Social mantra

Is social media the holy grail, a passing fad, or something else altogether?
David MacGregor


People who speak with force and certainty have my undying admiration. No vague, prosaic terms for them. By comparison, my personal inclination is towards doubt. When presented with a case for which there is no possible alternative I tend to look for the alternative. Though I cannot be sure it is there, residing quietly in some corner of the realm of possibility, in all probability … it is.

I love science. Not because I have any great affinity for dissection or calculation and algorithms (one turns my stomach and the others are simply beyond my ken), but because I like scientific method—the process of discovery through hypothesis (what if?) and experimentation (how?), and then the rigorous examination of method and results in order to test and replicate the results.

So, when I am told of absolute truths in my area of daily inquiry I am often sceptical—even when the glossy oratory and polemic remind me of David Ogilvy’s remark, “When Aeschines spoke they said, ‘How well he speaks’—but when Demosthenes spoke they said, ‘Let us march against Philip!’”

In recent months I have been told, in no uncertain terms, that advertising, as we know it, is dead. Social media is now the way the truth and the light.

Forgive me if I am sceptical. Much as I agree that social media is a wonderful thing—I assiduously monitor my score as often as the next fellow—and that harnessing the power of people via web technology has enormous value and more potential, I cannot abandon my open-mind policy in frantic, fanatic belief. Beliefs are anathematic to scientific method and, dare I say it, thinking.

Likewise I doubt the conservative view—that advertising (as we know it) is stronger than ever before and social media is simply a flash in the pan. This view seems akin to Marie Antoinette’s naive ‘let them eat cake’ assumption that the proletariat were simply hungry for brioche rather than a shift of the paradigm.

When I taught design research methods at Massey University my ‘thing’ was to always look for bias in my student’s research proposals. “If you already know the answer,” I would say, adopting my best donnish pose, “why not save yourself the energy required for the charade and take a walk on the beach. You will return refreshed and I shall be spared the effort of consoling you when you fail.”

The obvious bias of the social media gang is that they have been given the tools to connect and engage without patent or the obligation to pay for the privilege. Meanwhile, traditional media owners (remember when we Internet pioneers used to dismiss them as ‘legacy media’) lament the burden of capital and debt that will be geriatric long before it is ready to retire.

Likewise those who trade in media time and space, the agents of the media who fill the gaps to flog products and services, plaintively argue that more people are watching television than ever before—though that graph looks like the beginners’ slope, while the number of people gossiping about #ApprenticeNZ via Twitter as the show airs looks like the north face of K2.

It’s become a war. Sadly, the first casualty of war is the truth. I can only resile myself to hypothesising about ways of harnessing the power of the technologies at our disposal to create outcomes for our client’s products and services.

Rather than being partisan defenders of one particular faith, let’s be open-minded and remember the starting point for successful marketing communications is the end: The Objective.

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