Social Media Is In The Budget! (Now What?!)

By: Andy Levitt

As we head into the Fall season, brand teams and their agencies will be fine tuning their marketing plans for 2011.  I doubt there will be dramatic changes in the general allocation of DTC budgets as most big brands will maintain a reliance on mass media reach and frequency patterns to raise brand awareness.  And while print, PR, direct mail and digital will be in the mix, too, it's safe to say that for the first time, "social media" will have a confirmed spot within most brand plans in the year ahead.  It's a big win, for sure - but the victory here may not prove so successful.

I'd hazard a guess that no fewer than 25 brands right now are trying to figure out how they can either develop or expand upon their Facebook pages.  No doubt, plenty of MLR teams are struggling to find the proper balance, and marketers are getting frustrated by the inherent limitations.

Would the whole process be easier if it were called Health Media rather than Social Media?  And isn't that what brands want after all - people focused on health discussions, not on a host of other topics completely unrelated to growing their market share?

Last week, Reuters published an article that highlights the findings from recent research conducted by some smart folks at MIT.  The big news was that groups of friends are key to changing health behaviors - but not in the way you would think.  In fact, the headline screams out that "it takes more than a far-flung network of friends on Facebook egging you on; it takes a jostling herd." 

So maybe that Facebook page is less critical than you imagine.

In particular, the research discussed in the article (which is in the September 3 issue of Science) confirms that individual adoption of a particular behavior was much more likely when participants received social reinforcement from multiple neighbors in the social network.

What that means in English is that it's the interpersonal connections - conversations with family, friends and colleagues - that really can influence behavior.  It's WOM 101, right? 

The key is that the message needs to be consistent in order for the change and influence to occur.  Therefore, when enough people in a network share a common viewpoint, it is likely to take hold and spread to most of the people who are listening.  That's where the big win takes place.

Don't get me wrong - Facebook is an amazing platform, but I'd argue that its use is far more compelling for the social side of life, and less of a platform that can be leveraged to change health behaviors.

So perhaps the time has come for brands to think about creating the right platform for those influential conversations, rather than jumping in to the wrong place, just because now they can.