Behind the social media facade

18 Oct 2012

Mark Needham is chairman of Widget

According to President Reagan, the most terrifying phrase in the English language is “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”.

But “I have been reading this great book on marketing” must also be up there (and is particularly worrying for those who work for the person saying it.)

I am always a sucker for buying a book at an event where the author is speaking, and sometimes I even read the book as well.

So after meeting the market researcher Ed Keller, I bought his book: “The Face-to-Face Book” by Ed Keller; which is in many ways an antidote to enthusiasm for social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

Its key idea is that good advertising makes people talk about your product with their family and friends. Few people leap out of their chair after seeing an advert and rush out to buy the product.

Most of us need to talk about something before buying it so getting that conversation going, whether online or in person, is the most important part of the marketing process.

In an attempt to find out what consumers are saying about products, there has been a great increase in the number of tools available to measure social media chatter.

But what people say on social media is different to what they say when talking to their friends face-to-face.

According to their research, the product most often mentioned on social media is the iPhone. But in real life, the product or brand most often discussed in person is Coca-Cola.

The authors compare this to the famous joke about the economist: A man walks along a dark street and finds an economist searching on the ground under the light of a lamp post.

“What are you looking for,” asks the passer-by. “My car keys,” says the economist.

After a while, they fail to find the car keys and the passer-by asks: “Are you sure that you lost your keys here?”

“No,” says the economist, “I didn’t, but this is where the light is.”

According to the author, social media is “where the light is”.

Many people in marketing are transfixed by digital media, because it provides an extraordinary ability to monitor and track things.

But comments on Twitter are not typical of conversations between real customers. Think of of the things you post on Twitter or Facebook.

Are they typical of your real life - or are you cleverer, more dedicated to your work, and more interested in technology online than you are in the works canteen?

Studying what people say in real conversations is much harder. Reading comments on Twitter might give you hints of what people are really saying and thinking - but only hints, not full knowledge.

Mark Needham is the chairman and founder of consumer electronics distributor Widget UK. He is on Twitter as @widget.

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