One of the great things about our new information culture is how disparate sources coalesce into something meaningful. Last week I read a Fortune magazine article on Marc Andreessen, news about IZEA's Sponsored Tweets and research on the impact social media has on brands and eCommerce. When I put these pieces together the picture is of a powerful locomotive hurtling toward a creaky bridge.
Social Media and the Telephone
The telephone is a social platform. You call family and friends to talk about things from the trivial to the serious. If you know a person's phone number you can call them. At some point, marketers figured out that they too could call you, so long as they had your phone number. Phone numbers weren't hard to find.
This didn't sit too well with most people. They didn't want some stranger calling right at dinner trying to sell them something. The thing was, enough people actually did respond to these calls and telemarketing flourished. It was a lot more effective than direct mail.
Over time, more and more people became irate. Laws were passed so that you could opt-out of these unwanted calls. But there were loopholes. Giant gaping loopholes. Any company you had a 'prior relationship' with could still call you unless explicitly told otherwise.
You might have bought from them before, maybe even kept an eye out for coupons, but you didn't want them to ring you up whenever they pleased.
Now replace phone number with user name. This story has already been written.
Sponsored Tweets and Telemarketing
Sponsored Tweets will not work like telemarketing. The reason why telemarketing works is because you can engage in a dialog. A good telemarketer changes their approach based on the subtle feedback they're getting from the prospect. And they'll certainly use every objection as an opportunity. I know a bit about this since I ran telemarketing programs for nearly five years.
The problem with Sponsored Tweets is that the lack of dialog. One way communication isn't nearly as effective. It's the reason why telemarketing beats direct mail. No, Sponsored Tweets are not like telemarketing.
Sponsored Tweets are Robocalls
You've probably received a robocall.
Robocall is American pejorative jargon for an automated telemarketing phone call that uses both a computerized autodialer and a computer-delivered recorded message.
I'm guessing you've gotten one during the election season or, most recently, from some company trying to sell you an auto warranty extension. You don't like them.
Getting a robocall from Martin Sheen is the same as getting a Sponsored Tweet from a celebrity.
Context Shifting and Social Marketing
Marc Andreessen believes that advertising can be an effective part of social interactions.
He tells me Facebook "will be bigger than Apple" and declares that the social-networking company will become the mass-market window to the web, much as Google has been for the past six or seven years. Twitter, so far criticized for having no way to make real money, will get advertisers to pay to reach people as they are sending messages about the sponsor's products.
The real issue here is context switching, a term my Caring.com engineers introduced to me. The general idea is that if you're thinking in one way (about one thing) it takes some time and effort to stop and think about something else. The context of your attention has changed.
This is why I believe social marketers need to build an ice cream truck. They need to deliver something that forces people to shift their context.
The example of Google actually supports the idea of context switching. Eyetracking studies have shown substantial differences in how people scan results for transaction based queries (left) versus information based queries (right).
All searches are not created equal. The intent of that query, of that action, defines the context.
Social Marketing's Creaky Bridge
Others, like Andreessen, seem to believe that context is homogeneous and can be blended. That social messages and product based messages can live side by side. That as you're telling someone about the cool new things your iPhone does that you'll enjoy a message from Palm trying to persuade you that the Pre is the way to go.
... an overwhelming 96% of employed consumers say their opinion of a product brand does not change if that brand has no presence on a social networking site ... In fact, just 12% of respondents say their opinion of a brand actually changes if that brand maintains a significant social networking presence and only 11% of social networkers report following any major brand through a social networking site.
This is but one of numerous datapoints that illustrates that creaky bridge I mentioned at the beginning of this post. The locomotive of social marketing continues to thunder down the tracks, ignoring the flashing yellow signals at their own peril.