Social media has a branding problem

A hundred thousand years ago cavemen had a very good reason to be neophobic. They knew that the familiar things in their environment did not kill them (and those that could kill them, they knew to avoid).

Anything new was, until proven otherwise, a threat.

Like many human instincts, this neophobia is still lingering in a world where it is an obstacle rather than a benefit. Moving advertising and marketing into the social web is, to a vast majority of clients and agencies who are presented with it, something new. Especially in the way it is presented to them. And so their instincts tell them it is something that could harm them. And rightly so, the web is full of bloggers heralding social marketing agencies as nothing short of the second coming, the twitterati are aghast that everyone else doesn’t ‘get it’, and in the past 12 months trade press has even occasionally giving some ink to ‘social media experts’ telling brands that if they’re not in there already, they may as well not exist.

The irony is that a throng of communications experts have failed at getting the people that matter to listen to them about the social web. And as the blog posts and twitter buzz increases in volume, it seems to be widening the gap and failing harder. All this at a time when marketing budgets are shrinking and social media is missing out, even though there is a valid role for it in the current climate. It’s inexpensive, accountable, and excellent at building a brand’s long term value.

The problem is that social media has a branding problem.

We are by nature social animals. In this sense the majority of advertising up until now has been unnatural, it has been one-way, anti-social. The social space should be even easier than every other area we work in, because it is how humans naturally want to communicate.

Every brand manager, marketing manager, and agency type are now comfortable with the online world. It’s not the big scary beast it once was, and it’s value (in one-way marketing) is proven. Taking this one-way comfort into the social space should be an organic evolution, social media is not the new scary animal in the jungle, it’s just an evolution of something that’s already existing. It’s an evolution of what we already do, and have always done: we communicate with consumers.

Social media needs to just evolve into everything we do. Any creative idea or strategic approach must include a social element. This is how we move forward, not by scaring brand managers and using the latest bloggerati buzzwords. What we will be doing will not be groundbreaking, because it doesn’t need to be, it’s just evolution. Digital didn’t become part of mainstream agencies by standing out on it’s own shouting about how cool it was, it simply became ubiquitous in every piece of work we did. In the same way, social media will not become relevant in advertising by going solo, it must blur into every single idea we have.

- January 2009