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Social Is A Media, Not A Tactic

I got a great question the other day via email. Mike Johnston wondered why so many of the guests "..have such a difficult time describing the principles of creating an effective social media campaign for a brand." 

In his estimation, "It’s the purest form of brand advertising I’ve ever seen...I’m always amazed at how many advertising professionals aren’t able to articulate how/why it works. I don’t want to come off negative because I really like your show, but could you invite on a guest to discuss the basics."

I thought I'd share a slightly edited version of my answer:

Well, trouble is I've invited on the show all the real experts I respect the most and I get somewhat different answers from each, so I don't think there are any true "basics" to share yet, per se. However, as I've articulated on my blog a few times, the aggregate answer is that there are two ways to look at social: As a media you buy or as a slow-build opportunity to encourage advocacy.
In the first camp, we find the branders and the sellers using social networks for pushing out a message in a personal way. Whether that's a brand or a "buy-now" push, it essentially comes down to a numbers game, just like any other media. The more folks you reach, the more chances you have to make an impact. And the more targeted and engaged the audience is, the more likely they will be to hear you.
In other words, social influencer strategies are about "buying" (literally or figuratively) an audience to make an impression, much as traditional media buyers purchase time on a prime time show. The only perceived advantage is that the social audience is probably going to be more engaged with a message coming from someone they respect.
In the second camp, we find those who are infusing a transparency throughout an organization and encouraging conversation around the brand, usually initiated by the customer, but always nurtured by the brand. The object is to do whatever possible to encourage and nurture true advocates for the brand so that they end up sharing your message with honest enthusiasm for the product. It tends not to rely on tricks that create false conversation centered on a promotion. It's more about finding advocates who are already expressing appreciation and giving them more reasons to do so. 
Both are valid approaches but very different, and it behooves a brand to understand these differences before initiating a social campaign. The first requires critical mass in terms of followers and can be achieved by buying the attention of a few folks with a million followers. The second is a slow build that relies on persistent relationship building and one-on-one engagement. And the approaches can be blended together to a certain extent as well, so they are not exclusive to each other. But they need to be recognized as separate initiatives with different goals.
Social is being lumped as a single "discipline" and that serves no one well. It's like saying TV is all about branding, when DRTV also uses the medium of television effectively. Social media is a media, not a strategy, and the tactics you employ will define the type of outcome you receive.
At least that's where I land on things. I would say this more on the show, but I try not to grandstand. It makes for a better program to just let the guests take center stage.

Hope this helps a few people to understand social tactics a little better and maybe sparks some conversation on the subject.

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