The Sh*tFacebook Problem

5 12 2008

Social media is a hot topic. But, how do you make it a real business? (Laurel Papworth has some interesting stuff on social media monetization strategies here.)

If social media is so hot, what’s wrong with this picture?


Maybe what’s wrong with this picture, is what’s wrong with this picture. It’s too real.

Call It “The Sh*tFacebook Problem”.

Social media is inescapably tied up in relationships and human nature. Both are, frankly, messy. They are full of the lust, drunkenness and questionable decision-making that’s part of being a young human being.

Isn’t that exactly the same stuff that’s on reality TV? Yes, but on TV the “reality” is carefully edited and molded into a sanitized media property.

The stars are uniformly attractive. We hear them vomit, but don’t see it. We know there’s sex, but it’s all airbrushed and perfumed and suggested. There’s gauze on the lens. The zits are blurred out. The sleight-of-hand we need as marketers — and as an audience — is working.

It’s the difference between putting a dead cow on your plate, and serving you a filet mignon. Yes, it’s the same stuff: but the presentation makes all the difference.

Real Reality Is Too Real

Most CMOs are old enough to be the Moms or Dads of the Smirnoff-soused Sweethearts of Sigma Chi pictured above. So while marketers want to use social media (27% of the top consumer and business-to-business marketing executives at 180 brands said they wanted social networking and word of mouth), often they can’t. The Sh*tFacebook Problem gets in the way.

“I’m Interested, But… I’m Not”.

According to a recent survey by Epsilon, 55% of CMOs at leading brands are not too interested (22%), or not interested at all (33%), in incorporating social networking sites into their marketing strategies. Steve Cone, Chief Marketing Officer of Epsilon, observes that “These sites narrowly appeal to college and high school students, providing a challenge as far as measuring results and yielding a limited amount of actionable data.”

The In-The-Flow Vs In-The Way Problem

Another problem is one I’ve written about before: the ads are not in-the-flow, they’re in-the-way. A recent IDC study of social networking site visitors shows that users are:

  • less tolerant of social network advertising than other forms of online advertising;
  • clicking on those ads less (on the Web at large, 79% of all users clicked on at least one ad on the Web in the past year, whereas only 57% of SNS users did);
  • not buying — those clicks led to fewer purchases (Web: 23%; SNS 11%).

The Who Gives a Sh*tFacebook Counter-Argument

While all this makes it difficult to monetize social networking sites, the very real counter-argument is this. However imperfect, our only chance to sell is by putting ads where our consumers go. If they’re on Facebook and not on TV, we may have no choice but to go there.

The Social Media Will Grow Up Counter-Argument

We may also see that the way people use social media will mature, and that people will become far more careful about how they present themselves online. If users — for their own sakes — ultimately decide to tone down the drama and present a more “edited” reality, social media networking sites could grow up right along with them.

What do you think? What does the future look like for social media networking sites? If you owned one, what would be your plan to monetize them?