Social media, no matter how you slice and dice it, is just media. Media is nothing more than a distribution platform for messaging, and social media is not really that new when you break it down. Facebook and MySpace may be very large sites, but they are still just media vehicles. What is of real value is how you harness the power of the audience itself and create or utilize buzz. That is something done by the power of creative, not by the location of the placement on the page.
The creative story that needs to unfold is the interesting component of social, which I feel gets overlooked. I recently engaged in an exercise for a client where we hypothesized how to change the perception of the brand by using social media placements. It really came down to developing a strong creative concept that spoke to the needs of the brand and then utilizing social media as a distribution vehicle for that message. The distribution was twofold; balancing paid media with earned media. We uncovered that the earned media component, which is typically a barometer for the performance of the effort, is truly driven by the accessibility and intrigue of the creative. The media placements are secondary in that kind of an effort, but as an industry I feel as though we focus our attention on the distribution because the creative is subjective and difficult to discuss one way or the other.
When developing a social media strategy you need to start with the creative concept. The creative concept must take into account the target audience (as all effective campaigns must do) and then look at social media as a tool for one of two things. You are either going to provide a hub for consumer interaction, or you'll create a series of spokes for transferring the message outward through the network. This "hub and spoke" model is how you generate reach in social media. You create strong consumer touch-points on a one-to-one basis and then arm those consumers, who have hopefully had a positive experience with your brand, with the ammunition to distribute virally on your behalf.
The hubs for this model are either the established presence (what I call the WTF: Website, Twitter, Facebook strategy) or paid media. The spokes are what are driven by creative and take into account interaction and pass-along tools with messaging and content that stimulates that sort of action. The creative concept here fits into a bigger picture and provides the reason for social activity in general. Without the creative concept and the stimulus for the user, you just end up with a paid media buy and a standard ad unit, neither of which exploits the inherent strength of social media.
The social media user is a person who responds to creative messaging more than he responds to placements and location. The creative message is what drives the discussion, and the distribution model is what fosters its growth. I hope that in the coming weeks this message will resonate and I will see more discourse around the marriage of media and creative in social media.
Maybe even someone will take up the term "social creative" and run with it.