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Will being interruptive work in social networks?

July 11, 2008

I began writing this as a response to a comment on a post I did: As I was writing it, I kept expanding the comment to the point where I thought it deserved a post.

Here is the comment (with a couple of typos fixed, I know what that’s like):

“People do read differently on the web they skim they don’t read. For the web you have to completely relearn how you word things to make them short and snappy to get the information across like that!”

I think it’s true that more people skim online, but I don’t think that’s a result of the way things are written. I think it’s a result of the incredible amount of information we have at our disposal or mouse click.

There are some blog articles that I’ll read online even though they are thousands of words long. And I think that’s true of most people if the content is engaging. But a couple of poor thoughts, sentences, or whatever, and we’re onto the next RSS feed, link, or tweet.

But sometimes, I’ll read the whole article, and then read other people’s comments about the article, then still more blog posts related to it. In those instances, the people didn’t have to write short and snappy, they had to have ideas that were thoughtful and snappy. So I don’t think we read differently because it’s online, I think we read differently because we can.

But I think the focus of this response is on this part of the comment: “…you have to completely relearn how you word things to make them short and snappy…” I assume by you, Ollie means marketers since I make no secret that I am one. And on this point, I agree with him, but for a different reason.

As the internet fragments into conversations in places like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and any and all social networks, we’re faced with the notion that perhaps these networks will make money through advertising. Facebook is famously trying to figure out a Beacon-like solution.

And we marketers will advertise in these places because it’s clearly where people are. As I see it, we have two options.

The first is to throw ads at them that are more direct (or as Ollie said, short and snappy). I’ll call this the be-more-interruptive method. In the old days of interruptive advertising, with the TV, Radio etc, the content thoughtfully arced at the point of the interruption for commercials. Ads still had to get noticed, but TV created the expectation in the viewer that an ad was coming.

But that expectation doesn’t exist on the popular social networks. People joined them, and use them, without advertising interrupting the conversation. Thus, to get attention, we’re going to have to be really short and snappy. And perhaps flashy. Or something altogether un-thought-of to get attention.

Of course there’s another option.

Instead of trying to interrupt the conversation with an ad, add something to the conversation with a point of view. Join in. Then you won’t need short and snappy copy. You will need to bring something of substance to the table, and coming up with that isn’t simple. But it won’t be something interruptive. And maybe people will engage because they are interested — not because you got their attention by interrupting them.

Interruptive advertising is good for a lot of things. And it should be short, snappy, clever, and build the brand. We do this kind of marketing well at my agency through broadcast mediums like TV and Radio, and print mediums like Newspaper and Magazines. In those places, the ads are interruptive, but the good ones get noticed and cause brand awareness and even loyalty.

But that’s not the kind of thing we should be thinking about online. Online, we need stories, though perhaps not storytelling. Don’t interrupt. Join in.

Like I said, it was a long answer, but I appreciate the comment Ollie.

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