I keep reading about brands that have used social media to reach their audience. It’s kind of funny when you think about that. First it’s funny because traditional media is writing about the very media that is killing them. Second, it’s funny how obsessed we are that social media is ‘different’ from old media. There seems to be a belief that social is inherently better. Why is that? Is it because social is seen as more democratic? Is it because social is seen as more real? Or is it because social is just the new way?
Before I go any further let me get one thing off my chest. While there is some traditional media left, the vast majority of media is now social. Most of our media has social aspects to it. We can share it, comment on it, create our own versions of it and directly influence it. Some purists would say that organizations such as the BBC are traditional media businesses. Yet if you look at almost all their online content it has a social element to it. The BBC has made real efforts to embrace social media and social network concepts. I still feel they could go a lot further but they have come a very long way in the last year. Organizations such as the New York Times have also taken bold steps as have publications such as Forbes. Again, there is more they could do but you have to applaud their efforts. We now follow their editors on Twitter, we get their news in real-time, we see comments from other readers.
So does all this mean that social is now the norm? I’d say that many aspects of social are the norm. Publications have realized that the value of content is directly linked to the number of people that share that content. Sharing an old fashioned print story was hard and rarely happened. Sharing a news story via twitter, Facebook, email etc is all too easy. So easy in fact that we are now looking for ways to filter all the content. When social arrived we all loved the idea that we could effectively let our friends filter the content for us. If our friends thought it was worth re-tweeting it was probably worth a read. With thousands of tweets landing on our feeds each day that method is a bust. We now need tools to filter the filter.
So the challenge for the media isn’t to become more social. The smart ones have already done that and are now struggling with how to break through all the clutter. Put another way, social media is starting to deal with the very same challenge most companies have been wrestling with since so much commerce went online. When people started buying products online search optimization took off. Now of course most social content has some optimization built in. But I’d argue that most tweets, blogs and YouTube videos are not that optimized (this blog is a great example). Indeed it would seem that content optimization is still a huge opportunity for the creators of content. Indeed I’d argue it is THE opportunity.
I’m sure some of the social media gurus out there will say I have this all wrong but IMHO there is still more talk than action on search from comms staff. Most comms staff don’t discuss search strategies, they talk about content strategies. They don’t conduct search audits, they conduct messaging audits. This is not surprising. Most of the people in communications have grown up with content as king. We are trained to find ways to craft messages not optimize for real time search engines. I’d argue that our obsession with content is a good thing BUT that we need an equal obsession on search if we are to win in a digital world. Content, however great it may be, has no value if nobody can find it.