This is a question a brand planner friend of mine inadvertently asked during a recent discussion. It’s since struck me that there are a few issues it uncovers that are in some sense trivial but I think worth discussion. I think the major distinction between the normal application of strategic planning to solve business problems and the building of Facebook communities in an immediate sense is that the building of the community doesnt directly solve the same business problem. It is merely an asset that can be leveraged to solve the same business problem the communications strategy seeks to solve increasingly into the future. Its an obvious point but as an owned channel it is a pipeline through which the broader communications strategy can get to market as it is built and gains scale.
Potentially though there is a broader business problem that building Facebook communities achieves. Which is the need for brands to build their own communications channels populated by advocates, which can subsequently advocate to their friends, driving penetration, because consumers are increasingly hard to reach and are generally indifferent to advertising given the oversupply of un-engaging branded communications.
So in effect it doesn’t solve that same problem, but can be used to in the future. However it does solve a broader problem being the brands increasing inability to effectively reach consumers, which advocacy activation can assist in solving.
I understand the value of network buys and the economies large media companies can derive but there are some digital media types like Facebook and YouTube promoted content that should be managed by creative agencies. Heineken’s recent multi million dollar deal with Google [YouTube] is a great step forwards in brands achieving economies of scale with big digital media publishers that matter and this I think opens the door for the creative agencies to manage these channels. The reason for this is that with the two main media channels YouTube and Facebook being highly agile and optimisable it makes more sense for the management of these media to be done by the agency that makes the content [YouTube] and manages the communities [Facebook]. Further, I think with these two dominant and highly valuable media channels in particular the value equation for media buying and deployment has changed. These channels to me are more valuable than normal display networks for a number of reasons but one that I think that is highly valuable is their flexibility. YouTube promoted content for example is not beholden to a media schedule or limited inventory [yet anyway]. So the media plan around YouTube can be adapted multiple times over the course of a campaign. The integration with Google display to retarget to content viewers is also immensely valuable, and planning and optimising this media with data and analytics that creative agencies have would add vast efficiencies.
I would almost think these types of media are in a category that is distinct from display network media because they are more closely associated with a brands owned channels being YouTube channels and Facebook pages. And now with Google + I am sure Google and YouTube media will become even more closely integrated with owned channels being Google Circles.
I think the model should be this: clients form large scale buying agreements with Google and Facebook, creative agencies plan this media, manage the data, use and optimisation of these channels. Media agencies then continue to manage network buys to ensure economies with these networks. That way owned channel data and owned channel type media can be better integrated and deliver beter results.
I am always amused at how people join ’causes’ on facebook like the ‘Save our Oceans’ cause and a mulitude of others in the thought that the mere act of joining the cause is doing something to help the oceans. Don’t get me wrong I understand the need for awareness and I also understand the butterfly effect and how a mulitiude of little butterflies can make a change but really this kind of public cause support to me is no different to the greenwashing that we rightly acuse many brands of.
The people that join these causes may indeed be well intentioned and likewise concerned about the ocean but joining a causes group on facebook does nothing to actually solve any of the problems it seeks to. The user however still gains the social kudos from joining the cause in the highly public forum that facebook is so really this is no different to a brand like BP calling themselves beyond petroleum and changing their logo to a green and yellow flowery thing.
Perhaps I am being a little harsh there are afterall people in these causes that give money and perhaps all of this social media participation in causes is an indication that we are on some sort of cusp of massive social change. However I cant help shake the feeling that people although they are concerned about the environment deep down interact with the issue more like a moral and in some instances one of fashion than the now clear calamity it presents which requires nothing less than action. OK I may have just fallen into the irate greeny catagory with this post but in all fairness if we are going to hold brands to account for green washing then perhaps we should all look at our own attitudes and behaviour to causes and be careful to treat them with the seriousness and urgency they deserve.