Marshall McLuhan’s statement that “the medium is the message” must be one of the most over-used quotes of the last hundred years. I even used it (or misused it, depending on your opinion) as the title of a post last year. But because it’s such a flexible statement, which can be made to mean almost anything (which was kind of the point), it keeps on being used.
In my previous post I argued that marketers need to stop getting excited just because something happened on Facebook, Twitter or the like, and also that we don’t assume that just because something is social, it will necessarily be better. And I stand by both those opinions. But as Facebook matures as a platform for communicating marketing messages to consumers (not unconnected to the fact that it is finally approaching its IPO) it strikes me that McLuhan’s quote can, and has, taken on yet another meaning.
Facebook: Not Just For PR Anymore
When Facebook first started to appear on the radar for many marketers, it was generally considered to be a platform which would be of most use to PR types. Indeed, even as recently as last year, Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP (and my own, ultimate, boss) argued that it was best used for PR reasons. And in that interview, he mentions Buddy Media, a company that has created tools to allow marketers to manage these sort of “PR” discussions at scale.
Recently however, Buddy Media made a major acquisition, or at least major in terms of what it says about where Facebook is going. Buddy bought Brighter Option, a company that has also built tools to allow marketers to scale their efforts on Facebook — but scale their advertising, rather than their word of mouth. And Buddy Media aren’t the only ones integrating tools to manage paid and owned media, to maximize the resulting earned media.
Ads, But Not Like Everywhere Else
Because what’s really interesting about Facebook as it approaches its IPO, contrary to the opinion you might be given if you were simply to listen to mainstream press reports, is that, despite becoming a massive advertising company, it refused to play by the accepted rules. For just as the IAB announces new, bigger, flashier, “more immersive” ad units, Facebook consistently refuses to offer the IAB’s standard formats.
Instead Facebook has decided, and has the research and data to back up its decision, that not only do people respond better when ads have social context (something I’ve discussed before), but also when those ads aren’t large, heavyweight banners, but when they’re actual actions, comments or events, taken from a brand page or personal profile. And at its recent fmc event, it took that conviction, and made it a mandatory for advertisers.
Sponsored Stories are nothing new on Facebook, but their extension to Premium Page Posts, where ads can only be created from something that has been posted to a brand’s wall or Timeline, show where Facebook is heading. They also raise some tricky questions for marketers. Facebook obviously believes that the way to drive continued engagement, and higher interaction, is by making every message on the platform personalized (a strategy that’s not without its risks). And it’s doing this by, if you’ll excuse the metaphor, ensuring that the message becomes the medium, as the social context or recommendation becomes the ad.
But for marketers, it raises the question of who controls the wall, and who controls the advertising because following the recent fmc event, they’re going to be one and the same thing. As Techcrunch put it:
Gone are the old premium ad units where brands could plaster any message they wanted. Now all premium ads are built directly off of the organic content published by a brand’s official Facebook Page.
Bring It All Together, Or Else
In many ways it’s obvious that if we want to drive earned media by using paid media to drive awareness of, and engagement with, owned media, then we need to join these different areas up. But saying and doing are two different things, though the partnership between Buddy Media & Brighter Option (and between Wildfire & Adaptly) should make the doing slightly easier.
There’s already been a lot of commentary and noise about both fmc and the Buddy Media deal, and what it means for marketers. But it occurs to me that it puts media agencies, one of which I work for, I should add, at the center of the Facebook world, or at least in a controlling pattern, as it will become nigh on impossible to effectively manage ad campaigns if you’re not also controlling, or at least driving, the messaging.
What is for sure, is that as Facebook continues to grow its platform, and builds new ways of marketing to support itself, marketers from different teams and agencies will have to learn to work together, and Marshall McLuhan’s original insight will continue to resonate.
Disclosure: Mindshare’s parent company, WPP, has invested in Buddy Media.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.