Braintrust Query: Social Media? – Nah, It’s Personal

Feb 02, 2011

a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current
article from the Tenser’s Tirades blog.

All the recent chatter
about "social media for business" is driving
me around the bend.

For some time now, I’ve been searching for a terminology that
would rescue us from imprecision and allow a meaningful business conversation
to take place around the impact of smartphones within the retail environment.

the National Retail Federation Conference and Expo in New York, the presentations
and pitches frequently turned to the impact of social and mobile media, and I
kept cringing every time I heard it. Here’s why it bugs me so much:

When new business
phenomena have arisen in retail marketing, sloppy terminology frequently led
to poor initial understanding of the business opportunity. Often it is due
to a choice of words laden with confusing prior connotation — or
the absence of a suitable term.

We sometimes used "consumer" and "shopper" interchangeably;
now we distinguish between those two customer roles. We spoke of "manufacturers" or "vendors" before
the term "brand marketer" was introduced in the mid-90s. A deficient
thought vocabulary renders some concepts virtually unthinkable.

I submit that
when it comes to tapping shoppers via those pocket two-way radiowave computers
we call smartphones, there’s very little "social" about
it. It’s not social — it’s personal.

If we conceive of the mobile device as
a personalized channel for interaction between retailers or brands with individual
shoppers or consumers, then we would do well to set aside the imprecise term "social
media" and
start talking shop. These new media are personal media. Much of what happens
on them may be social in nature, but everything that happens on them is personal.

personal mobile device is taking shape as a personal nexus, where online, in-store,
social, and commercial communications converge in unique combinations tailored
by and for each individual. Each of us shifts roles at will, according to our
objectives of the moment — searcher, receiver, reporter, sender, aggregator,
re-transmitter, gatekeeper, purchaser, advisor.

Businesses that hope to play
effectively in this incredibly fluid and fast-changing media environment had
best get their minds around the personal nature of the shopper experience using
mobile devices. When we discuss our strategy for personal media, the marketing
mindset shifts in what I think is a constructive direction. Better decisions
and practices must surely follow.

As for me, I have nothing against online friendships;
but when it comes to business you may count me as anti-social. My reasons?
Well, they’re personal.

Discussion Questions: Do you agree with the author that effective mobile media is more “personal” than “social”? Do you see other misconceptions around the mobile media opportunity that are hindering its progress?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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13 Comments on "Braintrust Query: Social Media? – Nah, It’s Personal"

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Bob Phibbs
11 years 3 months ago

Personalization is a variation of ‘person.’ A real person. Not a machine. Answers to shoppers when they are in your store are not solely in the palm of their hand. That’s why I just published a manifesto on how to stand out from the herd.

As reported at NRF last month, Arc Worldwide and Leo Burnett did a survey of 1800 mobile shoppers last September. They found about 10% were heavy users who tended to be relatively young, male and affluent and they were skewing the results.

I’m not some Luddite trying to put the genie back in the bottle. But the rush towards mobile technology that ignores humans in the store seems to me to be making the whole shopping experience just so much point-and-click which will risk making bricks and mortar stores nothing more than showrooms for your online competitors.

Paula Rosenblum
11 years 3 months ago

Well…Jamie, with all respects, I have to disagree. Mobility and social media are two different things completely. Mobility may facilitate social media interactions, but it’s not necessary for them to occur.

There’s nothing social about price comparisons, but there’s a lot social about product reviews.

There’s nothing social about sending offers to an opt-in mobile phone, but there’s a lot social about tweeting an offer for existing or new customers, or posting a special deal on your fan page in Facebook.

Two distinct trends–each changing the very fabric of retail.

Oh, and they started calling them “Brand Managers” when they actually stopped “manufacturing” anything. That’s one of the fundamental structural problems in the US economy…but I digress.

David Dorf
11 years 3 months ago

Mobile and Social are two different concepts that can be (but are not always) combined. The smartphone is a great way for retailers to communicate directly with a shopper, so in that sense it is personal. But if the shopper is using the smartphone to solicit opinions from groups of people, then it’s being used in a social context.

I disagree that social media is personal. Social means sharing with the group, usually to take advantage of the wisdom of crowds or distribute information widely. If a retailer wants to engage directly with a customer, then emal and texting are probably better media than Facebook and Twitter.

Mobile Commerce is simply shopping that involves a mobile device. Social Commerce involves collaboration and user-generated content. They are quite distinct, but easily combined to create new experiences.

Ian Percy
11 years 3 months ago

A thousand years ago while I was in graduate school an evangelical college student was ‘preaching’ in the Campus Square using a megaphone. A surprisingly large crowd gathered to hear him. The next day in an effort to be helpful and ‘spread the word’ even further, someone set up an actual electronic speaker system for the young preacher. And no one stopped to listen.

Why that happened became clear during a lecture from the iconic “the medium is the message” philosopher Marshall McLuhan. He said “You cannot preach the Gospel over a microphone.” Tele-evangelists would disagree of course but it seems to relate to this discussion. You can’t develop a true meaningful relationship by radiowave. It’s not a “social” medium for sure. To be honest, I’m wondering how personal it is as well.

Ryan Mathews
11 years 3 months ago
Many mobile media apps are essentially digitized traditional marketing ploys–one (brand marketer) to many (potential customers) delivered one at a time. In that sense Jamie is spot on–those aren’t “social.” The differences between mobile media and traditional marketing are the platform (a smartphone) and the customer’s ability to opt in and opt out. Of course, compounding the problem is the fact that some mobile applications are, in reality, social (Twitter, for example). When a marketer is using mobile devices to connect with customers through a social network, Jamie’s desire for a precise taxonomy begins to get a little fuzzy around the edges. So the question really is–what is the critical element here? Is it the message protocol–is it one to one, one to many or many to many? Is it the platform–is accessing Twitter on your phone different from accessing Facebook on your laptop? Does it have to do with the ability to opt in and opt out? IS interactivity the key? Or, finally, is it simply numerically determined–is one to one communication not social… Read more »
Fabien Tiburce
Fabien Tiburce
11 years 3 months ago
I agree with Mr. Tenser that “social” and “mobility” are two very distinct trends. “Social” generally refers to a crowd sourced model, where it is people you know, or people with similar interests and affinities, who influence your behaviors and buying decisions. “Mobility” is well…just anything on a portable device, usually a smart phone or tablet. Lumping the two together entails they can’t exist on their own which is false. Social also exists (and thrives) on the non-mobile web. And mobility is a game-changer in its own right. It so happens that social and mobile work well together meaning there is an opportunity to bring social aspects to a customer’s in-store mobile experience. Personally, if I had to pick a winner, I would say “mobile” will be the dominant future trend, over social and frankly over just about everything else. Mobile computing is shaping the future of ubiquitous computing. Social is a strong force too but I don’t think social will redefine our society and lifestyles the way mobility is about to. There will be… Read more »
Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
11 years 3 months ago

All of these “smart phones” have one thing in common–they all started out as phones, the most personal of devices, primarily used for one to one communication.

Like most things in technology, there is nothing really new here, it is just faster and has a much larger reach. More importantly, the ownership of the information–what, where, how much, what do others think, is now shifting from the retailer to the ultimate purchaser, an individual. As Bob points out, smart 4-wall retailers will embrace that reality and look to add value through a richer in-store experience for the customer. Otherwise, what’s the point of investing capital in 4-wall?

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
11 years 3 months ago

I view social media somewhat differently. Social Media is people connecting with people about their lives. At one time people wrote letters to each other, phoned occasionally and then came e-mail. People are so busy today they don’t even have time to e-mail. They just go to Facebook and include a picture of the new shoes they bought or vacation photos. The commercial side is just advertising, which consumers tolerate just like they do on television. They know without advertising, they would have to pay and they are unlikely to do so. Which raises the question, why are there commercials on cable television? The perspective is advertising to a market of one. Everyone knows the manufacturer is not your friend.

Ralph Jacobson
11 years 3 months ago

“Mobile” and “social” are two distinct trends, however, the argument is moot. The tsunami is coming and CPGers and retailers can ride the wave or get washed away. Humans are social animals. I went to dinner with a couple of 60+ years of age last week. The husband had printed a coupon for the restaurant valued at $60 from Some surveys may skew toward a younger crowd, however, this website demonstrates social collaboration across all shoppers at its best.

Humans also tend to be mobile. Whether you’re talking transportation, shopping, banking, whatever, if we can do it while our bodies are in motion, we’ll take that over having to do it at the PC, the bank, the store or where ever.

Janet Dorenkott
Janet Dorenkott
11 years 3 months ago
I agree with Paula and David that social media and mobile devices are different. I think what Jamie is demonstrating in this article is a good example of how too many things are being lumped under the umbrella of “social media.” To that extent, I agree with Jamie. I cringe when I hear vendors or customers talking about social media. Because many of them have never even participated in any form of social media and don’t have a good understanding of it. “I want to integrate social media.” This is a statement I hear frequently these days. Ok, are you talking about “Chatter” from blogs, “Chatter” from internal applications like, statistical information from social or professional sites, survey data, etc? Many people talking about “social media” don’t even know what chatter is. They don’t know what the difference between a social site or professional site is. They have never participated in a blog. These are all different things that are all being lumped into “social media.” Jamie might be off in comparing social media… Read more »
James Tenser
11 years 3 months ago

My thanks and compliments to the commentators this morning. You have added significantly to understanding in ways I could not. I hope many RW readers will see the wisdom of referencing “personal media” as we struggle to wrap our minds around the commercial use of these emerging, one-to-one communications channels.

Indeed, we may expect individuals will access social channels to try to tap into the collective mindset of their peers (one-from-many). And commercial users will try to tap the same channels to influence numerous individuals (one-to-one-X-many).

Worth thinking about: Is social, personal, or commercial? Post amongst yourselves….

Ben Ball
11 years 3 months ago
Three cheers for Jamie from the snow drifts of Chicago! The misuse of terminology is indeed one of the great debilities of understanding and appropriate action when it comes to the use of mobile communications devices in marketing. Many commentators today have pointed out the technical separation of “mobile device” and “social media,” but I stand with Jamie that the gross misuse of “social media” as a catchall for mobile marketing is getting in our way. Let me point to two recent examples–both of which proved significant hindrances to marketers properly understanding their environments. First was/is the term “private label.” Referring to proprietary retailer brands as “private label” set both retailers and “brand marketers” (another misnomer as used–since both are ‘brand marketers’) back for decades. The second is referring to the internet as a “new channel.” It is a new channel for communication, advertising and order entry, but it is not a new “channel” for distribution of goods. That would still be called “home delivery.” Understanding that EVERY retail channel could and should take advantage… Read more »
Mark Price
Mark Price
11 years 3 months ago

The commentators today have been successful at distinguishing between social media and mobile technology. Both are strong disrupting influences on the traditional way of doing business, and represent both threats and opportunities to retailers.

What they both have in common is the ability to reach consumers as individuals, in a personal way, reinforcing authenticity and supporting a store experience and “brand intimacy.” Consumers can be reached through their mobile devices, acknowledging that the company values them as a person, and highlighting the benefits of the relationship. Consumers can also be reached through social media, building and sharing in communities of like-minded people. This approach will also reinforce authenticity and support a strong store experience.

Apples and chainsaws, a bit–but both strategies or channels can drive the same result–a stronger brand and relationship.


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