Overcoming Pharma’s Social Media Anxiety Disorder

There’s been an ongoing discussion about how the Life Sciences industries can face and integrate recently evolving media which the Web has been and continues to sprout.

Remarkable as they are, the discussions are endless and most loop back into themselves without generating sufficient voltage to power an army of macrophages. Additionally, Pharmaceutical companies – beset by a myriad of constraints – are anxious about flipping on social connection switches which the Web furiously creates every day.

We could say that Pharma has a sort of Social Media Anxiety Disorder. What to do?

The answer isn’t in social media. It’s not in what the FDA decides to do. It’s not in echo chambers found within Twitter or blogs or conferences.

It lies in simple, basic economic truths. It lies in radical acceptance and in brave recreation. It lies beneath the proverbial nose of obviousness. It lies far beyond any discussion about the meanings and promises and purposes of new media on the Web.

Pharma’s Social Media Anxiety Disorder is merely a peripheral symptom of deeper pathologies. Let’s assess the patient.

NOTE: If you believe social media is the cure of business ills, this post may not be appropriate for you. See your doctor if you’re addicted to social media before acting on the information contained herein.

DEEP CONCERNS AND PERIPHERAL RISKS

Social media is nothing – an oxymoron at best: media are simply media, incapable of being at all social. People are social. Information isn’t social either – but it is everything. So let’s talk about information and why it matters in every nook and cranny of Life Sciences’ media challenges and wider business fundamentals.

Nobody doubts that the ultimate concern surrounding the the development, production and marketing of molecules and medical devices is their safety, efficacy and effectiveness. From production to marketing to administration/application, every step of the way involves risks: tiny flaws in R&D methodologies; overlooked nuances of human physiological processes, genetic mechanisms and anatomical structures; manufacturing and engineering oversights; misinforming marketing messages (unintended or otherwise); and administration error (provider or patient related).

At the core of all these risks lies information, which is the coherence of relevant data that helps to make decisions in light of risks. Any information indicating danger during any point of the entire pipeline can retard or terminate production or marketing or dispensation of a product.

Furthermore, the media through which information conveys its meaning determines its interpretation. Therefore, any discussion concerning the proper delivery of product information must base itself upon the most complete understanding of media possible. Few media are alike in properties, possibilities, limits and pliancy of re-purposing. Not all media can be used for the same purposes as other media. Twitter may help Dunkin Donuts move sales, but that doesn’t mean it would for Pharma.

And it’s this understanding of media which is at the heart of the circulatory system of discussions and decisions with respect to the Web’s place in Life Sciences. It’s one thing to say Let’s start a blog, tweet like sparrows, set up Facebook Pages and create forums. It’s quite another to do so remarkably without addressing both the deeper nuances of human communication, social interaction and individual psychological responses and their peripheral risks.

The order of complexity that arises out of the tasks involved in creating and cultivating safe and engaging environments for patients, doctors, pharmacists, employees and all other publics grows with every added layer of interaction.

It sounds hopeless – in fact it is anxiety-provoking. But it isn’t hopeless and it doesn’t need to be an unstoppable source of anxiety. But the reality is this: Life Sciences has far too many variables and concerns to tie together to ever completely satisfy everyone and everything when it comes to social media – certainly not right out of the gate. The Enterprise considerations alone are almost impossibly daunting.

It’s easy to see how most Pharmaceutical companies suffer from a sort of Social Media Anxiety Disorder. What will the FDA do? What about Adverse Events? What about them lawyers trawling for our mistakes? What about abusive flash mobs? What happens if 4chan decides to play pranks on us on Twitter or Facebook?

What’s the anxiolytic here? Simplicity: do what’s simple and simply do it.

More on that in a moment, but first a necessary but pertinent side trip off the path of new media onto the economic principles upon which any exploration of the uses of social media in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.

NATURAL VERSUS UNHEALTHY RATES OF RETURNS

Let’s take a quick pan-back for a moment from social media to mention something about Capitalism and economic fundamentals because it’s the central economic context in which modern pharmaceutical marketing arose. An inquiry into the economic ramifications of a fast-changing world must the the foundation for any exploration into the role of media. And this will lead us to why simplicity is Pharma’s best prospect for long-term viability. Bear with me on this excursion. Why? Because if there’s no industry, who cares about social media?

The rates of return for the pharmaceutical industry over the last twenty years have been quite remarkable. After the industry radically transformed itself decades ago from a primarily scientific endeavor into a marketing Juggernaut, the stock prices of publicly traded life sciences companies soared. Blockbusters made careers. Fortunes bloomed. Investors beamed.

We could say that co-morbid with Pharma’s Social Media Anxiety Disorder is an addiction to quick hits of Blockbusters and above-average rates of return. As we know, co-morbid conditions are often the hardest to treat.

But the fact is, these rates of return were not natural rates of return. Sustainable long-term rates of return for industries in their natural states is on the order of a paltry two to three percent. Why? Because the resource-inflationary pressure of high returns inevitably leads to downward pressures on sustainability. When rates of return exceed rates of regeneration, eventually capital systems collapse in on themselves. Sooner or later, pendulums swing back – the higher the summit, the more momentous the tumult.

To most pharmaceutical executives, the very thought of rates of return that low could cause chuckles or perhaps induce suicidal ideation. But eventually Pharma will face major reversals of fortune in the coming years. Here’s why:

  • The disruption of traditional marketing coupled with the infiltration of the Web into consumers’ lives will dilute their effectiveness;
  • The mis-coordination among the various international regulatory agencies and the industry will hamper innovation in customer outreach;
  • The internal weaknesses, complexes, inefficiencies of out-dated infrastructures will continue their pressure to reduce costs at the expense of development, resulting in positive feedback on tightening concentric loops of cost-reduction and market contraction;
  • The pool of bright young talent will flow to tech and other sectors while flowing away from an industry who’s public reputation has suffered years of traumatic wounds (many self-inflicted).

Furthermore, the revealing essence of media technologies will continue to illuminate fundamental truths about the industry and bear novel stresses on it:

  • The proliferation of social media will continue to shed light on weaknesses inherent within organizations: information about organizations will increasingly leach into the public sphere.
  • The raw scapegoating potential of new media will fuel public relations fires like never before seen and their financial impacts may be enormous, and their recovery will be slow and painful. Perhaps not in the immediate future (contrary to some of the hypers of the “power” of social media) – but as new media proliferate, the peripheral costs and risks associated with maintaining communities will rise considerably. (See Dennis Howlett’s excellent piece on how Nestle’s Facebook problem had no significant impact on its share prices.)
  • Worsening depressive global economic conditions will likely usher forth political demands for tighter regulatory controls. When people are hungry, they cry for blood.

Therefore, the industry must undergo a radical realization and acceptance that their fundamentals need serious attention. A critical dissection of assumptions and traditional business thinking will need to take place. The harsh realities of the 21st Century’s upending nature must be faced without fear. The marketing models which were co-opted from the Cereal and Automobile industries will be tough to break down and replaced with fresh perspectives on the ever-shifting ways in which people consume their information.

Meanwhile, the social engineering foundation of modern marketing ushered forth by Edward Bernay’s will continue to falter. Unless, of course, a few geniuses emerge who will discover some magical formula to mechanize social media into standard operating algorithms – as was done with traditional media. Not impossible, but it was much easier to do with unilateral oligopolies of mass communication.

There are times in our lives when incredibly hard and frightening decisions must be made. The same applies to companies and industries – entire countries in fact. And it’s always those simple decisions that must be made and are most often the most difficult to execute.

Pharma’s simple way out of its coming dark ages is nothing less than the task of utterly re-vamping itself into an entirely new industry – one which will be supple and cleaver and ethical enough to win the attention and social capital so critically necessary to hold sway in the coming world. It’s not social media, stupid: it’s The Capital.

Here are a few simple things Pharma can right now to inject true hope into its future:

  • Invest in education. Where will the next generation of molecular biologists and geneticists and engineers come from? Set up a consortium of education which extensively funds captivating educational programs which spark the attention of a youth easily distracted by the temptations of the Web. The Web is a perfect medium to extent in-real-life educational experiences, even while it opens up new temptations for distraction. The Web’s disruption of education means we must dovetail new media technologies with the traditional disciplines and rigors of learning about what matters. The public and private systems are becoming increasingly vulnerable in this regard, which implies opportunities for industrial talent to avail itself of its knowledge and expertise.
  • Shift capital-flows from over-marketing back to R&D. Wait? What? If we don’t invest in marketing we won’t have sales, which means we can’t develop products. The retort: the future of traditional marketing is bleak. Accept the losses now. A robust portfolio of novel pipelines for products – in conjunction with re-designing public relations with valuable social propositions – will lead to healthier long-term prospects for capital accumulation.
  • Begin the process of re-designing infrastructure and process from an assembly-line basis into info-social ecosystems. Capitalism is in the process of transitioning from deriving value through mechanized re-allocation and transformation of resources towards creating value out of the informational synergies of social connections. As the cost of technologies shrink while their powers expand, the opportunities to more fully realize the power of ideas and experiences expand. How many more discoveries and advances in molecular genetics be made if businesses were based upon social designs instead of mechanical rigors?
  • Extract value from the innate experiences of human capital within the enterprise. Building on the previous investment strategy, there is an entire sub-industry within the Pharmaceutical industry which has never been tapped. The collective wisdom-power of doctors, nurses, engineers, geneticists and other key players is an enormous source of business value. Entrenched stiff organizational structures have buried the collective values that can be derived from the vast array of product and service ideas inherent in these collective talents. Investing in re-designing business towards info-social ecosystems will develop the platforms necessary to yield the potency of human creativity and innovation.

Of course, maybe it’s already too late for the large pharmaceutical companies. If that’s the case, then the smaller enterprises have an open opportunity to gun for the future – especially if they refuse to be subsumed into the Juggernauts, which anymore are more like Holding Companies than actual creators and producers.

If 20th Century Capitalism taught us anything, it’s this: Juggernauts often jeapordize their long-term sustainability by assuming their ways of doing business are eternally solvent. They aren’t: Technology brings forth into world both opportunity and obsolescence. It reveals the status quo even while it destroys it.

THE SIMPLE TRUTH

If the industry is to be what it aught to be – a leading creator of technological solutions to biological problems – then it will have to abandon the now false hope of generating unnatural rates of return via outmoded mechanisms, processes, strategies, tactics. Because if it continues to believe its industry is an exemption from the eternal laws of supply and demand, of resource and allocation, and of creativity and innovation, then it will perpetuate a belief system that will continue to funnel its efforts into practices which forgo richer long-term prospects.

This is not only a matter of industrial health: it’s a public health urgency. A bankruptcy of novel bio-molecular advancement would be catastrophic for health care.

Connecting points of suffering with points of care. That’s the simple going concern of the Life Sciences industry.

This connecting is what marketing is all about. All efforts from idea to development to production to consumption create the ribbon of presence which is marketing.

BACK TO THE WEB OF CONNECTIONS

It’s not that the Web doesn’t matter – far from it. But the basic economic principles outlined above are the priority for all companies curious about how to integrate Web media into their enteprises.

There are places for new media within Life Sciences but the industry needs to be very basic in its approach.

For one, companies won’t get very far with “social marketing” efforts until executive leadership actually has hands-on experience with new media and a working comprehension of their properties.

No, the only way things will move is when middle and executive managers start using these media personally (none of it is hard). They need to go through this process before clear-headed strategies can be well formulated. Here’s how, in order:

  1. Executives must gain Web Literacy (this is a limiting agent).
  2. Then they must step back and re-frame everything they think they understand about media.
  3. After that, they need to imagine the re-purposing possibilities of the various media.
  4. They need to put together small packs of champions who – with permission – can go forth and lead the way with small steps.
  5. They will have to initiate the system-deep integration of social design into their companies (and Enterprise versions of Facebook ain’t it).

Once they understand how to use these media themselves, only then will they see the potential and pitfalls. They will realize the importance of accumulating Social Capital. They will see more clearly what it takes to create content and communities and the safe connections which engender markets where information can be safe and effective.

The economics of life science products and the realities of emerging shifts in the properties of adopted media dovetail each other over time. Perhaps not immediately, but it won’t be too long before the industry sees the need to change. That’s why the previous discussion about Capitalism is so important and relevant to any discussion on social technologies. Social media are merely revealing the deeper needs to re-vamp the industry’s microecnomic and enterprise schema.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR INSTEAD OF A DOG

The Web decentralizes centers of information. It rewards erratic volume at the expense of disciplined silence. It atomizes the world’s data while it connects disparate sources of information.

The Web is seductive. It promises Democratization. Unfortunately, seductive promises usually break.

And so it is with Pharma’s relationship to social and other media. In lust for easy returns by the promise of cheap media, fundamentals are easily forgotten. Longevity of industrial health is put at risk. The savviest get-rich schemes don’t sound like get-rich schemes. And yet, most of the talk about “social marketing” does in fact possess within it the underlying pitches of get-rich schemes.

Pharma will have to get back to fundamentals in economic design and collaborative networks. It needs to bring the life scientists back to front-and-center as pioneers of not only innovation but also creativity (and not in the way David Ogilvy abhorred the word). It will have to develop new ways to work with doctors and nurses, patients and the public.

It will have to answer, continually, questions such as these:

  • What is the effect of the Web on the health of human beings, from birth to death?
  • How does the Web affect collaboration? What about culture in general?
  • How can those with expertise create music that shunts the attention and interest of consumers away from the cacophony of charletons or from well-intended but misguided people? After all, a little knowledge can be more dangerous than complete ignorance – life science and health care aren’t always intuitive.

It will need to propound into the FDA’s collective head the one eternal truth of the web: On the Internet, nobody knows your’re a dog – but they may think you’re a doctor.

The imperative for leaders in life sciences businesses to understand the emerging roles of emerging media has never been more important. Moreover, the enframing of these media must line up with a fresh perspective on the nature of Capitalism in an age where social currencies emerge as substantive elements in the Capital System at large.

Pharma: Give up false hope in a Social Media Utopia. Overfed Utopian desires always end up backsliding into disasters. Get back to the science of life and the art of being a hero. Re-examine the fundamental meaning of marketing. Remember that marketing is about Presence. Realize the costly long-term error in mistaking Messaging for Marketing. History will hate you if you abandon your duty to be spotlessly heroic.

If you’re going to integrate rapidly shifting new media into your efforts, keep things simple. Don’t aim for marketing gold – you’ll not only miss the pot, you’ll ruin your reputation forever because the Web is your last hope, even if it’s your biggest fear.

Find what’s simple and simply do it.

It’s that simple. But like life itself, simple is rarely easy.

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The ROI of the Tweet

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Image by TW Collins via Flickr

Is Twitter a sales tool? Can it “drive” sales? If so, what’s the return on investment of a tweet? Most executive teams today still view the world through the lens of the assembly-line. They like metrics and clearly defined goals and well-thought decision trees. They prefer straight lines over curves with cloudy distances. They are largely justified in their lines of reasoning.

But the Web has opened up a decidedly non-linear fabric of novel media. Consequently, many organizations have been slow to adopt emerging media and technologies because they simply don’t see the return on investment. Often, they’re not even sure what the investment is. Or what the return might be. Or what the goals or purposes or opportunities of subsuming the Web into their going concerns could be for them.

So this post aims to provide a clearer, if alternate, view of what’s at stake. We’ll look at metrics. We’ll also examine how organizations can better understand the nature and essences of media – all media, old and new and media not even around yet.

If you work in an organization which has been struggling with keeping up-to-date, I offer this to you so you can go into C-Suite and answer the tough questions without looking like an unprepared stooge. You owe it to yourself to understand the media you sell to your executive team – and you owe it to yourself to ensure they understand how to properly enframe media in the 21st Century.

NOTE: This is a long post. My aim here is not to prove that Twitter is not valuable to business. Quite the contrary: I don’t believe enframing Twitter as a generator of financial ROI is the proper way to view the service. But I do believe that evangelists must be able to say to executive management something like this: We have crunched pro forma numbers and in our opinion Twitter is not really a direct (or even indirect) driver of ROI; we do believe, however, that Twitter can be a linchpin within a web of comprehensive web strategies. You can get this post as a document here.

BRUTE FORCE APPROACH TO TWITTER

In order to provide some insight into the difference between Twitter-as-sales-tool and Twitter-as-public-utility, I believe pro forma metrics may help to reveal some important properties of a medium like Twitter. Too often claims are made about Twitter’s business values – and usually the issue of metrics is explained away with vague optimism.

But why not take a crack at metrics, if only to reveal a basic truth of Twitter? After all, Twitter’s simplicity makes it a utility with varied uses. By seeing that Twitter’s effectiveness in driving revenues (even indirectly), allows conversations to focus on a more robust enframming of the service.

I’ll call the strict Financial ROI enframing of Twitter the brute force method. The brute force method makes several assumptions and follows an algorithmic, assembly-line logic. So here are the assumptions:

  • Number of followers are true fans – not just the count of followers according to Twitter – not bots,  or miscellaneous people who aren’t invested in a brand.
  • Followers are people who are likely to buy a product and who are actively paying attention to the Twitter stream of the business/product account.
  • The tweets include links to actionable web real-estate where conversion is possible.
  • Customers make at most one purchase per month.
  • Clickthrough and conversion rates are comparable with traditional web metrics.
  • The effect of retweets is actually minimal on tweets about products (at least in this case) and has been left out of the model.

So let’s look at a hypothetical. Let’s tackle a difficult industry: Pharmaceuticals. For this example, we will leave FDA regulations and other constraints on the industry out of the equation. We’ll say that the company runs a Twitter account for a particular drug and tweets links about an OTC medication (again, we’re assuming these are “FDA-compliant” tweets – yes: laugh – conversations around Twitter can be that ridiculous).

We’re going to assume that the labor time for running the Twitter account is based on $50 per hour. Furthermore, we’ll assume that only one hour a day of labor time is needed (for Twitter accounts with a very high volume of tweets, management will probably need many more hours of labor time in practice). But we’ll be conservative.

Here are a few scenarios (pulled the pro forma spreadsheet which you can view here):

1,000 Followers x 5% Clickthrough x 5% Conversion x $5 Margin x 12 Months – $12,500 Labor = ($12,350)

128,000 Followers x 5% x 5% x $5 Margin x 12 Months – $12,500 Labor = $6,700

1,024,000 Followers x 5% x5 % x $5 Margin x 12 Months – $12,500 Labor = $141,100

8,192,000 Followers X 5% x 5% x $5 Margin x 12 Months – $12,500 Labor = $1,216,300

In order to achieve over a million dollars in revenues, tweets would need to yield a ROI of 9,630%! Use your common sense: it’s utterly delusional to think that ten tweets per day over a year would provide that kind of return. Even to achieve over $1 Million, this pharmaceutical company would have to have over 8 Million followers! And each of those followers would have to be devoted true fans. Think of the investment required to generate a tribe of 8 Million followers – the time, the electrifying tweeting style, the power to be loved.

You can tweak any of the variables and crunch new figures. You can input a higher margin, for instance – but you may need to re-think clickthrough and conversion rates and follower counts. Go work up a brute force model for you business or client and see what you get. Just be realistic and understand the properties of Twitter (or whatever other medium you’re working with). That’s one of the problems I think (some) marketers have: they don’t really understand the media out of which they’re seeking to extract value.

I won’t say that you can’t generate these kinds of numbers – but there are weaknesses and paradoxes in this approach which I’ll reveal in a moment. And yes, I’m fully aware of the general effect of positive WOM but that’s not the point of this story. I’ll touch on brand awareness in a bit – wait for it. 🙂

As you can see, given these assumptions, this brute-force approach to Twitter doesn’t release a lot of financial return (not for larger enterprises with capitalizations greater than $1 Billion). Sure if you run a relatively small enterprise and can cultivate a massive and committed fan-base in the long-run, there’s a chance Twitter may provide substantial gains in line with your revenue stream. Of course, your margins may be larger (but as margins grow, you may encounter diminishing actual conversions). Most importantly: building a tribe of true fans is hard work – very very hard work.

Yes, Dell has claimed it earned $3 Million from Twitter, but Twitter was simply an ancillary service to their wider web presence – and Dell indeed has over a million followers (and a larger margin than in my pro forma).

None of this means, of course, that Twitter has no business value. In fact, I would argue that Twitter can be an essential linchpin for overall web presences: Twitter enables a pliant means to connect various media and web real estate together. It’s also real-time which means you can literally stream your presence and respond swiftly to shifting currents.

But there are paradoxes hidden within the brute-force approach. Let’s take a look at them.

THE PARADOXES OF BRUTE FORCING TWITTER’S WINGS

There’s a sort of Uncertainty Principle underlying Twitter: the more directly you mechanize a given strategy, the more dilute the attention of followers becomes.

For any Twitter strategy to “work”, the tweeting must be remarkable, attention-enlivening, creative. Tweets need to be interesting day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year. Annoyance and boredom are easily un-followed. Value and connection and humor are followed more sustainably. Thus, the only way a business can hope to achieve long-term attention via Twitter is to relentlessly be creative and captivating and social and valuable. Tweeting coupons and links to products alone doesn’t work all by itself.

There’s another paradox on Twitter: Promotion of Other is a greater promotional tool than promotion of Self. This is one of the hardest concepts most organizations have to understand.

Retweet your competition.

If you can’t retweet your competition, you probably don’t have the confidence and faith in your enterprise to stand out. If you’re not standing out, just what are you doing with your marketing dollars?

Marketing not only has to be effective but it also has to be respectable. For an industry like Pharmaceuticals, anything less than respectable is unprofessional.

RELATIONAL APPROACH TO TWITTER

I hope I’ve made it pretty clear that achieving a robust Financial ROI of Twitter directly is not a realistic proposition in most cases. If that’s your only enframing, I would suggest you forget Twitter.

I would suggest, however, that Twitter’s pliancy and immediacy and connectivity provide means to many other ends. It’s basically just a telephone for our century. The most valuable enframing of Twitter is in a Relational context.

Building and sustaining relationships are bricks and mortar for all successful businesses. Smart businesses understand the paradox of the un-sales approach to relationships: the more sincere and mature the relationships, the better the conditions for business development.

Sure, we can talk about buzz-concepts like brand awareness. (Of course, you could also stick a finger down your throat and achieve a similar effect.) But I actually think that’s a sub-set of the brute-force approach to Twitter. Once you make that your purpose on Twitter, you lose your followers’ attention. Brand awareness, at best, must be a pleasant side-effect of much more remarkable ways to employ Twitter.

Yes, it’s a cliche but social media is social. If you have poor social skills, you better develop them now. Since relationships operate in non-linear geometries, you’re going to have to learn to think beyond rigid lines. The Web can be an unforgiving creature and will eventually break you if you don’t have the pliancy to turn on a dime.

THE OPPORTUNITY COST OF STRICT FINANCIAL ROI ENFRAMMING

By hoping to achieve financial gain via an inhuman algorithmic enframing of Twitter, you forgo several important and valuable business opportunities. If I were a Public Relations guy, I’d look at Twitter and say: Wow! We finally have a way to re-humanize our communications and how we connect – We can finally go back and re-work those arcane methods we developed when we had only broadcasting media.

The fundamental truth of the Web is that organizations composed of cogs – people with little incentive to shine their talents – simply don’t have the supple musculature demanded of a public sphere laden with real-time technologies.

Organizations must cultivate cultures of creative, ambitious, informed and swift-thinking human beings. If you’re going to invest in Twitter, you better have remarkable people working for you – do it yourself if you have to.

A narrow focus on Financial ROI will enframe a human context within a technological one. In other words, it’s putting the right shoe in the wrong box.

The opportunity cost of enframming the business value of Twitter within fincancial ROI is the larger frame of possibilities which Twitter offers. The most important of these are the re-humanization of corporate communications and the connecting of disparate elements of an active online and offline presence.

THE ROI OF THE TWEET IS…

The ROI of the tweet is elusive.

The ROI of the tweet is what you make it.

The ROI of the tweet is the expression of your daily artistic creativity.

The ROI of the tweet can be mechanized – but at enormous expense and opportunity cost and risk.

The ROI of the tweet is relational.

The ROI of the tweet is conditional.

The ROI of the tweet is contextual.

The ROI of the tweet is human.

How you enframe tools influences what you get out of them. Sales people enframe sales uses around media. Marketing people enframe marketing uses around media. Public relations people enframe public relations uses around media.

The fact, however, is that the Web is Mother of All Media. It not only spawns new media with differing properties, the media it spawns all inter-relate among each other in novel ways. We don’t have a Grand Unified Theory of the Web, but we can at least understand the fundamental properties of individual media. When I get asked how to “use such and such a tool”, what people are asking is: What’s the theory here. But there isn’t any tested theory: at best we have intuition and reason and experience and imagination. Of course, if your lack these then a theory probably won’t help you.

My recommendation to anyone interested in new media’s role in business is to go back to fundamentals. Language like “old media is being replace by new media” can lead you down misguided paths. Marketing is more than messaging, of course, but it’s important for marketers and communicators and public relators to understand Media. Here are some questions to ask yourself and your team about media:

  • What is this medium? What’s is its essence?
  • What are the properties of this particular medium?
  • What are the possibilities of this medium?
  • What category(ies) does this medium fill: social, impersonal, synchronous, asynchronous, unilateral, bilateral?
  • What does this medium enhance?
  • What does this medium obsolesce?
  • What does this medium retrieve?
  • What does this medium reverse? What happens when this medium is pushed to its limits?
  • What happens when a person encounters this medium?
  • How does this medium relate to other media?
  • How might this medium change the world?
  • How should this medium be enframed?

These are simple but difficult questions (I will expand on them in future posts). When was the last time you asked any of these questions? What have you done to acquire an orientation about new media? That’s the purpose of the above questions: to get you to pan back from your accustomed views and assumptions and experiences and re-frame things in clearer contexts.

It’s also important to understand the different kinds of connections between media and people and things. Social isn’t the only connection. People have connections with products and services – but those connections aren’t social. For example, the connection between a customer and a brand isn’t social. It’s something else – knowing what kind of connection binds medium to medium or people to products helps you determine what media you choose.

For instance, by understanding what a medium enhances, obsolesces, retrieves and reverses, you can better compare novel media with familiar media. You can develop insights into what features of traditional approaches can and can’t be ported into new media. If you’re unfamiliar with McLuhan’s Tetrads, you can learn more here.

If you work in an agency – PR or Marketing – you need to answer these questions so that you can equip yourself with the resources to properly view emerging media. It’s no longer enough to “get” Twitter or Facebook or Blogging: you must have a fresh philosophy about media in general because the Web is evolving. You need to hone an intuition about emerging media and these questions offer a good practice for you.

THE LESSON OF THE TWEET

The lesson here is that there is return on the tweet. But before you get to return you must get to re-frame. This is going to be a turbulent century. It’s easy to get tossed about and disoriented. Assumptions and methods which were once effective may no longer give lift. Orienting is itself a skill to be treasured.

Focusing on one narrow objective like financial ROI before fully understanding an asset is not all too wise. Not when your competition has figured out things you haven’t even considered.

I have tried to address the legitimate concerns of “old-school” executives who rightly question the expected returns of social media. I believe they are entitled to an honest accounting about the limits of media. The smart ones will see the folly of attempts to port assembly-line thinking into territories in which it makes no sense to do. The smart ones will also then be able to see things aright and perhaps your organization or client will understand the proper context and enframming needed to be remarkable.

You can go the brute-force method and miss a much larger party. Or you can be something far more interesting and ultimately financially rewarding. My advice on Twitter is to be a Lovable Peacock: someone with the goods worth showing off but with a warm heart for the flock. Many executives won’t like that metaphor. But then, not many businesses here today will be around in 2020.

So, what’s your take? Is my brute-force analysis flawed? Does it help to demonstrate and to admit up-front that Financial ROI isn’t a wise enframing of Twitter? Does it advance the conversation?

Will you re-enframe everything you think you know? Will your Corporate Philosophy take to wing…or fold?

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Introducing Social Media NPV

Last night’s Twittering produced some interesting discussion about Social Media ROI. It started off when Liz Strauss tweeted a link to What Is The ROI for Social Media? In a humorous mood, I joked that we will now need Social Media NPV. Haven’t we had enough of all this blogospheric chatter on Social ROI? Now you want us to look at another accounting acronym? Yes. This isn’t a complete post; these are off-the-cuff thoughts, but perhaps a thought-experiment may help us understand how to more effectively address the needs of enterprises.

NPV (Net Present Value) traditionally represents the present value of the future value of a series of cash flows. In determining the course of investment action, knowing the present value between two options improves decision-making. The calculations can get complex, but the concept is simple.

Let me emphasize: I’m not proposing that enterprises actually pull out the spreadsheets and calculate Social Media NPV.

What I’m getting at is a principle of the Web: as our Web stretches and as Moore’s Law continues to creep out of microprocessors and into our daily lives, predicting the future is getting harder every day.

If you’re planning on investing in social media based on what’s happening now, there’s a chance that your investment could face reduced returns as the game changes. We are now moving toward a Cloudy future and we’re just trying to figure that out. Investing too heavily in current technologies without taking into account the future value of those technologies could weigh an organization down.

So when enterprises invest their efforts in social media strategies, they will not only have to look at current measures of ROI (however that’s defined), they will have to understand the present value of future opportunity costs. This is more a matter of mind than matter: conducting business in the 21st Century demands a cunning appreciation for the nonlinear course of technological advancement.

Social Media NPV is the investment cost required to get social media strategies right. Perhaps it’s an unstable and cloudy measure in an unstable and Cloudy future. But: knowing uncertainties helps us to account for them. If your enterprise is looking at Social Medial ROI without discounting the effect of future changes, then you risk falling behind. This is as much a problem of strategic quality as it is about successful quantity.

So, what do you think? Am I introducing another three letter word to busy discussion? Or is this a useful intuition pump?

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