It would seem that social media are roaring along at a fantastic clip. Or are they? Already, the trendy periphery of Web consulting firms is claiming social media are on the way out. They say the encroachment of big business is turning social media into social media and that its commercialization will turn people off.
While it may not happen immediately, the emergence of social media as a business marketing extension instead of as a networking and friend-finding tool may spell a change in how the public approaches it.
I gave a speech Tuesday at an interactive-advertising summit sponsored by AutoTrader.com. I told the collected audience of AutoTrader managers, OEM reps, dealers and creative types to be careful not to throw too much weight into social media compared to traditional media like TV and print.
I expected to be pelted with rocks and garbage for biting the hand that was feeding me lunch. But the group perked up after an early illustration I made: I showed the hilarious “hip-hop hamsters” TV commercial for the new Kia Soul. I asked how many would have known the Soul was on sale if not for the TV spot. Out of 150 attendees, one person -- a dealer -- raised his hand.
What's more, it doesn't matter if Kia's cool hamsters have a trendy blog if it's done improperly. When I tracked down the Kia hamsters' Facebook page, I was notified that, if I proceeded, Kia Motors America would have access to my “name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends and any other information I've shared with everyone.” Yeah, no, thanks. Gen Y likely won't appreciate that type of intrusion, either.
That's a big problem. Spam, user agreements and a lack of trust are the downsides of business staking its claim to social media. They are dangerous to the continued survival of social media in their original form.
But even more important, mass awareness, especially for new-car launches, still comes from mass media. Automakers still need a big funnel. Social media may play a part in closing a transaction or reinforcing loyalty, but the majority of car shoppers won't know a new-to-market vehicle is on sale unless they see it on TV or in print first.
Don't write off old media in the rush to embrace the new.