Dead simple marketing: How ‘Social’ is the new Soylent Green

Goin' social in Tucson

Goin’ social with the Contract Packaging Association at the Tucson Omni/National

Okay, we get that Spam is a protected trademark, unless it has a lowercase “s,” in which case it refers to the virtual analog of the canned pink, meaty stuff. And Kleenex ain’t just any paper product. Unlike brand names, however, there’s no legal department to remind us of the true meaning of buzzwords. Like “social.”

What’s social mean? For starters, like Soylent Green, it’s about PEOPLE! Not thumbs smudging a smartphone or myopic drones spamming-out 144-character cyber-droppings on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn just because somebody told them to.

My attendance at a recent confab of the Contract Packaging Association, particularly some presentations and a group of attendees — enterprising outsourcers — led me to some deep thoughts under the hood. For this crowd, succeeding in business hinges first and foremost on real as well as virtual, relationships. That, and some golf, decent meals and some good drink (pictured).

I connected those dots and published them in dead trees and online, in the column titled, “Where’s this Relationship Going?” There you’ll find links to experts on both social…and socializing.

On media chickens vs. eggs

Go against the grain of conventional wisdom and be an egg. Innovate! Incubate!

Across traditionally print-oriented business-to-business (B2B) media, there are a whole lotta chickens. Most dead-tree publishers want to find the Next Big Thing , like everyone else, but there are very few “eggs” willing to risk investing in digital media of any sort.

Graphic: www.pdclipart.org

Forget about the new media vehicles,  they’re not going anywhere, right? You can save a lot of money if you unplug your Web site, tear-down your green screen and cancel your podcasts. Forget about social media!  You can drift blissfully along putting-out printed materials… like magazines and pamphlets that most of your recipients treat like ad flyers. You can Be a chicken, and for lots of good reasons.

Why most people are chickens:

  1. Budget: A lack of funds to invest in new media technology and human resources.
  2. Expertise: A shortage of skills to create and produce content on a regular basis.
  3. Revenues: A too-thin revenue stream of interested customers willing to fund new-media ventures.
  4. Interest: A dearth of enthusiasm on the part of your customers/audience members.
  5. Fear of Premium: A third-rail belief that a premium-content subscription model can ever work.

The list of reasons not to invest in new media goes on and on. A case in point: A major dairy company’s marketing folks researched its B2B customers to find “ZERO” interest in social media. If your company found that nobody wants to keep up with you on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, why would you invest in any of those channels?

In the B2B trade magazine field, I’ve encountered numerous publishers over the past few years with varying degrees of interest and activity in social media, podcasting, the walled-in mobile media and related channels. Some produce horrid content, and some produce pretty fine stuff. Overall, I’ve found the industrial B2B trades dealing in services and supplies to a U.S. manufacturing sector to be relative laggards for the reasons I point-out above in those bullet points.

Dare to be an egg!

Of course, I set-up all the reasons to avoid new media — to ignore the march of progress — just to knock them down. I was a “print guy” until the late ’90s, the early days of the Web v.1 — the 1990s, before the Internet’s first Boom-and-bust cycle.

As one of a handful of Editorial Director of the once-mighty VerticalNet, I saw traffic across my seven B2B food-industry portals from 180,000 user sessions to 250,000 user sessions per month in a very short time. The company collapsed over a lack of commerce, not content, which was hopping with compelling content created in-house as well as through outside writers and media partnerships. We BLEW AWAY the audience numbers our print-magazine friends were generating.

We were eggs! By “egg,” I mean we were breaking new ground, serving as a proof-of-concept incubator that digital media could pull eyeballs to our very-sticky online communities. Today, lots of additional digital channels have joined the Web, but you get the point.

Now, let’s reconsider those factors I address above, but with a more optimistic prism:

  1. Budget: I’ve seen teenagers and hobbyists take the plunge; funding isn’t the issue; commitment is.
  2. Expertise: Ibid. There are plenty of smart people who will learn the skills if they don’t already have them.
  3. Revenues: Clients and customers would love to partner with you, even if you do some spec tryouts up front.
  4. Interest: Great content and a little hand-holding with opinion (and adoption) leaders can work wonders.
  5. Fear of Premium: Offer content that’s truly actionable and people will pay. (See WSJ, FT iPad app plays.)

No matter what I say, there will always be people from the old-guard, old-media mold who will say this is just lip service. But no one can deny that A) a generational shift is underway; B) trees are an outmoded way to convey content and C) there are just too many opportunities to be innovative and create something outstanding… viral.

Behold the egg. Become egg. Love the egg.

Innovate! Incubate!

In the Web v.1 days, people thought the “Field of Dreams” effect would drive eyeballs and, in turn, revenues to their Web sites. But today, if you build it, no one will come unless you take a more energetic role in producing inspired, targeted content.

Go against the grain of conventional wisdom and be an egg. Innovate! Incubate!

Consider what Apple has done in creating demand in areas you didn’t think made sense. They led in the 1980s with the 3M-inspired mouse-driven graphical user interface and people loved it; Microsoft took it and changed the face of business with Windows. In 2005, Apple introduced the iPod — an also-ran in terms of market timing in a market filled with languishing MP3 players. Nobody really knew what to do with them until Apple rethought them and created an iTunes ecosystem that changed the music industry. The same ecosystem is grabbing mobile talk, computing and advertising by the digital cajones. And Apple TV may not be the best, but it’s likely the most user-friendly digital living-room pioneer going today.

And yet also today in the industrial B2B world, I see some groups at LinkedIn, and a very few listenable/watchable podcasts out there that have both good production quality and content quality.

I see people continuing to talk about “paradigm shifts” without doing anything about it. Myself included… which is why I’m committing to doing more work across the digital mediascape. I’ll update you later on my personal travels and travails across the digital mediascape.

Are you a chicken or egg? Are you in the midst of trying to decide? Tell me your thoughts in the comments, here. Or for a more, perhaps proprietary discussion, talk to me. Find me at the contact page of my home on the Web, the Field Office.