social media

Bringing Meaning to "Social"

The ubiquity of technology and its ability to accelerate the adoption of behaviors have created enormous opportunity for marketers to reach target consumers. On the other hand, however, it has also made it simultaneously more difficult to “break through.” This paradox challenges the conventional approaches to marketing communications and puts more emphasis on leveraging social media technologies as a means to engage target consumers and propagate messages, ideas, products and behaviors. Perhaps then we need an updated perspective as to how we view "social" to better inform how we apply its power. Let's give it a shot, shall we?

The scripture says, "write the vision; make it plain." And I'm a huge fan of radical simplicity, so this particular verse ranks highly as one of my favorites. In industry, far too often we find ourselves swirling in abstractions, jargon, and buzzwords, so much so that we tend to lose sight of concreteness. It's hardly ever simple and rarely ever plain. Ask 10 people to define "social media," and you'll get 20 different answers, most of which tend to describe its characteristic or run a laundry list of its benefits. Hardly do we get to a plain definition, so maybe this is a good place to start. "Social," by definition, is all about people. "Social" work. "Social" action. "Social" welfare. They are all 100% centered on people. That's because "social" denotes people. So is the same when we think about "social media." If "social" is all about people then "social media" must be the media of people. That is, people are the vehicle by which information, communications, products, behaviors, and messages are transmitted. The Facebooks and Twitters of the world are the environments in which these exchanges take place, facilitating the media of people.

This ties nicely to "social media marketing." The core function of marketing is meant to influence behavior; therefore, all marketing efforts should be in the service of exciting a population of people to take action. Considering people rely on people more than any form of marketing communication, it is incumbent upon marketers to ensure that our ideas are socially designed – with people at the center – and built to share. That is, of course, if we are to successfully “move people.” Whether it be campaigns (messaging and communications), content (film, GIFs, flat images, audio, code) or experiences (both online or offline), the aim is to excite a desired behavior – from conversations to pass-along, purchase to search, and everything in between. 

Simple, right?

If we calibrate the way we think about and talk about "social" within our industry, then our efforts to operationalize its power would prove far more consistent than today's status quo.


Since its introduction in 2006, two years after the social networking platform’s founding, Facebook has long placed great focus on the optimization of its “Newsfeed.” The Newsfeed is the default welcome screen which dynamically aggregates the posts and updates from the various accounts which Facebook users follow and are connected — people, brands, artists, publishers, small businesses, etc. To optimize the experience of the Newsfeed, Facebook began using an algorithm in 2009 to prioritize what content gets seen by a given user. This form of content sorting depended heavily on the perceived relevance of the content, informed by user engagement. Previously, Facebook delivered content in the Newsfeed via reverse chronological order, a far departure from the 2009 methodology. Over the years, this approach to sorting content via popularity has experienced many changes — from design alterations to algorithmic shifts. The latter ushered in efforts to: prioritize content shared by users’ close friends and family, reduce “clickbait” posts, and give preference to video media which were growing in favor among users. Brands, of course, benefited greatly from the captive audience Facebook amassed and the unprecedented sophistication of Facebook’s ad-targeting capabilities. While Facebook happily opened its doors to the ad revenue, which grew year over year thanks to eager marketers who spent aggressively on the platform (as well as the laggards who were slow to adopt the technology as a marketing communications vehicle), its focus has been centered, by and large, on its users — people.

It should come to no surprise that Facebook would embrace new changes to the Newsfeed algorithm, as it has previously done so frequently. The company hires an army of social scientists and data analysts to do this very thing, observe human behavior on the platform and augment its features accordingly. Whether it be a response to the criticism of the widespread “fake news” articles, which circulated across the platform during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, or business as usual, change is a constant practice for Facebook, as it is for tech broadly. The most recent changes, once again, put an added emphasis on the user by prioritizing the content people see in their Newsfeed based on the posts most popular among people’s friends and family. Sound familiar? Facebook’s focus is centered on its users — people.

This is a hard pill to swallow for many marketers because brands have grown accustomed to buying their way into users’ Newsfeeds. Once Facebook began reducing organic reach for brands (yet another sweeping Newsfeed change some five years ago), companies delivered their communications to the Newsfeeds of brand “fans” — and anyone else on the platform who matched a targeted profile — by simply writing a check. With a population of over 2 billion people, Facebook became (and still is) a super compelling media investment for marketing communications, rivaling that of traditional television and radio outlets. The most recent Newsfeed changes, however, signal that those days are likely waning.

According to Facebook, the new changes to the Newsfeed will reduce the amount of content users see from media publishers and companies alike. That is to say that people will see more content from their people — the way Facebook was intended to function from the very beginning. Just recently the company stated that the shifts will affect publishers most, particularly those which have been able to reach users for free through the Newsfeed’s automated placement of these publishers’ posts. While Facebook may be focused on people, it’s not a philanthropy either. Therefore, publishers like Attn:, Buzzfeed and Upworthy, who have benefited from organic reach, will now meet a similar fate as brands once did — if they want to reach people, they will now have to pay up. The result of this move will be devastating for these publishers and likely undermine the value proposition they once offered as an alternative to ad agency-made creative. While Facebook has assured the advertising community that sponsored posts (that is, media-supported content) will not be affected by the recent Newsfeed changes, it certainly hints at a few things:

Facebook has long invested in video as a priority undertaking for the platform. In the last year, the company doubled down on this commitment by building a dedicated home for original video content. The new tab, called Facebook Watch, was designed to host content produced exclusively for Facebook by such partners as MLB, the NBA, National Geographic and others. Facebook plans to allow advertisers to buy against this content, not unlike television, based on contextual relevance. This is no doubt aimed to be a YouTube competitor. It also forces publishers to shift their content efforts toward Facebook Watch, as opposed to the Newsfeed, to keep the coveted real estate of the Newsfeed focused on people and their networks.

This strategic investment in highly produced content through Facebook Watch will likely nudge marketers toward this inventory as well. The move certainly resolves some of the brand-safety anxieties which marketers have been feeling as of late in regards to YouTube media placement issues. Not to mention, buying interstitials against video content feels far more familiar to traditional marketers than navigating the ambiguity of programming “social” content.

This is not checkers, it’s chess. As mentioned above, Facebook is a firm believer in putting things in the world and optimizing along the way. If this rollout proves successful for the company, it would not be much of a surprise if similar changes were soon knocking at marketers’ doors also. Whether it be a premium on sponsored posts — due to the reduction of Newsfeed inventory, in favor of more people-generated posts — or a fullout shift to Facebook Watch — adopting a YouTube-like model for on-platform advertising (or perhaps a combination of both), a detour from the advertising status quo on Facebook is inevitable.

The takeaway is this, Facebook is a social networking platform that became a marketing platform over time. While the company has made a fortune in ad revenue, its focus is on people first. Facebook’s Newsfeed changes are actually prioritizing the “social” in “social media,” and that’s a good thing. If marketers are to fully leverage social, then we must do the same also. We must put people first.

This cannot be overstated. Marketers have long viewed the inhabitants of Facebook as a population of potential consumers dubbed an “audience.” But an “audience” is an assembly of passive spectators, and people just aren’t passive. People are dynamic and their behaviors are largely influenced by the dynamism of the networks of people to which they subscribe. Now, more than ever, brands must earn their way into the conversations of would-be consumers and their networks of people. We can’t simply buy our way into the party, we have to be invited. The notion of disruption with no intrinsic value to the network will continue to erode marketing opportunities for brands in today’s hyper-connected world. Thus, it is more important than ever that marketers create “things” (content, stories, experiences, etc.) that are built to share, which will require of us a more nuanced understanding of human behavior.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, describes the new updates to the Newsfeed as a move to prioritize “trustworthy content” in an effort to make people’s time spent on the site more meaningful. The underlying implication of this statement speaks directly to the prioritization of people, which should also be the top priority of brands also.


State of the Advertising Industry: The Music of Disruption

Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a-changin’.” This premise is truer than ever in today's marketing and advertising world.

Advertising firms were once the authority on idea generation. They were the best mass storytellers and the best attention-grabbers. They were the modern day Don Drapers.

But that isn’t necessarily the case these days. The ubiquity of new technology means anyone with a phone, tablet, or computer is now a content creator. The pervasiveness of social media propagates these ideas from person to person. Meanwhile, new analytics capabilities empower anyone with an affinity for quants to direct placement and inform content creation.

All of which adds up to less power for traditional advertising firms and sets the stage for disruption that will fundamentally change the way we do business — and soon.

Sound too apocalyptic? Just look at the music industry.

As recently as the early 2000s record labels ran the show. They funded handpicked hitmakers for long sessions in big, expensive studios. Top-notch sound engineers guaranteed pristine sonic quality and A-list directors were hired to make lavish, over-the-top videos. Singles had long given way to albums with “filler” songs, meaning fans wanting a hit song had to cough up $17 for the entire album.

Business was booming until a viable alternative came along — the world wide web.

The Napsters and Limewires of the world, and ultimately Youtube, iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora, ushered in the disruption in music in a newly networked world.

Here’s why history may repeat itself, this time with the advertising industry:

Ubiquity in Technology. The spread of broadband internet and CD burners allows more and more people to experience free music access (peer-to-peer exchange). For advertising, the devices in our pockets, bags, and desktops allow anyone to be a content creator, not just a consumer. A clever creative talent with an iPhone can legitimately create content for a brand without the overhead of a Madison Avenue ad agency.

Medium Shift. The product the music industry was selling — CDs — was no longer the medium people wanted. CDs were a secondary medium to the music itself. Likewise, advertising was once dominated by TV, print, and radio. Today content relevance is far more important than the channel by which it was delivered. In fact, there's often more credence awarded to content delivered via Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube because it was curated for me, by my people.

Access to Tools. Programs like Fruity Loops and Cakewalk reduced the financial barrier once presented by expensive recording studios. In advertising, firms once provided access to expensive software like Photoshop or InDesign that now can be accessed for free from Reddit or BitTorrent.

Decreased Learning Curve. The web allowed music makers to learn from each other, which reduced the need to apprentice for years before ever creating anything. Today social networks allow idea generators and content creators to share learnings about the craft, instead of being an apprentice at a big firm.

Democratization of the Internet. Broadband internet removed the middleman — radio, MTV, etc. — and allowed these new, non-major-record-label producers to reach music fans directly. Advertising content also needed TV, radio, and newspapers to be seen. Today social network platforms, search engines, and email allow non-agency content creators to reach the public directly.

Content Parity. It turns out people were fine with the varying quality of MP3s. Expensive sonic quality ceased being a discriminating factor for music fans, which leveled the playing field for amateur musicians and producers. While ad agencies tap big directors to shoot over-the-top productions for expensive media campaigns, the content that gets people talking the most is produced by amateur makers. It doesn’t seem to matter that it’s a vertical video shot with an iPhone. Production values are no longer a key differentiator.

Distributors as Arbiters of Value. The launch of iTunes told the world — and the buying public — that it didn’t matter if a song was recorded in fancy studios or in someone’s bedroom with free software. It was all 99 cents. Big ad agencies charge for the time it takes to create content while publishers like Buzzfeed, Complex, and Vice charge per piece of content, not the time it takes to make it. Again, all content is valued the same no matter the investment to create it.

Bypass the Traditional System. Online music outlets like iTunes, CD Baby, and TuneCore allow amateur musicians to reach customers, often sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the screen with some of the biggest names. In advertising, brands needed agencies to do the content work for them. That’s not the case anymore. Outfits like Maker Studio have amassed thousands of content creators worldwide and use technology that makes it easy for brands to manage campaigns. No agency needed.

Overwhelming Supply of Content. The influx of so much content in the market, from amateur content creators to superstars, with reduced time between album releases, means there’s more desired music than there is time to consume it. That greatly reduced the half-life of a song. Same is true in advertising. There’s so much content in the market now that brands see a greater supply of content than they need.

Access Over Ownership. The oversupply of content means fans don’t feel the need to own music anymore. They want to hear music they like on demand. Likewise, brands are wondering why they need advertising agencies. More brands are writing “jump ball” briefs to access the best ideas from a wide variety of potential partners — traditional agencies, YouTube stars, or aggregators. The agency model is no longer a very smart model for big brands – except the biggest brands and companies that require a factory-like agency to manage the enormous flow of content; think Ford and Procter & Gamble.

These implications have led to new vehicles for discovery (Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat), consumption (Vice, Complex, Buzzfeed), and creation (Maker Studios and Social Native), which sets the stage to disrupt the status quo of the advertising industry much like the music industry.

It won’t be long before more brands start to wonder, “With so much content being produced in the world, why would I reduce my access to it by having just one agency responsible for making it?” And perhaps more importantly, brands will soon say “With such a high amount of content available to me, why am I paying so much for it?”

Indeed, the times they are a-changin’. But there is hope. As the advertising and marketing world around us changes, we marketers and advertisers must change also, and these changes require us to reconsider the role we play as agency partners. Perhaps the best way to offer “agency” would be for agencies to move from being outsourced creative hands to true brand partners. Only time will tell.

A Peek Into Doner's Social Practice

The ubiquity of technology and its ability to accelerate the adoption of behaviors have created great opportunity for marketers to reach target consumers but simultaneously have made it more difficult to “break through.” This, of course, challenges the conventional approaches to marketing communications and puts more emphasis on leveraging social media as a means to engage target consumers and propagate messages, ideas, products and behaviors. Here at Doner, I have been tasked to reshape how we see the world of social media and how we operate in it as practitioners. The following is a peek into that world... 

THE STATE OF THE STATE: An intimate look at the disruption in advertising

Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a-changin’.” And in the world of marketing and advertising truer words have never been spoken.

There was once a time when advertising creatives were the authority on idea generation. They were the best mass storytellers and the best attention-grabbers. Today, however, that position is currently under duress. Thanks in part to the proliferation of technology, anyone with a phone, tablet, or computer is now a content creator. The ubiquity of social networking platforms have democratized access for these content creator’s ideas to propagate from person to person. Meanwhile, new analytics capabilities have empowered anyone with an affinity for quants to direct creative placement and inform content development - all of which diminishes the sovereignty of traditional advertising creatives.

Indeed, the times they are a-changin’. But these changes aren’t just bruises to the ego of our beloved, modern day Dan Drapers. They have set the stage for the disruption that the advertising industry is currently facing and will fundamentally change the way our business operates in the short years to come - if not sooner. Sounds like apocalyptic rhetoric, right? I know! Like you, I roll my eyes every time I read one of those “TV is dead” headlines. The difference in this instance is not due to some big revelation of the future on my part, instead, it’s foreshadowing from the past. We’ve seen the dynamics that exist in advertising today play out in other industries and ultimately shake their business to its core. And as they say, history has a way of repeating itself. Case and point, the music industry.


Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, record labels invested a wealth of resources in the creation of content. Long session hours in big, expensive studios. Handpicked hitmakers were tapped to make tracks at a premium. Topnotch sound engineers were enlisted to guarantee pristine sonic quality. Top-rate video directors were hired to make the most lavish, over-the-top visual expression of the hitmaker-produced song. Millions and millions of dollars were allocated in an effort to make and sell content.

That was the music business and in those days, business was booming. In fact, 1999 - 2001 were the highest revenue generating years in the existence of the music business. To ensure a profit margin that benefited from this rise in music consumption, record labels discontinued the sale of “singles” and began padding albums with “fillers.” These “fillers” were less expensive to produce and often times considered throwaway songs. This meant that if a fan wanted the hitmaker-produced song, they’d have to buy the entire album to get it, “filler” songs and all. Yes, $17 for the one song we wanted. #Crazy. Of course, this created frustration with the buying public to which there was no viable alternative. That is, until there was. And once this alternative presented itself — the world wide wide — the implication therefore completely disrupted the music industry and irreversibly changed it from what we knew it to be today.

While the Napsters and Limewires of the world certainly ushered in the disruption in music, it was the implications of the networked world, facilitated by the proliferation of the internet, that ultimately did the music industry in. These implications are as follows:

1. Ubiquity In Technology - cable companies started offering broadband internet, which enabled more and more people to experience the free music access (peer-to-peer exchange) that college students had been experiencing just a few years prior. Meanwhile, computer companies started manufacturing CD burners as defaults on their machines so people were able to make their own CD’s — from full albums to compilations mixes — with their newly obtained, free music.

2. Medium Shift - the product that the music industry was selling (CD’s) was no longer the medium people wanted (music). The CD’s themselves were simply the secondary medium by which we enjoyed the music (the primary medium) we desired. Once compressed files were made available, whether ripped from CD’s or obtained through P2P sharing, it became the closest medium to what we actually valued, the music.

3. Access To Tools - music fans that once longed to be artists themselves now had the ability to create content themselves. Programs like Fruity Loops and Cakewalk reduced the financial barrier once presented by expensive recording studios and now these “amateur” content creators had technology that allowed them to creatively express themselves.

4. Decreased Learning Curve - as access to the internet continued to grow, the growth of communities of people online ballooned as well. Out of this came the benefit of collective intelligence where people began to share their learnings of these new content creation tools across websites with the community via video channels, like Youtube. As a result, amateur music makers learned from each other, which reduced the perceived need to be an apprentice for years before ever creating anything.

5. Removal of Arbitrage - previously, content creators required access to radio to get their ideas heard broadly. However, radio airplay was strictly reserved for major record label products. Very few content creators could afford to make music videos, and even if they could, the production quality and lack of access would keep them from getting their videos played on MTV. The growing democratization of the internet removed the middleman (radio, MTV, etc.) and allowed these new, non-major-record-label-affiliated content creators to reach music fans directly.

6. Content Parity - compressed music files often ran the spectrum of sound quality. There was no sonic standard among most music fans because there was a sort of “you get what you paid for” apathy when it came to the degradation of sonic quality of their P2P sourced MP3’s. As such, it didn’t matter so much that the high-end frequencies were EQ’d perfectly or that the vocal spacing sat just right in the mix. As long as the song was recognizable and close to terrestrial radio quality, “all good.” This meant that sonic quality was no longer a discriminating factor between music created in big, expensive recording studios and music created in someone’s basement using Fruity Loops. Investment in production would not be the differentiator in how fans valued music, which leveled the playing field for amateur content creators.

7. Distributors As The Arbiters of Value - in 2001, Apple introduced the iPod and the accompanying iTunes store. While this new technology and corresponding retail destination has been written about as the deathblow to the music industry, the implication of their pricing model is often overlooked. Not only did iTunes’ pricing approach decouple albums and reinvigorate the sale of singles, but it also turbocharged the notion of content parity. Essentially, Steve Jobs told the world — and particularly the buying public — that it didn’t matter if the song was recorded in big, fancy studios with the most reverenced hitmakers and the best sound engineers or if the song was recorded in someone’s bedroom with a free music software and an engineering novice, it was all 99 cents. Period. No matter the investment in the creation of content, it’s all valued the same.

8. Bypass The Traditional System - thanks to online retail outlets like iTunes, CD Baby, TuneCore, amateur content creators were able to get their products sold to the buying public. Often times, their music would sit in (online) retail, shoulder to shoulder, with some of the biggest names music, which added perceived value to these amateur’s offerings and further drove the notion of content parity.

9. Overwhelming Supply of Content - with the influx of so much content in the market, from amateur content creators to superstars with reduced latency between album releases, music fans found themselves in a state where, for the first time ever, there was more supply of desired music than there was time to consume it. This created a dopamine cycle for music fans that would lead to shorter time spent “experiencing” or listening to a particular album or music releases so the half-life of songs were greatly reduced.

10. Access Over Ownership - since there was so much content in the market and not enough to consume it all, music fans no longer felt the need to actually own music content — especially if the lifespan of a release was so short. Ultimately, fans just wanted the ability to hear the music they liked on-demand, which gave raise to platforms like YouTube to be a music discovery and consumption destination.

These 10 implications led to new vehicles for discovery (YouTube, Facebook, Soundcloud), consumption (iTunes, Reverbnation, Spotify), and creation (Protools, Reason, Logic), which rocked the music industry by the mid-2000’s and forever changed its business. And the advertising industry is facing the fate.


While it’s easy to see the dynamics, and subsequent follies, of the music industry in hindsight, it would be nearly impossible to predict that an industry — in the hight of its success — would experience such unprecedented disruption just a few years later. Fortunately, history has a way of repeating itself so we can align historical data with causality-based theory to increase the likelihood of predictive outcomes. Unfortunately, for the advertising industry at least, the 10 implications that existed in music then are the exact same dynamics present in advertising today, especially in regards to both industries’ emphasis on content creation.

As such, one would expect similar outcomes from similar disruptions. Let’s unpack this further:

1. Ubiquity In Technology - technology is in our hands, in our pockets, in our bags, on our wrists, on our desks, and on our laps. These devices provide the broader populous access to the networked world and a pipeline to receive communications. Simultaneously, these device-holders are not just content consumers, they are now content creators.

2. Medium Shift - advertising was once primarily dominated by TV, print, radio, and OOH. The prevalence of the social web has since added new vehicles to the mix. This has become the most significant way messages, information, products, and behaviors are propagated by people within their communities. The content syndicated across the traditional mediums are increasingly becoming the talking points (secondary medium) that we share between our people (the primary medium) within our communities.

3. Access To Tools - at one time, an aspiring content creator would have to work for an agency to get access to Photoshop or InDesign (the defacto creative software suite) if they were to actually make something. Otherwise they’d have shove out a crap ton of money to get a user-license. Today, that is not the case. Aspiring content creators are now accessing these programs, and the corresponding license key, for free from Reddit or BitTorrent and finding themselves up and running in no time.

4. Decreased Learning Curve - the traditional path for a creative in advertising is that you’d produce a ton of ideas (that would likely never see the light of day) and get feedback from the Creative Director until your work is ready. This is a typical right of passage for the industry. Today, that is not the case. As access to content creation tools grow, people have begun to share their learnings across blogs and social networking platforms. As such, there is a ton of content across the web that amateur content creators are leveraging to learn about the craft of “making things,” instead of being an apprentice for 4 years, waiting to one day (hopefully) be “good enough.”

5. Removal of Arbitrage - previously, if a content creator in advertising wanted to get their ideas seen, they needed access to media - TV, print, radio, OOH. Otherwise, their ideas would go largely unseen and their marketing efforts would go unrealized. Today, that is not the case. Social network platforms, search, email, and other vehicles have democratized access to people. These information and communication technologies have removed the middleman (agencies, traditional media, etc.) and allowed these new, non-agency-affiliated content creators to reach the public directly.

6. Content Parity - while advertising agencies tap big directors to shoot over the top ideas that play out during big (read: expensive) media moments in hopes of getting people to talk, the content that gets shared the most among people — essentially, the things that people talk about most — is the content produced by the amateur makers. Grainy photos with uninspiring font choices. Vertical videos shot with an iPhone. The general public doesn’t care if the content was shot by David Fincher or a regular Jane Doe. Investment in production is no longer the differentiator in how consumers value content, which has leveled the playing field for amateur content creators.

7. Distributors As The Arbiters of Value - more and more, publishers like Buzzfeed, Complex, and Vice are entering the market and offering content creation services for brands. This is a service that agencies would exclusively provide for brands. When a client would asks for 5 TV spots, some banners, and a handful of social posts over a period of time, agencies would bill them for the time it takes to make said deliverables. All the while, the Buzzfeeds of the world are telling clients that “content costs ‘x’ amount per piece.” So if you want 5 pieces of content, it will cost you ‘5x.’ As such, since publishers are actually ascribing costs for content creation, not the cost of time to make it, the publisher’s determined value of content becomes the closest proxy to the actual product clients want and, therefore, become the new cost of content creation. No matter the investment in the creation of content, it’s all valued the same.

8. Bypass The Traditional System - if brands wanted content made (TV, print, OOH, radio), they’d have to enlist an agency to do the work for them. Today, that is not the case. Companies like Maker Studio (who was acquired by Disney a few years back) have not only amassed a network of 10’s of thousands of content creators across the world, they have also developed technologies that (1) make it easy for brands to task, review, and select creative assignment submission, (2) curate the maker to brand alignment, (3) publish across a myriad of mediums, and (4) measure the impact of the creative. All of which is being done without any agency from the agency. See what I did there?

9. Overwhelming Supply of Content - with the influx of so much content in the market, from amateur content creators to publishers, brands have found themselves in a state where there is more supply of desired content than they actually need.

10. Access Over Ownership - since there is so much content in the market and consumers are seemingly attention-deficient, brands have begun to wonder why they’d need to retain content creators as opposed to just accessing what they do. As a result, we see a trend where brands “jump ball” briefs to access the best ideas from a selection of partners — be it agencies, YouTube stars, aggregators, or even platforms.

These 10 implications have led to new vehicles for discovery (Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat), consumption (Vice, Complex, Buzzfeed), and creation (Maker Studios, Social Native, Vine Stars), which is setting the stage to disrupt the status quo of the advertising industry. I don’t fancy myself an economist but if there’s one thing I learned from my 200 level Econ class it’s this; when the supply is greater than demand the cost of goods will go down. As the aforementioned implications have illustrated, content is in great supply. That is, there’s more content being developed and published than there is a demand for brands to make content. Ergo, if the supply of content continues to exponentially increase (and all signs point to “yes”) then the cost of said content has to decrease. That’s just basic economics. And this will ultimately drive the commoditization of content and reduce margins for agencies that focuses on “making” things.

With content in such an overabundant supply, it won’t be long before more brands start to wonder, “with so much content being produced in the world, why would I reduce my access to it by having just one agency responsible for making it?” And perhaps more importantly, brands will soon say “with such a high amount of content available to me, why am I paying so much for it?”

Indeed, the times they are a-changin’.


        Marketing in the Digital Age

        Professors John Branch and Marcus Collins show that in the era of social media and digital campaigns, marketing is still about people and their networks.

        Digital and social media marketing campaigns are often centered on the tactical delivery of the brand content, but often lack the more important objective of what is being said and how – not to mention whether or not the message taps into what people really care about.

        With all the technology, it is easy to forget that marketing–even in the digital era–is foremost about understanding people and their social networks. Michigan Ross Professor John Branch and Lecturer Marcus Collins want to elevate the importance of decoding human networks in the development of digital campaigns. One way they’re doing it is through their new Executive Education program – Strategic Marketing for the Digital Age.

        The goal is to get practitioners to focus less on “how” a campaign is delivered, or the delivery tools, and more about “who” they are trying to reach and the environment where they live.

        “Marketers still tend to think about people based on demographics, but that approach doesn’t help us understand people and their networks,” says Collins, lecturer of marketing and senior vice president and director of social engagement at Southfield, Mich.-based advertising agency Doner. “Digital marketing too often focuses on the medium, but technology is only an extension of what people already do. We want marketers to understand the social networks of people–the shared beliefs, norms, and unwritten rules. Their networks are the community in which they live. Only by understanding their community can you leverage technology to the fullest and influence those social ties.”

        Collins, MBA ’09/BS ’02, has run social media campaigns for Apple, Beyoncè, State Farm, and the Brooklyn Nets, among others. He sees the knowledge gap on human networks play out often in the field.

        “Digital education has been so tactical,” he says. “If we tell marketers how Facebook works, for example, that doesn’t really help because Facebook is always changing and evolving. We’re trying to show people how to think differently about people and customers, and how to solve both digital and social network problems.”

        For example, Collins led a media campaign for the Brooklyn Nets at a time when the team was moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center. The team was viewed negatively in Brooklyn for building an arena that displaced residents and sparked more gentrification. The strategy was to build excitement around the Nets despite the backlash.

        Collins and his team tapped into to residents’ strong sense of identity with Brooklyn. Tweets and billboards played up an “us vs. them” spirit vs. Manhattan; early in the campaign, the name of the basketball team wasn’t even mentioned. “We tapped into their shared value of feeling overshadowed by Manhattan,” says Collins. “It was all based on understanding the social norms of Brooklynites and knowing their environment. Twitter, hashtags, and billboards were just the tools,” he says.

        Branch, academic director of Part-Time MBA Programs and clinical assistant professor of business administration, says marketers often fail to align their digital and social marketing campaigns to an overall coherent and clarion idea.

        “I was in a meeting once where somebody asked, ‘what’s our hashtag strategy?’” says Branch, who has worked with companies and brands around the world. “A hashtag isn’t a strategy. A strategy needs to reflect what I call the ‘North Star’ of the brand -- the idea at the core of the brand that everyone knows, loves and holds on to.”

        A good example of that is the shoe company Toms. The company is built around the idea of “one for one” -- for every pair of shoes purchased, Toms buys a pair for a person in need.

        “That’s their identity–a giving company that literally balances profits with good works–and everything they do is informed by that guiding strategy and reinforces it,” Branch says. “That North Star not only is what customers and brand enthusiasts hold on to year after year, but it should also guide marketers internally every time they are in doubt about how to proceed on the tactics.”

        The goal of this new Executive Education program is to fill the knowledge gaps of human psychology and strategy, and show participants how to apply it to their work.

        “Humans are still social beasts,” says Branch. “The fact that we’re getting news on our phone instead of down at the mercantile store doesn’t change how our minds work. This program delves into how the human brain works so that marketers understand the North Star of the community which they are trying to reach first, then develop cutting-edge tools and tactics.”