Monday, August 24, 2009

Are Social Media Rockstars An Endangered Species? Or The Future of Advertising?

Don't get me wrong--I couldn't be happier about Forrester's newest report showing that social media adoption has basically become "nearly universal." Definitely bodes well for me being gainfully employed.

At the same time, though, I can't help but notice that the whole social media rockstar thing is getting a little out of hand. As more and more businesses realize what Forrester's report highlights--namely that 51% of all online Americans have joined a social network and a whopping 73% are, if not joining, at least consuming social content in some context--they are whipping themselves up into a frenzy over the implications of this mass adoption. Suddenly there exist magical "Influencers"--regular people who are universally likeable and respected--into whose hands brands can place their products and these mythical beings will work their Twitter or blog magic and thousands of sales will be the result.

Or at least this seems to be their thinking, from where I sit. Take, for instance, Dooce. Just a regular gal....with 1,142,958 followers on Twitter. When Dooce tweets complaints about her new Maytag washer, this is what happens. OFFERS--plural--of free machines from other companies.

Now is it just me being bitter that I myself am not swimming in swag or is the deitization (is that a word?) of social media "influencers" getting to be a bit ridiculous? I mean, come on--companies honestly see her and others like her as so powerful that they are tripping over themselves wanting to get their product into her hands so she can tweet about it and huge sales will result? It's seriously starting to get a little crazy...I can honestly imagine how this washer thing played out. Dooce tweets her complaints about Maytag. Other washing machine companies, doing their social media due-diligence, are monitoring for mentions of their or competing brands. They see this opportunity to jump in and save the day and probably emergency staff meetings were held at multiple companies: ALERT! Opportunity to swoop in with a free washer and save the social media goddesses' day. It was probably like a hostage situation--a bunch of guys around a computer screen "Ok--quick--get a message to her NOW offering our machine for free! GO!" Waiting with white knuckles to hear back from her or--God willing--to have her tweet kudos and mention their brand's name to her million-plus followers. Many of whom will, naturally, go right out and buy a washer from this company merely because Dooce endorsed them.

Come on now. Is any one person's word THAT powerful? Apparently. At least she's using her powers for good, though.

The flip side of this coin is the sell-your-soul-to-the-devil thing where companies give a blogger a few gadgets to play around with for a few days and a trip to a trade show and expect to own his soul in return. In this case I'm talking about Chris Brogan, being ripped for CHEATING on his sponsoring company when, 8 months after his sponsored trip, he announces a partnership with the company he had a conversation with while on said sponsored trip. Now again--come on. Dude has to make a living. He did nothing wrong--didn't cheat, steal, etc--he struck up a conversation at a neighboring booth which, many months later, resulted in a consulting opportunity. What is about companies thinking that if they throw a blogger some swag they expect eternal gratitude in the form of a non-compete for actual paying business at any point in their lives? People can't live off the odd trip to Disney or a trade show, no matter how swag-lishious that trip may be.

My point? I'm not really sure. I guess it's that these truly are the days of the social media Wild West and it will be interesting to see how the whole thing plays out five or ten years down the line. Will swagging bloggers be a long abandoned experiment that ended up not generating any appreciable business for the companies that thought it would? Or will all journalism be bought and paid for and old-school advertisements a thing of the past? Is getting a social media superstar to talk up a brand the slam-dunk some companies seem to think it is? I guess time will tell.

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