The Irony of “Sociable Media” is that it’s not Sociable (at least not to me)

I read an interesting whitepaper today written by Stephen Randall of LocaModa and a partnering agency, Posterscope, titled Sociable Media: Seven ways to connect online and offline social experiences to deliver engagement, advocacy, and brand affinity.  In fact, I’ve read it four or five times, each time with a more detailed eye than the last.  And I find myself scratching my head more than wanting to forward it to all of my colleagues.

The authors, and certainly both companies responsible for the whitepaper, are clearly experienced in mobile and (digital) OOH engagement and by virtue, seem credible enough.  I’ve seen Stephen speak on various panels this year and he is a smart man leading the charge, one that I stand firmly behind.  I have not met any of the contributors from Posterscope, but by the looks of their history, they know what’s going on in the space.

Unfortunately, this knowledge-base and experience might very well be the downfall of the whitepaper.  My first question is, “who is the intended audience?”  This is not a 101-type whitepaper.  This is advanced theory, language, and practice – advanced enough that a good portion (if not a majority) of marketers, communicators, brands, and consumers will not know what in the world they’re talking about.  Brands are having a hard enough time catching up to social media – using it in a way that creates and adds value to the ‘community’ and themselves.  Much less a new, albeit interesting concept – sociable media.  This is way ahead of the curve, and if I’m left scratching my head (I, at least, speak this same language and know/understand all of the practices and technologies mentioned), what is everyone else left doing?  How does everyone else digest this?

From what I have seen in my extensive dealings with brands (big and small), the vast majority are not ready for interactive/experiential OOH right now.  They want to play in the mobile space just to play in the mobile space, and as mentioned above, they are trying to put the infrastructure/process/guidelines in place for their social media efforts.  But many of them are not there yet.  Sure, there are the Nikes and Minis of the world who are out in front, but like geo-location applications themselves (the basis of many of the points in this whitepaper), adoption and proliferation of interactive/experiential OOH is a ways away.  I want brands to get there quickly.  On some days, I feel like we’re on the cusp, with technologies that span various channels like this, but on most days, I realize that we’re far from it.  In fairness, I’m looking through this through an advertising/PR/communications lense, not through a lense that deals with this particular niche (mobile + OOH) everyday.  But my lense grounds me in online and offline social, both of which are incorporated into 95% of what we do and have been doing for years.  And while I appreciate the idea of “sociable media,” I am left wondering, “what else?”

From a brand’s perspective, social media is predicated on the idea of adding value to a conversation that is already happening, and then the goal is to grow it to the point of building trust.  The most successful brands in “social media” are those who understand their story and their voice.  Both are vital components in establishing a credible presence that adds value to the conversation and builds into a trust-based relationship over time.  In an effort not to bang you over the head with social-media-speak, in short – the story is the thing.  Even in “social” media where the brand “doesn’t own the story.”  Look across any channel, be it digital, mobile, OOH, even social, and the most successful brands are those who know their story and merely use those channels as distribution mechanisms.  Even in the case of “social,” the brand’s story is still distributed, just in a more open way.  This right here, this interplay with channels and story and technology is where I’m struggling to shape into what I believe to be true.  At the end of the day, which one of these drives a brand?  Is it the technology?  Is it the channel?  Or is it the story?

I think all three are important and I have thoughts on each of them and their particular interplay, but they’re not baked enough to share right now.  I would love to know what you all think??

Regardless, a connection that I did not get in this whitepaper’s “story,” was the connection of how this sort of engagement continues with brands, after the interaction with this screen, or person.  How is the conversation continued?  Much of it seems like a one-stop hit if it’s based on location, more specifically checking into a location.  The engagement is sustainable if the brand’s story is brought to the forefront instead of the actual location.  And then, continues beyond the location.  Where is the brand’s value here, on these screens, in this social media discussion?  It can’t be by just providing a place or a screen or a reward.  Right?

This is one of the barriers to the new OOH.  It’s all around us, not just on billboards or posters or screens – everything’s a “screen,” really.  Technology is blessing this medium in a way that enables it to be very powerful and “on” more often than not.  It’s easy to be driven by the technology.  And the channel.  And the location.  But do these enable the brand to tell their story in a more effective way?  Or do they just enable the brand to just be there?  Is it enough just to be there?

I have a hard time answering this, but I do believe that the most successful brands will be the ones who go beyond just being there.  As is the case in the social channel, the goal is build enough trust to have a long-lasting relationship (loyalty).  To that point, the paper talks about creating engagement (awareness), advocacy (preference), and affinity (loyalty), but in a way that leads me to believe achieving them revolves around location and channel, and not the brand story.  The authors do point out that the paper is not “completely comprehensive,” and I have to believe that this is not their intention.

It is about the channel, I get that.  That’s really the whole point to the whitepaper.  But here’s the promise on the front page of the paper – “Seven ways to connect online and offline social experiences to deliver engagement, advocacy and brand affinity.”  Those cannot be achieved without the brand story and I missed that whole section of this story.

There is much value to publishing whitepapers like this because the first to say is the first to own.  I applaud them, and anyone else who publishes these.  As a reader and absorber, though, I feel like there is a responsibility to talk to me in a way that can be understood, and most importantly, applied.  I want to be able to forward these to my colleagues.  I want to share the knowledge.  But if I don’t even know what the “7 ways” are, how am I ever going to get what “sociable media” is and how/why it can make an impact with me and my business?

2 thoughts on “The Irony of “Sociable Media” is that it’s not Sociable (at least not to me)

  1. Mike Cearley Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Stephen. I’m digging into your other white papers now. I’m always interested to talk about these things. Maybe we can catch up at one of these conferences coming up!

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