You are here

Calling a truce in the media wars

Media buyers and social media enthusiasts, put your weapons down and listen.

I appreciate that traditional media people may feel threatened by social media, but I'd like to offer an idea that puts the two in a more harmonious context. It's easy to see the present situation in the marketing world as two extremes – a war between the guys who book conventional media and the social media evangelists – but if you step back a bit and look at media in general you see a different picture.

Because there are not two but three types of media:

  • Paid media. This is the traditional media, although in online terms it refers to display banners etc. The point here is that you pay for it, and you are therefore entitled to put whatever message you like there. You are using that space to broadcast your message, and you hope some of that message will stick.
  • Peer-to-peer media. This is what most people see as 'social' media. This involves using Twitter, Facebook, forums and blogs to build relationships with customers, and show them – by virtue of individual conversations – how human you are. This is free in monetary terms, but can be devastatingly expensive in terms of time. You might pay an agency to do it but, unless it is very shrewdly planned, you'll soon eat up the budget you might normally spend on paid media.
  • Earned media. This is the interesting bit. Earned media is also free of charge in terms of money. But it also costs virtually nothing timewise either. How can this be? Well, it is free because you have to earn it first through your other activities. If your brand offers content that is of value to your customers, not only will they readily engage with it, they will also help to spread it. Your brand is carried out into the Buyersphere by your customers – but only because you have earned their trust. Try posting sales messages on every forum and you will get nowhere. Offer something useful (by doing plenty of the peer-to-peer media work) and you will earn the right to spread your message.

I just thought this was a really nice way to explain how media works these days. It also helps provide an answer to the problem of ROI, because you can directly compare the cost of paid media with the time (and therefore money) required to build up the trust required for earned media. It is also worth bearing in mind that, once you have that level of trust within the social media networks, you can use it more than once – which potentially halves the cost of your next campaign. However, it also shows that there is room for traditional media – it's just a question of working out how hard you have to work to earn the alternative.

So can we just play nicely now?