What happens in Facebook should stay in Facebook...

16 Jul 2012  |  Michael Bayler 

Michael Bayler, strategist and author, Bayler & Associates, on why the world of Facebook shouldn't be the be all and end all of advertisers and their budgets...

They just don't get it

Perhaps the ultimate accolade today among marketers is the phrase: "He/she gets it".

It's typically thrown out as a casual, not quite back-handed compliment, a sort of qualification in brackets. In brackets because, despite the valiant efforts of various industry bodies, those who "get it" have yet to be corralled under a single formal body of knowledge or school of thought.

I suppose I've been counted among this number for a few years now. "Getting it" apparently means grasping a crucial shift in the drivers of marketing value from macro-media to micro-media; brand power to consumer power and of course, analogue to digital media. Maybe it's just a Gladwellian 10,000 hours of digital exposure.

However, I would like to focus here on those who still don't "get it". I think we should be listening to them a little more closely, hearing their concerns and asking ourselves if we who do "get it" are in fact guilty of more than a little prestalgia.

Totally Zucked

A couple of years ago, it was de rigueur for senior brand and agency executives to make a pilgrimage to see the usual suspects on the West Coast. Almost without exception they returned with a Damascene glint in their eyes.

They had been taken up the mountain, shown their future by senior Facebookians, perhaps the Zuck himself, and told: "Some day son, all this will be ours!"

Clearly the story was a cogent and exciting one to get these otherwise phlegmatic, risk-averse players enthusing like college kids on their first spring break.

We can be sure it was mostly based on that now familiar, in fact tautological argument that if the future of marketing is personal data, Facebook has more intimate data about a greater number of consumers than everyone else put together. So your future is, well, our future.

And quite often you would hear the returned pilgrims saying, if only quietly to themselves, as they settled back into boring old job life after their too-short trip to the Magic Kingdom: "I really 'get it' now".

The undelivered promise

But the fact is - disappointing IPO, GM tantrums and so on aside - that the evidence really doesn't stack up. And I don' t believe time will change this: not one iota.

If "getting it" is about buying into the story that the marketing future is all about data, ergo "Facebook über alles" must be our cry, then I'm a little embarrassed to have been counted among those who "get it".

And I'm relieved to now be among (leaping gaily from Damascus across to yet another biblical allegory) the terribly uncool doubting Thomases who see no special problem with Facebook as a cultural phenomenon, but remain unable to fathom quite why this still peripheral engine of brand-building value should become the centre of the marketing universe.

Swimming against the tide

We are beginning to suspect that the "cogito ergo sum" Cartesian argument that underpins all data-driven advertising propositions, and most notably has hoodwinked investors into buying into a vastly over-excited valuation for Facebook, is just wrong. You can't build a real business on a tautology.

As I've written elsewhere, there is no question at all that certain kinds of data - used in certain ways - add transformational value to the marketing cause.

However, those two truculent poster children for data-based advertising, social and mobile, remain stubbornly mired in both solid consumer resistance and embarrassing revenues.

The real problem does not primarily lie with the data tautology. As with so many troubling philosophical conundrums, we've been asking the wrong questions and looking in the wrong place.

Therefore, we have missed a critical perception that those who never quite "got it" perhaps got it all along.

Not the movie... just the screen

As marketers and media players, we instinctively seek to be wherever the consumer action is.

Our understandable assumption has been that, given the sheer amount of precious consumer attention that Facebook has hoovered up in its short, destructive life to date, it was very much where we should be - and thus where we ought to be investing.

In the end, we were wrong. A relative minority of peripheral die hard users notwithstanding (we've all had our fling in ZuckWorld: the majority of us, my own children included, move on) today's connected, outbound, self-expressing, co-creating and so-called "social consumer" has a very big and remarkable life outside Facebook.

It is inside that life, that very vibrant engine - one in which Facebook for the most part really only represents the exhaust fumes - that we seek something more than chorus line and walk-on parts for our brands and our content.

In our obsession with data; in our desire to be where the action is and perhaps because we do still think of "the screen" as being the key locus of consumer engagement, have we actually come close to missing the movie altogether?

Those who never entirely "got it", I suspect remained unconvinced that what happens in Facebook is, in fact, more than a sideshow to the main feature, a shadow of the real narrative.

If so, I think they may have been, albeit inadvertently, entirely correct. Myself: I don't "get it" anymore, and that feels rather liberating.

Let what happens in Facebook, stay in Facebook. It is of course an extraordinary cultural entity that commands our ongoing fascination but not, I think, too much of our budget.

Our project, of building valued and valuable brands in a connected world, is a far bigger and indeed a far more challenging one.

Your Comments

Wednesday, 18 July 2012, 17:05 GMT

Having spent more than 20 years observing telecom companies hurtle away from what they know how to do (connect) and into something they don't (sell content), because "that is where the value is", I am intrigued and refreshed to read Michael Bayler's observations on "What happens in Facebook...". This is because it is true, Facebook is the new means of communication (or one of the biggest at least), as is social media itself.

However, that is just it: a means of communication. In the old world of telephony, tariffs and regulations this was measured, and paid and funded by the minute. In that world it would have been inconceivable to "own" a phone conversation between two people - the neat answer was to set reasonable terms of payment for use of the medium.

Social media "conversation" has more facets (pictures, "likes" and the like) but it is just a means of communicating (particularly, number seven of comScore's ten need-to-knows about social networking for the young, the "digital natives"). Just that. Communicating. Yet another example of the old adage "it's over there"; only it is not.

Mike Jeremy
Head of research
Daniel Stewart & Co.

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