There is no social media


There is no social media


Let’s face it, it’s become a cliché to talk about how fast the world is changing. That doesn’t make it any less true.

Sometimes a picture can really bring this transformation into perspective. One might look at pictures of the crowds awaiting the announcement of the Pope in St Peter’s square in 2005 and then again in 2013 and see the mobile revolution brought into clear focus. It’s as plain as day — media creation and consumption super computer in virtually everyone’s hands. What I am reminded of when I look at those photos is not the mobile revolution per say; that change is always rumbling under our feet, whether we can see it or not. And it’s happening faster then we even realize.

©   Luca Bruno/AP   and   Michael Sohn/AP   respectively

© Luca Bruno/AP and Michael Sohn/AP respectively

How we work, play, love, and live is being augmented, one small change at a time. Every single human experience will soon be transformed by digital technology — some small, some huge, but none will go untouched. It can be hard to really see it on a day-to-day basis. But then suddenly the evidence is as irrefutable as stark photograph.

We are witnessing all generations enjoying the empowerment of mobile technology and the connectedness of social media, and the digitization of everyday life is almost starting to feel normal. However, it’s dangerous to accept any given state of change as ‘the norm’. We believe there will not be a new normal, or a flatlining or slowing of the rate of innovation in which we can all catch our breath. We don’t believe that we will get to a point where we have it all figured out. The minute we think we do, is the minute we fall behind.

Digital is change. Digital Changes Everything.

© 2015   Viktor Jakovlev

One of the changes that’s reached this transformational moment is social media itself — or to the point, our understanding of what social media is and how to use it.

To state it plainly, we believe there is no such thing as social media anymore.

Controversial as this may at first sound, having debated this topic at length particularly with social strategists, I’ve come to understand is that when we strategise, ideate, engage with or measure social media activity, we nenver make the mistake of doing so in an aggregated sense.

We believe that the term ‘social media’ has become a misleading, unproductive and vast over-simplification of the individualities and indeed opportunities that lie before us. In the time that so-called ‘social media’ has permeated almost everything we do, it has also constantly morphed and matured. The platforms have consistently expanded, splintered and pivoted in dizzying directions.

Still the term is unfortunately used as a shorthand to refer to the entirety of… Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Youtube, Tumblr, Sina Weibo, Vine, Foursquare, Medium, Whatsapp, Spotify, and hundreds if not thousands of others.

The act of labeling these sites/brands/platforms as ‘social media’ only works to reference their lowest common denominator. It’s not the commonalities that should drive our thinking and our work. It’s their uniqueness. That’s where the true power is. The very term ‘social media’ is a mental construct that holds us back.

Facebook is as different from Twitter as radio is from television.

Snapchat is as different from Instagram as a press ad in the underground is from a pre-roll. Whilst this may seem like common sense, I’ve found that the more I dig into this the truer it feels and the more it activates my work. Each platform cultivates and enables a unique kind of experience, standard of formats, features and interactions.

…which inspires a unique kind of content
…which encourages unique kinds of behaviours
…which attracts and grows a unique kind of audience
…which builds unique kinds of communities, both niche and mainstream
…which inspires the ever-increasing expectations of people in the digital age
…which ultimately guides the evolution of each of these platforms.

This cycle is individually true and individually different for each platform. How could this not profoundly affect the role of our marketing? In fact, how could it not be the primary tenet upon which everything digital hangs?

As marketers, getting our messages and campaigns to effectively perform requires us to see these platforms as active hubs of very specific consumer experiences, not as passive media channels.

We have no choice but to fully leverage, exploit and celebrate the real time nature of Twitter, the familial community driven inertia of Facebook, the sublime art direction of Instagram, the voyeuristic chatty anarchy of Snapchat. The users are constantly defining and redefining what they want from these tools. Brands and agencies must mirror that in an always-evolving way.

It’s clear to me that grouping those platforms together has very little productive value. The top 10 brands on each of the platforms have a very little amount of crossover. This insight has dramatically changed our approach to delivering powerful work for our clients.

We no longer deliver social media strategies to our clients. We establish a digital strategy that sits at the heart of a brand strategy. This is powered by a series of platform playbooks. One for each and every channel.

Each channel playbook has individual:

  • Yearly objectives

  • Demographic and psychographic use profiles

  • Insights on platform history and affordances

  • Insights on changing user behaviours

  • Changes in trends and future expectations

  • Media standards and innovation opportunities

  • KPI and performance measurement standards

  • Guidelines for brand engagement, campaigns and always-on

Each playbook is updated quarterly and each channel is reported on individually. In addition, when it comes to measurement, we avoid aggregate performance metrics such as ‘total number of impressions across all social media’ as we feel that only serves to produce a big number, whilst not giving the meaning or detail required behind that number.

Exploring Digital Nativity

What these playbooks empower us and our clients to do is practice what we call ‘channel native creativity’, where our campaigns are not only matched with specific channels but our solutions are fuelled by insights into the core characteristics and changing user behaviours of each platform. Sometimes these come from the top down, where brand campaigns seek the most effective and powerful expression within the right set of channels. Sometimes these come from the bottom up, where business objectives are aligned to a channel prior to ideation, and we let the affordances of the platform play a bigger role in driving our strategic and creative solutions. This heightens how ‘digitally native’ the ideas are to the platform and we believe it heightens its effective potential.

It’s a straightforward approach but we feel it represents a powerful change in mindset that has profound benefits. The social web is no longer a specialist area of the web. The entire internet is social.

As long as we rely on the lazy shorthand of the term social media, letting it drive how we architect our strategies, ideate our campaigns, and measure our effectiveness, we hold ourselves back from making the most out of our digital marketing.

Perhaps soon, ‘social media’ as a term, will soon be seen as antiquated as ‘surfing the net’ is today. We don’t surf the net anymore. We shouldn’t get social with only a particular kind of media either. There is no social media. There is only Facebook. There is only Twitter. There is only Snapchat. And so on.

A version of this article originally appeared on The Wall Blog. It was also the content of a talk given at Socialbakers Engage London 2015.