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Social Media and The Future of Advertising.
November 27, 2008, 11:18 am
Filed under: biz, social media | Tags: , ,

social-media

In a recent article for the Harvard Business School website, Martha Lagace provides a summary of a panel session that took place at the HBS Centennial Business Summit this past October. The session, called “The Technology Revolution and its Implications for the Future” featured a number of industry heavyweights, including Susan L. Decker, president of Yahoo! Inc., James Breyer, partner at Accel Partners, a venture capital firm, and Eric Kim, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Digital Home Group.

The broad topic of discussion was the effect of the internet and internet-connected media on the world in general, and business in particular. Discussion moderator David Yoffie characterized the internet as still a growth market, pointing to the rising popularity of internet enabled cell phones, home broadband access, and virtual world membership.

Breyer, an early Facebook investor, hit the nail on the head when he pointed out the problem with this growth market: bridging the gap between physical world point-of-sale data and information gathered on the web. As of now, the two aren’t talking to each other effectively, and the result is lost revenue.

The solution, according to Breyer, is only a “Eureka!” moment away, and he expressed optimism about the likelihood of this happening, given that because of the nature of net tech, it could come from any sector, since all share the integration issue and would benefit from a solution.

Susan Decker spoke about the difficulty of translating successful internet advertising model to social media. Decker believes that search ads work well because there is no mystery about what the client is looking for, since they more or less tell you with their search terms. In social media, sussing potential customer intent is more of an art and less of a science.

Decker talked about the desire advertisers have to be in the internet and social media spaces, since the market potential is high, but the challenge lies in capitalizing on that potential, since internet ads still don’t perform as well as they should.

While she makes good points, Decker and the rest of the panel don’t talk about the fundamental differences inherent in new media that make translating old advertising models difficult. With radio and television, you had a single stream model of information flow, and a target audience who’s cognitive style was shaped by that model.

Internet users are not single-stream thinkers, nor are they passive receivers of information. It’s a massive paradigm shift that demands an equally revolutionary change in the way companies advertise. As yet, no one’s been able to find an advertising equivalent that will be as effective as past forms have been on older media. Unfortunately, it’s not simply a case of making ad interactive and multi-channeled to match those qualities of the internet medium.

Eric Kim discussed the integration of television and the internet as a future path to increased advertising revenue, since it presents a low-cost way to get people in emerging markets interacting online. It’s a good solution for converting and tapping more traditional consumers, but what about the tech-savvy?

Decker thinks a dashboard model is the way of the future. Citing the fact that people increasingly want simple, minimalist solutions, she argues that people will be looking for one-stop social network shopping, which is a perfect place to integrate actual shopping as well.

Think FriendFeed or EventBox, but with seamless advertising and retail integration. The key to marketing in a social media environment is becoming part of the community, not simply a poster or billboard hung up in plain view of the group’s members. Finding the right balance won’t be a simple process, but humanization seems to be the right direction, so we might as well start heading that way and see what happens.