“If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face.” This wonderful and well used cartoon by Hugh from Gaping Void perfectly captures the feeling of dismay those in digital have felt when they saw their traditional counterparts wade-in, uninformed and claim that ‘this digital lark, its all just more screens innit’.
In reality this was a useful argument as the nascent digital industry carved out a role for itself, distinct from traditional, emphasising the need for a new approach, a distinct set of skills that ‘coincidentally’ only a digital agency could provide.
Clearly as the traditional industry rapidly gets its act together it would be naïve to think that this state of affairs will last much longer. It’s no longer safe to assume that digital agencies will succeed in the future unmolested.
It’s interesting then to experience a sense of deja vu as we see social media rise as a distinct discipline, again requiring a unique set of skills and experience, which of course only ‘social media experts’ are able to provide. This is perfectly understandable as with any new industry it’s a good idea to distance yourself from what has come before, to carve out a profitable niche that you can exploit and get ahead of the pack.
Partly this requires a good deal of 'expedient exaggeration' as the phrase goes, but mostly its true that you can't simply take the old way of doing things and apply them to any new media in exactly the same way. This is especially true within social media, which is as different to the digital of the last few years, as digital was previously to traditional.
Just as digital types complained that traditional sorts shouldn’t treat digital like a mass broadcast channel, so the same is true with social media where you can't expect the same rules and behaviours of digital or traditional to work in the same way.
Ultimately the opportunity is for agencies to understand and advise clients exactly how to behave across the whole spectrum of bought, owned and earned media. Just as in any other social situation understanding the appropriate ‘rules of etiquette’ are essential if you wish to be accepted.
It’s perfectly understandable to expect advertisers to continue shout in traditional broadcast mass-market media, especially as TV ain’t going away anytime soon.
Similarly online and digital channels combine a heady mix of brand, direct and word-of-mouth, a wide variety approaches each with their own rules of successful behaviour. Potentially a minefield, but a hugely lucrative opportunity for those agencies and clients that have learned how to use them well.
In social media where the rule is listen first, then join the conversation, we need to learn to speak in a genuine real voice, real people, speaking to each other.
Right across this full spectrum of bought, owned and earned media the opportunity is for agencies to work with clients to understand how they can find their true and consistent voice across each of these increasingly linked media.
In practice this may mean the client may have to speak with a different voice each time according to the correct rules of etiquette for each channel, but in doing so will always communicate in a way true to itself. This is exactly where smart agencies will find they can help the most.
(A version of this post appears in my New Media Age column.)