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Trends, commentary, and insightful rants from the bleeding edge of advertising, content & branding.

Sailing and the Art of Social Media

Man Overboard

Man Overboard

Let’s say you want to take sailing lessons. You go down to the pier, and pick up two brochures: one that’s glossy and slick, explaining how fun sailing is, with pictures of smiling sailors drinking champagne at sunset, put out by a well-known shipping company. The second one is obviously made on someone’s Macintosh, by two guys who live by the ocean, and tells you the nuts and bolts of what you’re going to learn.

Which company do you choose? Replace “sailing” with “social media” in the above paragraph, and it’s likely you’ll take the glossy brochure. Because they’re professional shippers, right? They know the ocean. They’ve been there before. The problem is, they have no idea how to actually get in the boat and push off the dock.

This is the trouble with PR firms right now. Their traditional media world is disintegrating around them, and they’re flinging themselves into social media like it’s water and they’re on fire. Because as Public Relations becomes less about newspapers (dying), magazines (gasping), broadcast (fragmenting) and blogs (moving to Twitter), the only thing they can see that makes sense as a future business model has an F at the beginning and a K at the end and has “aceboo” in the middle.

But PR companies are shipping companies: they are built to deliver big messages along traditional lines to create “news” and “events.” They are not built to scale. It’s likely that they got interested in social media about the same time you did, and are about the same place on the learning curve. It is also likely that they do not use social media.

This point bears repeating: while they know what social media is, and how it works, and who else is on there, if they don’t use it, they’re useless to you.

In social media, fluency is everything. Literally: everything. It changes so quickly that by the time most learn about a trend, the trend has played itself out: see “25 Random Things.” It’s not enough to be ahead of the curve. You need to be the curve. You don’t need PR. You need to know where social media will be tomorrow.

Creating and sustaining conversations with consumers, users, people requires a skill set built around engagement and participatory storytelling. Frankly, if the engine of online today is conversation then the fuel is content.  To keep the conversation going, to keep the dialogue moving requires more than just words in the air, it requires the ability to develop social tools (apps, widgets, etc.) and useful content (video, games, etc.) and cede some control to your consumers.  Sure, we (agency/brand/whomever) need to participate in those conversations but it starts with a strategic understanding of the sandbox we want to create and the technical capacity to create the right pails and shovels to go in that sandbox.

And not to toot our own horn – or, screw it, that’s exactly what we’re doing. If you’re at all serious about social media, you need people like us. Geeks with ideas. Plugged-in members of the technorati with a marketing background. We’re rare. We’re effective. And most importantly, we know how to sail.

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Filed under: social media, , , , , , ,

3 Responses

  1. John Laker says:

    There is another parallel in sailing and social media, while there are many techniques to optimize both, its the wind that somehow has the most effect. You can optimize, but social media is eventually all about empowering the masses to throw the wind towards you, and then being ready for the wind when it comes.

    • WBC says:

      Really like that comment John. Maybe KFC should have been less ham (or dare I say grilled chicken)-fisted treating Oprah like a multi-platform FSI and more Facebook. At least they could have had a bit more command & control of the offer, but not so much the enthusiasm of the empowered masses.

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