Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Publishing vs Social Media; a Difference of Filters

I’m sure we’ve all been in conversations around why social media is important to us as B2B marketers. Many of the discussions of its importance talk about joining the conversation, building a dialog, and engaging customers. I definitely agree that those are important, and that social media in general is of significant importance, but I want to frame the issue in a different light.

To understand what social media means in terms of marketing, we need to go all the way back to 1450. Johanes Guttenberg invented movable type, and with it, gave society the ability to mass produce information. With a bit of setup cost, a vast number of books could be produced, and that setup cost spread across all the books produced, making them economical enough for the average person to buy.

This, however, meant one important thing; the publisher was taking all the risk. If the books didn’t sell, he incurred all the cost, and received none of the revenue. This meant that the publisher had to pick good quality information to share – it was an “economic filter” on the quality of information. That same model transferred over to all other forms of mass media; television, music, movies, etc. The publisher of information had to bear the burden of producing information of good enough quality to generate a good sized audience, or they would not remain in business.

It was on this “economic filter” that modern marketing was built; by paying the publishers of media to allow us to “bypass” this filter, and insert our message in their publication, marketers were able to “buy” access to an audience. Whether in television, print, radio, or online media, the concept was essentially the same.

However, this has all changed with the advent of social media. The cost to publish a message and have it accessible to the entire world has fallen to zero. This means that the economic filter of quality, upon which both the entire publishing industry and the discipline of marketing has been based, is no longer a necessary construct.

What replaces it is the concept of a social filter. Information is deemed “good” if many people find it interesting. The original social search engine, of course, is Google. A link to a piece of content is essentially a social “vote” on that piece of content’s quality, and links are predominantly what Google, and all other major search engines use to rank content. As things progress, this trend will only accelerate as the search engines are leveraging the insights from social media in order to guide the ranking of content, and the social media sites themselves are using lists and groups to guide their understanding of social influence by topic area.

As access to information moves from the “economic filter” driven model of the publishing industry to the “social filter” driven model of tomorrow, we as marketers need to adapt how we communicate with buyers and how we learn who is interested. Rather than access content from specific sources on general topics, as they did in the publisher model, in a social model, audiences “discover” information based on the likes and dislikes of the peer group they respect and listen to.

As marketers, we need to ensure that great content is inserted into this conversation, and the influencers in the market spaces we are interested in are carefully nurtured and listened to. It is through them, and through the dynamics of social filters, that our messages will be discovered by the broader audience we hope to influence.

This is the fundamental reason why we need to do all those things that are talked about as the key activities in social media. Joining the conversation, building a dialog, and engaging customers, are all ways to influence the influencers in our market spaces and have our messages discovered. The investments we would have made in buying our way through the economic filters of the publishing industry we now need to make in influencing our way through the social filters of today's world. It is a different mindset, and different investments, but is as important as the advertising dollar investments we made over the last few decades.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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Kathleen Schaub said...

Steve, I agree with your observation that traditional media publishers no longer offer an economic filter that marketers can depend on. Information is becoming so ubiquitous that it is (almost) free.

I think the new information economy is being built around context - how can I find the right information in the right format at the right time to solve my problem, entertain me, whatever.

In other words, context is king (not content).

Social filtering is definitely one kind of contexting. Social filtering tends to work best with mainstream situations. For example, better for pop music than for finding Latin influences on early blues. Social filtering tends to work best for well-established information. For example, better for how to bake the best chocolate-chip cookies than for how to mine for water on the moon. Social filtering tends to work best for generally applicable situations. For example, better for how to write a dynamic subject line for an email than for creating a marketing strategy for a specific company.

Social filtering may have a role in establishing context for obscure, innovative and custom situations. Other contexting methods will also need to be developed.

Suzanne Vara said...


I agree with you as the shift to social media has been all about building communities and in that there is a trust that is has been established. Tapping into those communities by being welcomed is where I see social media going in 2010. The lists are just a beginning of what is to come.

Steven Woods said...

Kathleen - interesting point on established/rare topic areas and social filtering... Will be interesting to see how it evolves.

Suzanne - agreed, I think the forums are becoming more moderated, if not exclusive, in order to be successful.

Nausheen said...

Kathleen I still believe that the intellectually motivated group still goes for content and Publishing provides it in an authentic manner, which can last more and ready for refrence any time.