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Social media is earned

March 1, 2009

(Note: This is the beginning of a thought on earned media.)

A bottle of wine is a social tool. On a table with 4 people, it can open the conversation, and get it flowing. I’ve had many a good night start with a bottle of wine. You probably have as well. And while the conversation is helped by the wine, each person in the conversation earns the props for a really good time.

The wine acts as the catalyst.

The point?

Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Friendfeed, are social tools. They are bottles of wine, social tools that can help the conversation ebb and flow. But just like the bottle of wine, which helps people unwind, different tools offer different ways to unwind.

For example, twitter is a social tool that lets you meet, make small talk, and perhaps connect somewhere else with people (often a blog, since the tweets are often the first salvos of a conversation created by a post).

As I lurk in places like Twitter, Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon, I’m reminded that lots of people talk about the power of social media to connect brands to people. Part of me agrees, and part of me disagrees.

The agreeable part thinks that as a marketing tactic, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc can be utilized to spread a message. The message is the thing that people might say about a brand. It’s not an ad, it’s a message. A stance. Or maybe a philosophy about the brand.

The disagreeable part thinks too many people look at this like a fad. So when people say, “We want to get on Twitter”, or “We want to create a Facebook page”, or “We want a viral idea.”, then one realizes two things:

  1. The person speaking doesn’t think this is marketing, but instead thinks it’s a quick magic thing that will sell things. It’s not. It’s marketing, and without a plan, it’s simply throwing money out the window (something that shouldn’t be allowed in a year like the one we’re having).
  2. The person speaking doesn’t understand that these are social communities, not paid media places. Paid media and social media are different. This is earned marketing. Which is a little harder, but potentially more lucrative. Paid advertising had to first get attention before it worked. By definition, earned media already has people’s attention.

Earned media, by the way, is a much better term than viral. Viral implies some sort of sickness, when really all it means is that the thing earned a tell to some friends. Correct people who say they want a viral idea. At least said person will understand that the idea has to be good enough to earn a click.

Earning clicks is potentially lucrative.  What do you think about the term “earned media” replacing social media when talking about brands? I also like earned media better than viral.

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