The other day I had the chance to speak to a group of students taking a Media Strategy course at Michigan State about the convergence of traditional and new media. Connected via Skype, it was the fastest two-hour conversation that I’ve ever had. The students were engaged, asked good questions and taught me as much about what’s coming as I did them. And before we knew it we were out of time.
One of the more interesting moments was when the conversation moved to social media – and, more specifically, about brands becoming a larger part of platforms like Facebook. I expected resistance over the growing number of commercial fan-pages, but in fact the students were fine with the trend. (Not surprisingly, they were concerned about how future employers would be viewing their postings come hiring time!). A quick look at how large a following some well-known brands now have on Facebook makes it quite clear that a lot of folks share the students’ point of view:
- Starbuck’s : 5,975,000 fans
- Coca-Cola: 5,095,000 fans
- Skittles: 3,868,000 fans
- Adidas: 2,164,000 fans
- Zara: 2,017,000 fans
- Burberry: 898,000 fans
Numbers like this do raise the question of what happens to ad-driven media when brands have the ability to speak directly to very large numbers of their best and future customers – without the need for middlemen? My sense is that while Media Brands won’t all disappear – the battle for ad dollars will continue to get tougher as brands shift resources to support these new, direct efforts – which, unlike traditional “direct-marketing,” also provide for a two-way conversation.
For the moment, however, we’re still early in the corporate social media game and most brands haven’t started focusing on a critical piece of the equation – content. Most of us would never think of inviting friends to our homes without offering them a drink or something to eat – yet ironically that’s the equivalent of what many brands are doing by not making content strategy a central part of their marketing plans. Joe Pulizzi of Junta42.com and a longtime content strategy evangelist notes in a recent post from Online Marketing Summit 2010 that just four marketers in a room of 300 had a formal content plan.
Despite this current content gap – if recent history has shown us anything about how digital continues to redefine the traditional media model – it’s only a matter of time before Brand Marketer’s get this piece of the puzzle in place. While this will cause more pain for ad-dependent businesses, it’s just as likely to create opportunities for a new generation of “Custom Publishers” to manage content and fan engagement on behalf of marketers; a service that the Michigan students – and a whole range of smart business people – will be quite happy to provide.
Dan Lagani is the founder of Tre Cani Advisors, a N.Y.-based media consultancy focused on digital media, fashion, beauty and retail.