Tuesday, November 18

Bucking The Conversation: Ted McConnell


"I have a reaction to that as a consumer advocate and an advertiser. What in heaven's name made you think you could monetize the real estate in which somebody is breaking up with their girlfriend?" — Ted McConnell

That's right. McConnell, general manager-interactive marketing and innovation at Procter & Gamble Co., is bucking the social media conversation, especially as it pertains to social networks like Facebook. According to AdAge, he doesn't want to invest in advertising dollars where people are trying to talk to someone, saying "we hijack their conversations, their own thoughts and feelings, and try to monetize it.”

He's mostly right. Companies that push and prod their way into personal spaces can be annoying (it became the death knell for AOL chat for those who remember), especially when the intent is to overtly or covertly steal them away to see a sales pitch.

Most don't mind the overt promoters so much (as long as they can be unfollowed on Twitter or assigned to junk mail). It's the covert operations, shrouded in idealism, that makes some people wonder.

Where McConnell might be right.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to read between the lines. More than one social media expert has caused a raised eyebrow after offering up a few runaway comments and quips.

"The critics don't pay my bills."

"By elevating my personal brand, more people will read my blog when I write about my client."

"I engage them in conversations with the hope they click on my signature, which takes them to my client."

"They probably won’t answer you, but that’s okay. All you want to do is appear like you have a relationship with them to enhance your credibility."

Keep in mind, these are the same folks who claim it's not about the money. They generally promote authenticity and transparency, state that their purpose is to shape social media for no other intent than to move their industry forward, and encourage that everyone should engage in social media just like they do.

Yet, if you read between the lines, you learn that the only reason critics (not trolls, mind you) are shunned is because they might hurt the bottom line. Whereas critical review tends to be more welcome in academics because the pursuit is about truth and knowledge over personal brand.

Or, you might learn some public relations professionals are pushing press releases as posts. Or, that online conversationalists really want you to buy a duck. Or, that someone's popularity was contrived from the very start.

This isn't the only area where McConnell may be right. He seems to be right that the infinitely thin targeting is creepy; limitless inventory will dampen publisher profits (until value finally beats reach, assuming it ever does); and that just because it moves, doesn't mean you have to monetize it. Don't misunderstand him. For all the criticisms, Procter & Gamble won't leave Facebook all together, because he does see value in social media. He just seems to see that the value is being applied to the wrong places.

Where McConnell might be wrong.

For all his good points, McConnell questions whether social media is media. Yet, it is a medium, even if it is different from other mediums.

Where he seems most mistaken is that it's not the participation that makes it media as much as it is the platform where that participation occurs. You also can't discount that tremendous number of voyeurs who treat the participation of others as their preferred consumption. And, in order to support these public platforms, someone has to make a nickel sooner or later (people generally accept this, especially when they have the choice of ad supported or premium ad-free services).

Besides, we've monetized almost everything anyway. Take a walk outside sometime and you can see it. People break up under billboards that line our horizon all the time. However, other than that small discrepancy, McConnell seems to touch on a subject that needs to be touched on. You see, while people might break up under billboards, those billboards don't generally shout down that they can help.

Online, they certainly seem to, especially when a marriage counselor, divorce attorney, fashion consultant, and dating service all become part of the break-up conversation between two people. Is that what people really want? I dunno. Maybe. Maybe not.

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2 comments:

Lewis Green on 11/18/08, 12:36 PM said...

Rich,

If we want businesses to invest in social media, we must help them monetize it. The intangibles are nice but at the end of the day they don't pay the bills nor do they help our customers. If we don't have the revenues to make the products and services and create the experiences they want, what good are we to them?

When did making a profit using communications tools become a bad thing? And when did personal branding become a business objective? There is no "I" in team and the last I heard, great businesses have great cultures that care.

It isn't about our business or our personal brand. In marketing and all fields of communications it is about how we can use tools to better serve our clients and to better understand their wants and needs so that we can create and deliver the solutions they want. In order for us to continue to serve our customers in those ways, we have to make more money than we spend.

Rich on 11/18/08, 12:52 PM said...

Lewis,

Please don't misunderstand me. I said the same thing about monetization, with some self checks and balances, perhaps. I do not agree with Ted on every point, but thought it makes for an interesting conversation.

I also agree with you that personal branding online works for a small segment of individuals, but does nothing more than distract from most companies in the long run. (I also prescribe that the only incentive a company has to go online is outcome oriented, if not sales than something else.)

However, what I'm starting to see more and more is that some folks pretend that making a profit using communications tools online is a bad thing, while using those tools, void of the principles the people prescribe, to make a profit online. It's annoying.

Also, to be more clear, I would never associate anything in this post about you.

On the contrary, you and many other people I know online are very authentic about what you do online and why you do it. And then there have been others, recently, that are either unknowingly or knowingly say things that seem overwhelmingly contrary to what they prescribe to others. No wonder so many social media programs fail.

Best,
Rich

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