I don’t know Alan Schulman, the Chairman/Chief Creative Officer of U.DIG > The Digital Innovations Group. In fact rather oddly, I couldn’t even find a website for U.DIG. That said, I did find tons of leads into Alan because he’s one socially networked animal: LinkedIn, iMedia–he’s all over it. His considerable digital credentials and creative background nicely inform this incredibly insightful piece he posted today for Video Insider. Alan takes our industry’s current fascination with social networks and makes one very simple, incredibly salient point: people don’t want advertisers mucking up their social networks with banners ads, contextual messages, and all sort of other sales pitches.
Analytics and insights? Fine. Blog scrapings? Sure. But actually intruding on these conversations with our brand messages? That’s like paving the Serengeti: it’s entirely possible, but you’d ruin it. Sure, brands have created a couple of clever little distractions and pages here and there in FaceBook. Advertisers have also leveraged YouTube and Flickr in a few interesting ways. But the best of those creative platforms have been opt in–not forced viewings. Buttons, banners and pop ups started polluting the MySpace platform years ago and now they’re creeping into Facebook.
Quite rightly, Alan identifies social network communities as fragile creations–easily spooked herds that our very presence threatens to destroy.
Given this, the best social networking strategy for brands and agencies is fact-finding. Social networks provide unfiltered, real-world, twenty-four/seven activity for smart planners and research analysts to mine. If we protect these habitats, we can listen and learn about authentic opinions and values in ways that will inform our selling efforts in other, more selling-appropriate environments. After all, social networking activity makes for a lousy sales aperture: people just aren’t in a buying mindset at those times in those places; they are talking with friends, trading information with colleagues, playing and bonding and sharing. Intruding on their personal relationships with our brands and messages will only alienate them…and marketers tend to agree that alienating your audience is a pretty lousy idea.
Instead, much like a nature photographer who stalks big game in a wildlife preserve with her camera, we should limit our hunting in these rich human ecosystems to listening, note taking, clipping and cutting and pasting. Let’s consider a social network a resource, not a platform. Compared to the hapless artificiality of the tired old focus group, social networks contain natural conversations between like-minded people. These are organizations built solely on shared interests or common values where members freely share opinions, ideas, and simple conversation. Adopting a ‘leave no trace‘ approach by advertisers guarantees our social networks will remain incredibly valuable.
And naturally sustainable.