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Underscore’s Tom Hespos on Social Media and The Future of Communications (Part I)

Tom Hespos is the chairman and president of Underscore Marketing, an independent media agency that creates and manages digital marketing programs. The Makegood recently spoke with Tom about Social Media, Online Marketing and the changing digital landscape.

The Makegood: Tom, you started Underscore Marketing in May 2002, focusing on digital media for clients from all product and service categories. What top three messages can you provide companies when using online social networks and how does ‘Underscore Marketing LLC’ help them being successful?

We developed a presentation for brands considering a presence in social media that helps them focus on a few very important factors that need to be considered before jumping in with both feet.  There are a lot of important considerations, but the three most important are:

  1. Honesty is the best policy.  We tell clients that if their intention is to use social media to spread untruths or to gloss over things that consumers think are important, don’t bother engaging people in social media at all.  Brands that insist on being less than truthful are frequently outed by the Internet hivemind, and their investments in social media quickly become liabilities as things snowball.  So if you’re going into it without committing to honesty, you’re much better off taking anything that you’ve budgeted for social media and rolling it into paid media or some other channel the brand is active in.
  2. The people most qualified to run a social presence on behalf of a brand are the people who work on the brand.  It might be sacrilege for an agency guy to say this, but any brand running a serious social media program should ultimately bring it in house. Agencies can do their part by contributing strategy, creative ideas and technical knowhow, but the people on the front lines talking to customers should be people empowered by the brand and the company.
  3. Understand the commitment fully, before you act.  Social media represents a long-term commitment.  Brands are committing to real dialogue with customers, so they’re committing resources to handle that.  They’re also committing to certain channels within social, and people don’t handle it well when a brand suddenly goes dark on Facebook or Twitter.  Brands need to understand that the commitment is ongoing and that funding for social media campaigns can’t be pulled back if there’s a budget cut or if the ROI isn’t what was expected at the outset.

The Makegood: Tom, you are a frequent contributor to industry trade publications about online marketing and advertising since 1998. What mayor trends in online marketing will affect the future of communications?

I think the biggest thing that will affect how we communicate in the future is the health of the ad-supported content model.  The Internet has disrupted  this model more than any of us in the media business really want to admit.

If you really want to scare yourself, talk to people who make content for a living. Talk to a website publisher about the average traffic a given story receives, what he’s paying for that content to the person who actually writes it, what his costs are for designers, servers and bandwidth.  Then think about what that content creator is actually putting into his pocket at the end of the day. Knowing what you know about what advertisers actually pay for ad space, you’re able to put all the pieces together and paint a picture of what’s wrong with the model.

How does this affect communications? Look around you. Have you noticed that content is changing in an attempt to prop up the broken ad model?  I searched for some information about a niche health condition the other day and got linked over to an article that could have made sense only to a search engine spider. Then there are the short articles stretched into 12 page slideshows, the deliberately inflammatory headlines designed to attract even more inflammatory comments, and the complete absence of fact-checking.

It’s almost undeniable that the ad-supported content model is simply not well.  And the consequences of that will continue to be crummy, shallow content.

Advertisers need quality content to attract the right audience, so the long-term health of the model should be a bigger concern for them.

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Read Part II

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