Business = The Internet = Social Media

I’ve been working in Digital Marketing for the past 11 months now (my background is on client side in Brand Management), and what I have come to realize is that roughly 80% of the job is about facilitating the creation and promotion of client social media content.

Clients spend huge portions of their budgets to promote their content across platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat, which I can’t help but think is money that could be spent more effectively. What I want to explore is what makes ideas/content spread organically online, and whether a big budget is a prerequisite for success.

As a side note, let me just say that credit should be given to clients and brands that are playing aggressively in the digital arena – even if a lot of money is being spent ineffectively. As much as we all want to believe that we are progressive, forward-thinking and future-focused, very few big South African companies are willing to change at a fundamental level of operation to keep up with the pace of business, or more specifically, e-business.

I would even be as bold as to say that, today, all business is online business. Even if your business does not have a website or Facebook page, you can be certain that people are talking about it on Twitter or Facebook, or searching for it on Google or Instagram. In today’s world, not to think in digital terms is simply ludicrous.

Gary Vaynerchuk, entrepreneur and marketing expert, goes as far as to say, “When you start to really understand what social media is today, and where it’s going in 2017, you start realising that social media is just the slang term for the current state of the internet.”   Therefore:   Business = The Internet = Social Media.

It would be foolish not to be playing in the social media arena in today’s world; but, play smart and you’re one step ahead of the competition. So, what defines playing smart in terms of Social Media?   Vaynerchuk foresees organic social media reach as the focus for 2017. He goes onto say that, with the rise of paid online advertising, people have largely dismissed organic content. Although there are enormous upsides to paid social media (perhaps the best deal in advertising), what has emerged is a lack of hustle and a lack of understanding of great content, especially when amplified in subtle ways that are very effective – like hashtags on Instagram, which can greatly amplify content and lead to brand discovery.

Reaping the returns of organic social media comes down to getting two things right:

The creation of excellent content, and targeting the right people.

This seems overly simplistic, and quite logical, but so often the boat is missed where the significance of the media-buying budget overrules getting the creative on-point and the targeting correct.   Vaynerchuck hits the nail on the head when he says that “no amount of paid media is going to turn bad creative into good content”.

Let’s consider the first of the two points above:

The creation of excellent content.

How do marketers improve their social media content?   Vaynerchuck recommends creating a lot of it. He says, “Marketers need to invest in the long-game of improving their content”. Only once you have created a lot of content will you start to see what resonates with your target audience. You won’t always hit the mark with every piece of content but you’ll soon see what works and what doesn’t.

Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit, comments on the significance of great organic social media content in his talk titled, “How to Make a Splash in Social Media”. Ohanian talks about the success of the Internet sensation, Mr Splashy Pants, which arose from an online naming poll for a humpback whale that was being tracked by Green Peace for the Great Whale Trail Expedition (a campaign to raise awareness about whales threatened by the Japanese Fisheries Agency and their plan to hunt 50 humpback whales).

“Mr Splashy Pants”, one of a few more serious and thoughtful names proposed for the whale, garnered great attention online and became a huge internet sensation because it evoked such a strong sense of ownership and sentimentality among online and “real-world” public. The name was so touching that people began to make their own memes of Mr Splashy Pants – people got behind Mr Splashy Pant’s plight, across all platforms, to win the naming poll by a landslide 78%. Apart from winning the poll, Mr Splashy Pants created a far-reaching wave of awareness for the Great Whale Trail Expedition, and Greenpeace ended up creating an entire marketing campaign around Mr Splashy Pants.

Ohanian goes on to say that the people who got behind Mr Splashy Pants weren’t particularly in love with whales. Nor were they the extremely altruistic. Mostly, they were just interested in this great meme. What it really takes to make a splash online is something interesting or something cool. The crux of the matter is: content that is remarkable and genuine will promote itself.

Ohanian exposes the great secret of the Internet – that it is a level playing field. He mentions that all links are just as good as all others and that anyone’s browser can access any website at any time, regardless of budget. It costs nothing to get something online and there are so many free or inexpensive publishing and content management tools available to anyone, anywhere. Considering the expanse of the online market place it’s okay to lose control and take oneself a little less seriously – in fact, as we can see with the case of Mr Splashy Pants, letting one’s customers take control and ownership of one’s campaign can greatly work in one’s favour to spread one’s cause.

No longer can we control everything from the top down. Often, our greatest campaigns come from the bottom up. Harnessing the potential from bottom up is a great way to create exceptional content that spreads organically.  Seth Godin, marketer, author and entrepreneur, in his Tedtalk “How to get your ideas to spread”, concurs with Ohanian that the success of an idea depends on how remarkable it is. He says that, because people are frustrated by a lack of time and are overwhelmed by too much choice, they have become disconcertingly “me-focused” – no matter how much money is spent to advertise something, people choose what they want to see/hear/experience.

Therefore, it takes something “neat”, but also something “worth making a remark about” to grab someone’s attention. New and fresh ideas (or content) are worth noticing. Godin comments that “we are now all in the fashion business, no matter what we do for a living…” and we need to understand that business is no longer about interrupting people with a full page spread in a magazine, but more about novelty and outstanding content.   Let us now look at point number two:

Targeting the right people.

Godin says “what marketers used to do is make average products for average people.” This is what mass marketing is – target the early- and late adopter-majority and ignore the geeks and laggards. However, in today’s world, where the TV-Industrial Complex* is broken, we should rather market to the innovators and early adopters as these are the fanatics and people who are so passionate that they will listen to you, obsess about your idea/product, and spread it online (talk about it to their friends, again and again).   “You have to find a group who really, desperately cares about what you have to say, talk to them, and make it easy for them to tell their friends.” The riskiest thing you can do now is be safe and market average content to the average majority. The safe thing to do now is to be at the fringes – be remarkable.   Let’s be clear – there is always a place for paid social media. However, as digital marketers, and not just social media advertisers, we should be aware of our responsibility to create clever content for the extraordinary customer, who inevitably becomes one’s best social media brand ambassador and spreader of content.   All it takes to spread your idea on social media is to figure out who cares, who will listen, and then give them something extraordinary to talk about.  *Seth Godin coins the term TV-Industrial Complex. Marketing used to be built on this model – at the heart of spreading ideas was TV and mass media.TV and mass media made it very easy to spread ideas: One bought an ad and bombarded as many people as one could with this ad, in the hope that someone would buy it. When someone bought it, one’s distribution would increase; this would allow one to sell more products, generating a profit, which would ultimately allow one to buy more ads – and so the cycle continued. This push concept of Marketing and Selling found a way to interrupt people’s lives with a repetitive ad in a way that people weren’t expecting – or worse, weren’t wanting – until they eventually bought.  

Side Bar –Social Media as a Means to Connect 

Social Media is only meaningful if people feel connected.   What really occurred to me while writing this blog is how, regardless of all the recent technological innovation that we are constantly bombarded with, the basic human need of connection is essentially unchanged. From the earliest days around the campfire man has sought to connect through shared experiences and stories; and if we cannot address this need for human connection and genuine reciprocation, no amount of technology, social media activity or digital presence will bring us closer to our customers.

We need to capture the same principles of campfire stories in our social media engagements if we are going to create customer intimacy and be more than just an agency that posts digital content. The basic principles are: 1. Establish interest (hook attention) 2. Set the scene (create context) 3. Bring the listener into the story (make it personal and genuine) 4. Call to action (or ask for interaction) 5. Finish strong (don’t leave loose ends and ensure that the listener has taken ownership of the narrative by having listened to it.)

Behind the Scenes to writing this blog post…  How to Write a Blog in the Bush:

  1. Find a shady place to sit outside with your laptop and a drink of your choice.

For me, it’s a hot cup of coffee.

  1. Realize that you only have 20% battery power and that you’ve left your laptop charger at home.
  1. Close your laptop and decide to plan your blog on paper first.

 Back to paper and pens? Aha! Noone can persuade me to leave my pens and paper in the past… Then again, I could have prepared better for this blog and its deadline.  

  1. Take a moment to consider the importance of planning.


  1. Sit down with a pen and paper and begin to plan your blog.

…Start daydreaming of balmy summers spent writing that novel in the South of France, or of dusty twilight evenings spent journaling the rehabilitation of wild animals in a tented camp, somewhere higher up in Africa, life so far removed from city life, and other uninhibited imaginings…

  1. Confront the self-sabotaging reality of procrastination and writer’s block.

Pause to reflect on the nature of the mind and decide to take a break.  

  1. Take some time to sit by the river and watch the clouds pass by.
  1. Pick up that pen and plot out your blog.

Hope that someone, somewhere, finds it interesting enough to read all the way through!

  1. Bounce your idea off some of your family and friends.

Take a break to join everyone else in the boma and contemplate the importance of real connections with others.

  1. Eventually sit down at the end of the day, in the quiet of the evening, (I’m a bit of a night owl anyway) and type out your blog.

…Remember that you do not have access to wifi and decide to wait until you’re back in the city to post it!

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