The Future Of Social IS The Future Of Marketing

big fish

I recently had the opportunity to attend ExactTarget Connections 2012, and among several panel discussions, I especially enjoyed the one entitled Social 2020: What Will Become Of Us? Moderated by the inimitable Jeff Rohrs, VP Marketing Research & Education at ExactTarget, it included Margaret Francis, VP of Social at ExactTarget, David Berkowitz, VP of Emerging Media at 360i, Stephen Tarleton, Director of Global Channel & SMB Marketing Bazaarvoice, and Sam Decker, CEO and Founder of Mass Relevance.

The panel had some thought provoking insights, and some predictions, or course. As a marketer, I have my own thoughts about what the future might look like, and there is a punch line near the end of this, but the next few paragraphs might help provide some perspective.

We marketers at times tend to forget that our marketing ancestors were predators. They wanted nothing more than to exclude their client’s competitors from the marketplace. If they could have hunted them down with spears, swords, and tomahawks, they would have. 

When we progress through the historical narrative of marketing, we all understand the slow progress made, leading to the notion of right message, right person, right time. To that extent, we can sometimes justify our craft by saying that we are really doing the consumer a favor by providing a valuable service.  After all, we have a job to do.

But let’s face it; the goal in 2,000 BC was to help our clients achieve market dominance. And it still is.

Fast forward to the age of all things social. Social technologies caught corporate America in the crosshairs. Suddenly the predator became somewhat vulnerable. We reacted to this new reality, and we did it badly for the most part. How many companies today are even responding adequately to questions posted on Twitter?

Make no mistake about it. If social had not come along, the business world would not have changed their behavior. If corporations were so keen to become so customer focused, would they not have created their own versions of social channels? We are still living in this fight or flight world, and many companies are trying desperately to control this new social reality, to institutionalize it.

Once many in the marketing community got hold of social, it was treated as bait, the lamb tied to a tree, used to lure the unsuspecting lion to the trap.  But there is another group within our tribe, those who see social as a strange, mysterious new tribe that has wandered into our land. Yes, they are different, but they bring gifts of cooperation, of listening, of community, shared.

We still hunt, but we do it as one extended family. We take only what we need, and we share stories round the fire. It is a subtle, but profound change in how we as marketers approach our craft. It doesn’t mean we stop our campaigns, our metrics, or our reason for being marketers. It does mean we hunt with a larger tribe, and we inform our decisions from a very different perspective. 

So here we are, as marketers working within this new reality, yet we still tend to at times behave as if we are still in the old world. Which character in the marketing Hunger Games are you? Now back to the question posed by the panel, and my recommendations on how to meet the unknown future world of social. And my one sentence response is:

Stop obsessing about the technology!

The Internet is inherently social, but as information saturates literally every channel, it becomes harder and harder to get attention. Future social vendors that cause technology disruptions will naturally respond to this, and the unknown factor really boils down to how disruptive will it be? The new tribal marketers understand that it is very difficult for organizations to predict the future of social technologies. They instead should focus on what will continue to be critical whatever disruptions come along, namely, behaviors that will be respected regardless of technology changes.

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