Surprise! Social Media for Socializing

Jim1The media and marketing mavens of the universe have been proclaiming for some time now the glories of social media. High reach, relatively high levels of engagement, ostensibly razor-sharp targeting. Who wouldn’t want to use it for advertising?

Last week, eMarketer released a special report titled “Millennials and Social Media: Gauging How Facebook and Other Networks Fit in Their Lives.” Among the findings coming out of that report was that a lot of millennials are using social networks as a source for information when shopping – discovery, sharing opinions about brands and products, research. But by and large, what millennials mostly use social media for is… GASP! for socializing. They aren’t interested in brands engaging with them there, and they aren’t really that interested in shopping through it.

Now, this might come as a surprise to advertisers and their agencies, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to regular human beings. Determining that millennials aren’t interested in social media for brand engagement is like concluding people aren’t watching TV for the commercials.

The rush to use social media as an advertising platform is another example of just how far advertising has gotten from consideration of the people being advertised to and how close it has instead become an insular exercise of techno-fetishism and focus on ostensible ubiquity over meaningful brand engagement through appropriate media engagement.

I’ve said it before, I’ll be saying it many times again: the regular human being’s relationship with advertising is something between passive ennui and managed hostility. Getting in a person’s way while they are chatting with friends, posting photos of their vacation, or sharing their sadness at the loss of a loved one to cancer is NOT a good time to ask them if they’d like to shop for Unisex gum soled Vans.

I urge everyone looking to reach any audience – not just millennials– via social media to takes a few things into account.

1. Ubiquity alone is not a reason to use someone as an advertising medium. Don’t use social to advertise just because lots of people use it to socialize. The medium needs to be suited to the satisfaction of an objective driven by a business goal. Look, everyone uses toilet paper – I hope – and you don’t see advertising there.

2. Not every product, service, or brand is suited to the medium. Do you know how many brands are in the top 50 pages on Facebook? One. This doesn’t mean brands shouldn’t participate in social media, it means that advertising and shopping is not the best use of the space. This isn’t something that hasn’t been said before. It’s just something that is still not being taken to heart. Not everyone is seeking a deeper relationship with his or her mayonnaise.

3. Do more looking, less touching. Social media is where people go to speak. As a brand, you should listen. That’s more important than anything else you are going to get there. Listen, gather data, and use it to inform the rest of your marketing enterprise. This remains the most valuable contribution social can make. That isn’t to say there isn’t still some value to advertising there, but don’t be bedazzled by the targeting and the reach and all the rest at the expense of rationale.

Jim Meskauskas is a co-founder and Chief Strategic Officer of Media Darwin, a consultancy specializing in strategic planning of commercial communicative action. He’s a medialogist who has spent the last 20 years living, breathing and thinking about how to use media to move people to action. Outside of that, his likes are horror movies, Southeast Asian cuisine, his wife and his cat — not necessarily in that order. His dislikes are mean people, people who text while walking in or out of the subway entrances, pestilence, war, famine and death.