Friday, February 10, 2012

The social deluge and market saturation

Here’s a fun statistic: every 10 days, over a century’s worth of video footage gets uploaded to YouTube. Here’s another: there are over 27 billion likes and comments added to Facebook every day. Or try this: last week, the number of Superbowl tweets peaked at over 12,000 per second.

If you’re a marketing type, then your first reaction to all this is probably salivation – all those eyeballs, all that attention!! – but dwell on this for a moment and you’ll quickly despair.  The astonishing growth in social media  –  the unbelievable volume and velocity of messages, news, and information – is quickly leading to saturation. As users of social, we’re all increasingly unable to deal with the cacophony and clutter.

There’s another, related effect. In his book Data Smog, David Shenk estimated that the average American consumer was exposed to about 50 commercial messages a day in the 1970s; by 1997, that number had grown to 3,000 messages a day. Today, some put the number of marketing messages as high as 5,000 per day, with most of the increase coming from online and social sources. Commensurate with this dramatic increase in message density is a dramatic decrease in advertising effectiveness. The effectiveness of commercial messages is inversely proportional to the number of messages received.

Getting attention in social media is getting harder and harder. The effectiveness of pushing any messages through social channels will only diminish with time. This isn’t solely an advertising problem.

There are several consequences to this. First, social platforms that rely wholly on advertising for revenue will slowly see growth-rates falter as smart, data-driven companies begin to see waning returns from their advertising investments. The irony here is that the runaway popularity of social platforms will be their undoing.

Second, marketing pros will be forced to rethink old ways of engaging with consumers. Heavy-handed corporate marketing in a social world won’t work. Getting heard amid the social din will require an authenticity and empathy that is alien to many old-school marketing pros. It will require careful targeting and impeccable timing.

Finally, marketing professionals need to educate their organizations on what can realistically be achieved with social media. Engaging through social marketing will require clarity of message and intention, as well as focus and agility – and resources.

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