Why Advertising Will Not Win The Battle Of Social Media

by Jason Falls |

Jeremy Pepper’s passionate diatribe, “PR Will Lose Social Media To Advertising Because Of Sex,” raises relevant questions about the future of social media. He indicates advertising and marketing will win the fight for control of this (relatively) new medium, thus saying public relations will lose it. (Jeremy is a PR guy by discipline.)

His catchy headline says social media will be overcome because of sex. The explanation details the meaning — that advertising understands how to make the mundane exciting. Pepper then outlines a plan to save PR, though I think he means to save social media. His first point is education.

GreybeardI agree with Jeremy that it is our job, as PR professionals, social media specialists or whatever it is we call ourselves, to educate our industry (the marketing one as a whole, not just PR) of the delicate balance that is the social media environment. However, I don’t think this comes down to a battle of advertising and PR.

Being a PR professional, Jeremy alludes to his industry as the oft-ignored and mostly afterthought sect. My tendency is to agree with his assessment. His positioning of PR as a combatant in the war for control of the social media territory is understandable.

What I don’t think Jeremy may recognize through his piece is that the future of marketing communications as a whole is changing. Social media is a direct result of the masses flocking to the Internet to control their media environment. This is a nice way of saying folks are online because they hate advertising. As Rob Key’s philosophy indicates, the norms of this new found community will dictate whether or not advertisers will be welcome there.

Those who assimilate into the community and interact with it meaningfully will gain credibility and, thus, influence. (Todd Defren’s words, not mine.) If advertisers try to talk to the community and not with it, they will be asked to leave.

We as marketers are Jane Goodall and the communities online are the chimpanzees. (A metaphor, not a shot at the community intellect.) Trumpeting our arrival with the flash, pizazz and, yes, sex of advertising will only result in Greybeard moving the community elsewhere. Or worse, whipping our ass.

Jeremy asserts, correctly, that education is the key to this. We as social media explorers must educate the world of marketing of the appropriate rules of engagement here. Our educating must be inclusive of the bombasters on the ad side. Failure to do so won’t result in the demise of social media, only a tightening of security.

The bouncer is going to get bigger and badder.

Of course, those preaching the gospel on social media engagement, like Jeremy, are going to continue to hold lofty positions in the marketing community. The it-getters will be heard. If we educate appropriately, the hearing will be done on the front end. If we don’t, or if advertising goes running in to crash the party too quickly, we’ll be heard on the flip side.

And we’ll be picking Greybeard’s foot out of their behinds.

For our part, Doe Anderson has already had a primer on social media. Our internal education program will grow to include specific breakdowns on social networking, social news sites, social bookmarking, blogging and more. We will explore not only what each of these are, but how we as marketers can appropriately approach each one on behalf of our clients. We have extended the learning opportunity to our clients as well and are already booked for one such presentation.

The biggest takeaway I present in these offerings is that we, as marketers, now face the challenge of A) Marketing to people who do not want to be marketed to, B) Talk with the community and not to them and C) Win invitation into conversations rather than injecting ourselves there.

The first rule of communications is to know your audience. This is why I believe Jeremy’s doomsday assertion that advertising will one day overrun social media is jumping the gun. Because smart advertisers will know in order to reach this community, they must throw away all they know and start again.

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IMAGE: By wordman1 on Flickr.

[tags]advertising, marketing, PR, public relations, social media, community, community standards, Web 2.0[/tags]


About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).