If you do a Google search on “social media cocktail party” you’ll get 999,000 results.
There’s even a 2008 book written by Jim Tobin and Lisa Braziel called: “Social Media Is A Cocktail Party: Why You Already Know the Rules of Social Media Marketing.” The idea that social media is a cocktail party is also a favorite meme of David Meerman Scott, the popular social media consultant and author (David’s “New Rules of Marketing & PR” is a must read).
The thinking behind this analogy is that companies should not discuss their products or services on social networks. As David notes in a post on the topic:
“Do you go into a large gathering filled with a few acquaintances and tons of people you do not know and shout “BUY MY PRODUCT”? Do you go into a cocktail party and ask every single person you meet for a business card before you agree to speak with them?”
Well, of course not. And that makes sense, but only if you buy in to the “cocktail party” metaphor in the first place.
In fact, social media isn’t a cocktail party. And it never really was in the first place.
Social networks are web-based communication platforms. People use them for different reasons – and so do brands. There are lots of customers that want you to talk about your product. If I’m researching cameras or cars online, I want Cannon and GM (client) to provide me with information about their products. I want to know things like lens sizes or gas mileage.
The idea that you can’t talk about your products and services on a social network doesn’t ring true and actually flies in the face of the evidence. Take some examples of brands that have been roundly praised for their social media efforts. Most are talking about their products and what they do:
- Blendtec is famous for its “Will It Blend” YouTube videos. They are creative and hilarious, but at their essence the videos are product demonstrations. Tom Dickson puts crazy things – iPhones, marbles, golf balls, etc. – into one of the company’s blenders to show how powerful and how durable they are. The videos are all about the product.
- The New York Times has a Twitter account with 2.4 million followers that does one thing – broadcasts links to articles on its web site. The Times does no engagement, follows less than 200 other people and if they have ever typed a RT or the @ key, it was probably a mistake. Yet the account is the 23rd largest on Twitter and a big success. Yet the account does is showcase product, which happens to be news.
- Zappos has widely been held up as a social media king, especially for its use of blogs and Twitter. The company focused its contents exclusively on customer service and writing about footwear (they happen to be in the business of selling shoes).
In fact, David talks all about social media and marketing on his blog. And guess what? He’s in the business of social media marketing.
Now I know that the social media as cocktail party message is a metaphor and that the advice that tumbles out of it can be excellent (listen more, be helpful, provide value, etc.). But many companies have taken the idea that conversations about products and services online is a big no-no. But it is not.
You just need to think about doing it in creative, interesting, compelling and entertaining ways. You have to discover how your target audiences want this information and how they want to interact with it. Straight sales pitches and “speeds and feeds” conversations might not make great content for social networks, but heck for some audiences they might be perfect.
Social networks aren’t a cocktail parties, they are a communities. And like any community the way information is created, shared, digested, explored and processed is different in every segment of the community.
That’s your job – figuring it out.
So what do think of the cocktail party analogy and the idea that brands should avoid product conversations? Agree? Disagree?