Social Media Is a Venue, Not a Strategy: Kutcher and Sheen Have Identical Social ‘Strategy,’ But Only One Is Winning

Jun 15, 2011  •  Post A Comment

Antony Young
Special to Advertising Age

Barely a day goes past when social media doesn’t grab a headline.

Marketers eager to join the social-media surge have been challenging their agencies to rethink how they communicate their brands in this more participative and transparent landscape. A lot of clients often ask, "What should my social-media strategy be?"

I think it’s a mistake to think of social media this way.

Social media is not a strategy.

Social media is a venue for marketers… a set of technologies or tactics that enable us to elevate and amplify brands and their marketing communications.

The question shouldn’t be "What’s our social-media strategy?" but "What do I need to do to make my brand more social?" Or specifically for agency planners, "What can we do to make this TV work, print campaign or offer more social?"

Social media may be the channel du jour, but the message and the mechanics of how it’s deployed are the things that really count.

The DellOutlet Twitter feed became a poster child for Twitter’s potential impact, earning accolades by generating $6.5 million in revenue for Dell. But surely that success boils down to the product offers in the feed. Twitter was just the medium that carried those messages.

The fabulous Old Spice work featuring Isaiah Mustafa was built on a foundation established by an exceptional piece of creative, work that Weiden & Kennedy then very skillfully augmented through social-media channels.

Take two high profile brands that have been particularly active in social media… Charlie Sheen and Ashton Kutcher. You could argue both essentially have the same strategy when it comes to social media. It goes something like this:

Get a following on Twitter.
Interact and engage directly with fans.
Create buzz and conversation.

But there’s only one brand here that’s winning. And it isn’t Charlie Sheen! Just adding followers or driving buzz doesn’t qualify as success, however often the brand marketing world uses just those metrics to try gauging effectiveness. Getting the overall brand messaging and communication strategy right, rather than jumping straight to social-media tactics, is what’s going to bring success.

Another lesson we can learn from Ashton Kutcher is that he isn’t just tweeting his brand. He is incredibly active across multiple media channels, whether he is being interviewed on Leno, featured on the cover of Men’s Fitness or making a live appearance at CBS’ Upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall. After Charlie Sheen’s road show ended, in contrast, so did a lot of the talk about Charlie Sheen. For most brands, having a presence in social media alone isn’t sufficient. There are too many one-off social-media marketing campaigns that, although highly creative, fail to connect or drive the broader brand communications platform.

Social media needs to be embedded into all parts of the marketing mix as part of a single, integrated brand effort. Every agency — creative, media, digital, public relations and customer-relationship management — needs to grab this opportunity and take responsibility for socializing the brand. Social shouldn’t sit at one agency or indeed operate as a separate strategy on its own.

About the author: TVWeek’s good friend Antony Young is the CEO of Optimedia U.S., a Publicis Groupe media-strategy and -buying agency headquartered in New York. He was one of our featured panelists earlier this year at TVWeek’s 10th Annual Media Planner Conference. This piece first appeared in our sibling publication, Ad Age.

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