Just a few years ago, it seemed sensible for a brand to include calls to action such as “Like us on Facebook” and “Follow us on Twitter” to their traditional advertising spots, in print, on radio, or television. Driving people to a brand’s social channels helped build a community, where the brand could then connect with consumers with separate—and considerably cheaper—content. The problem, though, was the rate of change in the digital media era. Facebook went public.
Social channels began to monetize (in a cutthroat capitalist environment, who could blame them?). Facebook has basically destroyed organic reach, and the platform has become a media space. For a brand to reach the social community it had spent years creating, it has to pay up. It’s a change that’s emblematic of the jarring and ever-shifting social media world that brands find themselves having to adjust to. During a discussion at Social Media Week in New York on Wednesday, Matt Britton, Founder and CEO of MRY, and Lisa Weinstein, President, Global Digital, Data and Analytics for Starcom Mediavest Group discussed the many challenges that brands face in a world where the distance between social media and traditional media is shrinking.
Britton believes strongly in the “death” of television. “YouTube and Facebook are making TV networks nervous,” he said. Eventually, Britton thinks, we’ll move to a one-screen world (phone and tablets completely merging), and we’ll use that screen to beam to our television what we choose to watch. There’s no reason, it follows, that the content there won’t be from Facebook or YouTube. Live sports are one of the only things keeping television networks afloat. Sporting events are among the only DVR-proof events on television.
Britton believes that Apple, Google and the like will soon be the ones to make these mammoth deals with a league like the NFL, who dominates U.S. television ratings. At that point, what will Fox, NBC, CBS and the like have to offer that a consumer can’t get on Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu? If Apple and the NFL make a deal, and consumers can choose which games they want to watch on their Apple TV (or mobile device), networks will be left out in the cold. And when this happens, along with the fact that brands will have to pay up to be seen on social platforms, brands will have to be more selective in the content they produce, and will have to produce higher-quality, well-produced content. “‘Like this if you like Wednesdays!’ is gone,” Britton said.
World Wrestling Entertainment has already gone to a subscription-based, over-the-top model (to mixed results, so far) and HBO will be rolling out their own offering. NBC Sports has English Premier League fans in the UK jealous of those in the United States, who can stream every match to their mobile devices. It’s definitely on its way. Weinstein agrees that this trend is going to come, but she’s more skeptical as to how soon it will come. She urged not to underestimate inertia, and the difficulty inherent in such a massive change in models and markets that are so deeply embedded. Surely, the television networks won’t be an easy beast to slay.
Regardless, when it does happen, the landscape for brands will look quite different. And they’ll have some preparation for when the change occurs, with social media already becoming less “social” and more traditional “media”. Some of the best-performing social content is already high-quality, image/video-heavy, boosted with paid behind it. With this, the days of real-time marketing might be waning. Britton mentioned Oreo’s tweet during the blackout of the Super Bowl in February of 2013, which, in a sense, was the biggest spot during advertising’s big night. The tweet itself was brilliant at the time, but with so many brands trying to follow up and find their “Oreo” tweet (Oreo included, firing off a bunch of pre-canned tweets as the Oscars unfolded later in the month, in “real-time”), Britton said, “it was all noise”.
With social platforms trending in the direction of straight media, brands will have less opportunity to gain traction with off-the-cuff content. Weinstein thinks that perhaps the term “real-time marketing” will be going away (“Maybe the term was a fad,” she noted), but relevant marketing is here to stay. Social media platforms will continue to give brand the ability to understand what their consumers care about, and what conversations they are having.
For long the thought seemed to be that everything was going digital, and everything was going social, so that’s where brands needed to be. That’s not changing. What might change, though, is the content on those platforms. If we’re soon in a world where television is irrelevant, the result isn’t that brands should not produce video spots anymore, that they should just fire out tweets and lean on hashtags. It’s that the content we used to see on television will be consumed elsewhere. The place for those very well may be social platforms, and like television, the space is going to force brands to reach into that checkbook.