact is that the company walls are breaking down—so those that embrace what customers have to say and actually showcase how listening to customers influences the business (like MyStarbucksIdea and VitaminWater’s consumer-named new drink) will have a much easier time adjusting to the new world of media.

3. The influence of advertising is shifting.
Consumers increasingly rely on social recommendations, which they more often find online by using search engines or social media outlets. The data, like that shown in the Razorfish FEED study, is strongly behind the digital influence on purchase behavior.

4. Current advances in mobile technology will leverage social media even more.
By mashing up traditional mobile communication like text messaging with social media services, the consumer stays connected at all times and everywhere. So when consumers can see specials or recommendations through their mobile devices, your brand better be present and accounted for (remember our argument for getting location-based channels like Foursquare in the mix?).

5. Internet use is near ubiquitous among teens and young adults, and rapidly growing with older audiences as well.
This is the first generation to grow up with digital media, and they embrace social media now and in the future. They don’t even know the internet without it. But social media growth is high among Boomers and their seniors. If the adage is “go where your audience is”—well, all forms of media are going to need to integrate in some way to the social spots where their audiences thrive.

6. Certain social media platforms have passed a key tipping point—and a network effect has taken over.

Facebook, with a total of more than 400 million users—fifty percent of whom visit every day, and on average spend an unbelievable 55 minutes on the site per day (PER DAY!)—is impossible to ignore. By becoming communication and information hubs, both for consumers and brands, services like Facebook are the driving force behind social media, and can be used to feed information and experience into more traditional media.

Ok – social definitely isn’t everything, everywhereyet:

1. Usage of social media channels is currently on the rise—but we shouldn’t forget that traditional media is still highly relevant.
Although some channels might need a change in direction and strategy, radio and television are still highly relevant. In fact, while social media is becoming an important tool in brand communication, it only works as an integrated part of a broader channel mix. Particularly because the internet hasn’t reached the simple mass penetration of the market that radio and television enjoy (yet).

Also, although there’s been decelerated usage of traditional media among all age groups, most users still trust traditional media more than other channels. Other media channels are rated more favorably in terms of accuracy, credibility and telling the truth.

2. If social media platforms continue to fumble when it comes to confidentiality, customers will avoid using it.

People expect to know how their communication will be distributed online. If consumers are insecure about how their confidential information is handled, they avoid using a social media service or use it with reservation.

In conclusion...

There’s no doubt that social media growth will continue rather than decline at this stage in the game, particularly given that it is becoming integrated into every other media channel.  So keep your eyes open for the day that “social media” will no longer be referred to as a separate channel—it will just naturally be a part of everything.

Still, if there’s one obstacle the social media phenomenon faces, it is this: establishing trust. It will be up to social media platforms to step up to this challenge. To avoid becoming just the flavor of the week—or turning off users forever—platforms will need to prove their credibility and be more and more transparent about how they benefit users and what they do with users’ personal information.

This post is the eleventh in a series called That’s Debatable: Social Media Edition – posts designed around oft-debated topics in our community, meant to spark conversation and gather different perspectives. Learn more about That’s Debatable, and take our social media survey, and join the debate on brandchannel.


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