Contrarian Approach to Social Media

by Les Kollegian

In 2007, I attended the Annual HOW Design conference in Las Vegas. I decided to go to the conference for several reasons including meeting with peers, learning from experts relative to print and interactive design, and mostly because I had heard good things about the show and didn’t know what I was missing. I was DEEPLY disappointed. I found that most of the seminars were a glorified portfolio review with little to no educational value. I realized that the majority of attendees were sent and paid for by their employers, thus they were just happy to be out of the office. I will say however, that there was one seminar I attended that really had an impact. The gentleman that spoke was David Baker from Recourses. ( ReCourses, Inc., provides individual consulting, seminars, speaking, and writing exclusively for firms in the marketing industry, including design studios, advertising agencies, public relations firms, interactive providers, and in-house marketing departments of large corporations. I highly suggest you check them out if you are in the business of marketing and design.

I receive David’s monthly newsletter and love it. Below is an article David wrote about his “Contrarian Approach to Social Media“. I agree with this article but have slight issue with his second point. While I agree that it is important for our clients to handle their own social media and training them is an initiative we always approach, it is not always realistic. I’d love to be able to fix my own car, but even if I was trained, I wouldn’t have the time to do it. I mean… I barely have time to wash my car, much less fix it, so I spend $20 to have it done for me in less than 20 minutes. As a full-service agency, it is out job to help our client grow. We handle social media for those who request this service by understanding our clients target market(s), their business goals and objectives, marketing strategy, and more. We always explain to our clients our approach and what we are working on, as well as request suggestions (if they can offer them) to create viral and “sticky” content. Anyway…that’s my thought on the subject. I am certain you will find what David wrote much more interesting below.

“I’m going to put a stake in the ground on social media. The long delay in doing so publicly stems only from a lack of clarity until now. The noise, activity, and promises associated with social media sound like a symphony warming up before the conductor’s first downbeat.

Social media is a lasting fad. Yes, that’s a contradiction in terms, but it’s the new “internet” in that everyone wants to be on the bus when it gets there, but mostly they don’t really know where it’s going. It will obviously be around forever in some form, but the “irrational exuberance” is lemming-like.

What’s Driving Personal Social Media

As those involved in marketing products and services, we ought to frame the public’s interest in social media. It’s not driven primarily by technological advancement, even though that is part of the equation. In broad strokes, social media has gained traction because….

People are looking for connections and meaning in societies where the core fabric of community isn’t as prevalent.

People want more control, and the idea of countering the historical impact of paid and earned media is alluring. Social media gives them a voice.

People are disillusioned with the constant barrage of marketing messages, believing them to be full of marketing speak and unrealistic promises.

People are looking for authenticity, in both personal and business contexts.

Combining Business and Social Media

If you disagree with the previous section on what’s driving the personal side of social media, you are not likely to agree with this section either. The uncertainty and resulting tension from the intersection of the personal and business sides of social media are palpable, and how we resolve that tension–or how it is resolved for us–will determine the future of this medium.

Consider that there is no revenue model of any kind. The purveyors of social media are losing money at astounding rates (except when they sell the platform to someone else who can afford to lose even more money), and the ROI for business involvement in social media is pretty much like the story of the bus above.

The more that business in general appropriates social media in the current manner (with very few exceptions), the more annoying it is to the people actually driving the medium, simply because it begins to smell more and more like traditional media intrusion to them. When someone decides to follow you on Twitter, whether it’s the “business” you or the “personal” you, that person is trusting you to fulfill the promise being made to followers. As long as you keep your promises, all is good and you have a dedicated follower. But create a “Friends of [Your Business]” page on Facebook, and then invite them to become a fan four times without a response, and you’ve completely violated the notion of social media.

As a business, the farthest you can safely go is to facilitate discussions about your brand, embracing a Libertarian philosophy of information, opinions, and engagement level. Business purposes that masquerade as personal authenticity are disingenuous and a violation of the authenticity consumers are increasingly longing for.

All of which is why there is no revenue model, because the more direct the dollars, the more people smell a rat, and at the moment, no one wants to pay for social media, just like they don’t want to pay for information. All that may change, and probably will, but don’t invest a lot of your clients’ time and money trying to do business as usual in an environment that’s not at all usual.

Speaking of ROI, any real measurement for that must take the value of time into account. Some agencies are doing more experimenting now with social media because times are slower and experimenting is easier to justify.

Doing Social Media Well

I’d like to make seven specific suggestions on how to take the lead in this tremendous opportunity, doing it well right out of the gate.

One, understand that companies want to throw money at things to see what sticks to the wall, but they don’t want to commit long-term resources, so they are hiring others to do it. They can’t stomach the idea of paying employees to sit at their computers and do social media, which means that most of them don’t believe in it. Yet.

Two, do not do social media for your clients! If done that way, it’s by definition fake and counter to the medium. It’s a waste of their money, too, and they’ll remain dependent on you when they shouldn’t be. Teach their employees how to fish–don’t keep fishing for them. The best way to make money with social media (now) is to train your clients how to understand it and how to participate in it, letting any business impact be secondary (even for them).

Three, any social media for a client will be more effective if coupled with authentic internal alignment, because social media will surface whatever is true about the client, eventually.

Four, whatever social media you do for or recommend to clients should be a slow build, ensuring that each level is sustainable before moving to the next level of involvement. It’s easy to get caught up with experimental euphoria and end up burning out before the long term impact has had a chance to materialize.

Five, use social media personally so that you understand it as a consumer in order to advise your clients on how to understand consumers, even if you aren’t consulting them on social media specifically.

Six, if you’re going to share personal information, make sure you’re real and that you can handle the pressure that will come with divisive subjects and polarized audiences.

Seven, unless you are personally a celebrity, be cautious about mixing business and personal social media unless you want to do neither one very well and possibly lose both audiences.


I expect the long trajectory of social media to look fairly familiar. We’ll add it to our service mix, first. Then the real experts will offer it on a pure play basis. Finally, it will swing back to full integration, where it should be. But hopefully it’ll be driven from the people deep inside these client companies and it will be authentic. The power of that equation will be staggering. Here’s our chance to get on the right side of the marginalization divide.”