My Son, the Social Network

By: Guest | June 4, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Janet Tyler.

The new kids on the block are a royal PITA — but they’re our future. We have to know where they’re going, keep ‘em out of trouble, and maybe see if we can get them to do a little work for us around the neighborhood.

These kids—they go by the snooty name, “social media”— aren’t even teenagers yet—Little Twitter is six, Fickle Facebook is eight, LinkedIn is all business at nine, and Pinterest is still in the bassinet.

But each of them is already going through the angst of trying to determine what they want to be when they grow up.

Facebook showed off with a big step toward responsible adulthood with its IPO, but its wealthy uncles and neighborhood friends did not appear pleased with its behavior: GM pulled its ads and a CNBC poll found even a majority of young people had doubts about it’s long-term success.

Regardless of how you feel about the Facebook IPO, any kid can tell you the real value of social media isn’t the money they can generate. Do you ask your kids for money? As if! They’re constantly bugging you for a bigger allowance, a new phone, all kinds of investment.

So why do we try to make them happy?

It’s because the real value of kids—our own or social networks—is our need for relationships and our understanding that children represent our future. For social media, the real value can be found in the ability to establish ongoing, 24-hour relationships with consumers.

Value lies in the ability to respond immediately to customer concerns. Value is found in the ability to gain nearly instant feedback from consumers on new-product ideas. If you’re expecting social media to generate direct response to coupons—or even ads—you need a slap upside the head.

Kids are kids.

Realize they can make us a more welcome part of our community and can extend our family creed and values —ok, call them our “brand”—a lot further and longer than we can do for ourselves.

It’s time to get real about social media, guys. We see our successes and our failures in those we have so carefully nurtured. And we see the opportunity to carry on our lives—our brand—through our children and grandchildren, even after “Us 1.0” has evolved through more generations. If you don’t want to be that spooky business that lives in the decrepit house at the end of the cul-de-sac, you need to become an adoptive parent.

Which social media do you want to help nurture, and how do you want them to grow?

As a mother of four, I can vouch for the fact we only understand how these kids act today; and if you’re a parent, you know how your cute six-year-old can get you into so much trouble by the time he hits high school. We can’t expect social media personalities to remain unchanged as teens and adults. They’ll evolve into something that either we lovingly befriend or, if we don’t follow them, something that we never will understand. And more children will come along, influencing the fates of their siblings.

How can we ensure our brand’s continued presence in the world of social media through these periods of change?

It’s time to think like a parent and get off the couch to find out what the youngsters are up to.  Not once a year between SuperBowl commercials, but every day, updating our plans based on what we see, hear, and uncover about the social media kids.

So if you haven’t updated your media plan for Facebook and other social networks in the past year or 18 months, you’re already doing a bad job of parenting your public relations program. Children outgrow their clothes every season, and they ask smarter questions every semester.

Instead, you should be evaluating your social media programs at least quarterly, accommodating new networks that have recently been born (consider the explosive growth of Pinterest), discovering new audiences to target (explore creative ways businesses are using YouTube) and finding new capabilities of current networks (if you haven’t looked at LinkedIn for six months, click on it now, for Pete’s sake, and see how it’s grown and changed).

If social media aren’t working for you, don’t be a crybaby. Accept them for what they are, for all they can do for you. Then adopt them and grow with them.

Now don’t just sit there—find out what that noise was all about in the kids’ room.

Janet Tyler is co-CEO of Airfoil, a top technology PR and marketing firm with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley. She oversees the firm’s expansion of its digital, social, and global capabilities. Janet is a leading figure in the PRSA Counselors Academy, a board member of The Council for Public Relations and one of PRWeek’s “40 Under 40.” You can find her on TwitterLinkedIn, and on Airfoil’s blog.

  • I love the analogy you’ve come up with, because I think when it comes to the ROI question, which is important, too many people are looking for a real hard and fast tie from “Facebook to real dollars” etc, and that’s not as easy to come by. More often than not when I hear someone say, “Well, that doesn’t work” , it’s more about their execution or “parenting” than it is about whether social worked for them or not. 

    •  @KenMueller I mentioned in @ginidietrich ‘s post today this also goes for Online vs Offline. Businesses are usually clueless knowing if online research or social mention or online anything became an offline sale or word of mouth referral. Not sure this is fixable. You can survey customers but really hard to determine. I bet many over value and under value these channels depending on their mindset or backgrounds.

    • This could come off as cold but I’m going to say it anyway, as the mother of a fantastic 25-year old that I love dearly, I am only just beginning to see the real ROI. She is at a point in her career where she buys ME dinner, brings me flowers on Mother’s Day and will even babysither little and brother and sister for the weekend. This doesn’t mean that all of the years I’ve invested with her, school projects, braces, prom, endless cross country meets weren’t meaningful or that I didn’t enjoy them. I love the adult relationship I finally get to share with my daughter! Like with social media, it took a long time to get to where we are today, but it was worth every minute!

  • That makes so much sense, Janet Tyler . If we look at social media from the perspective of relationships and not dollar signs – it’s easy to see the underlying value and the link to PR. It also underscores the fact that we’re living with social media whether we like it or not and if we need to adapt to the new reality.  By the way, I really enjoyed the tone of your writing and your creative approach! 

    •  @martinwaxman
       Thanks Martin. You are correct. In fact, I recently blogged about P&G restructuring social media under ( communications. It’s time that we, as PR professionals, realize that these ‘kids’ are our to raise how we see fit. Ultimately the job we do will be relected upon us as the brands we work with grow and evolve, just like our own children!

  • jennimacdonald

    Thank you Janet for putting Social Media into terms anyone can understand. Going forward, whenever anyone tells me they don’t get it I’m directing them to this article!

  • PaulSchooss

    Great article

  • PaulSchooss

    Check it out

  • This was just such a fun analogy.  Much like nature vs nuture with children. You start out with  fun- loving babies that utter a few pleasant coos and you think  ‘oh this is easy’, look at all those smiles. But without proper nuture and care they become young brats, yelping about. Before you know it they are wild and reckless teenagers that nobody wants around the sandbox. Nature will take its course but nuturing and preening at all the important growth stages will ultimately result in the ability of your precious offspring to have more productive and likeable relationships. That’s is your ROI.
    Thanks, Janet.

  • Amazing how young these networks are huh? I feel a competent marketer should check all avenues new and old that haven’t been tried before just to see if maybe those channels are a good fit for your business or client. I have been playing around with Pinterest and Tumblr for a client. So far Tumblr has shown more promise. If this client had spendable ad dollars I would have them buying some digital and local print ads. Often each business is very unique and what works for one won’t often work exactly the same for another.

    •  @HowieSPM So I’m curious – since you aren’t <ahem> a fan of Facebook, do you ever advise clients they should be there? 

  • Love the analogy Janet Tyler . A big challenge, particularly with so many B2B SMB business owners, is that they know these social media “kids” are out there, but perceive them like noisy neighborhood brats that, if ignored and avoided, will just go away.  In reality, some well-placed listening to how the kiddies are channeling discussions, could show the adults that they are far from knowing everything.

    •  @BobReed
       Thanks Bob. You are right (or maybe it was Whitney) children are the future and so are the social media/marketing tools We’ve Only Just Begun (nod to the Carpenters) to realize their potential!

  • Thanks for the feedback all. I recently blogged about P&G ( restructuring
    the communications group – resulting in communications owning of the “social-engagement” aspect of marketing. It’s time we realize that the brands we represent, like our own children, will ultimately be a reflection of our work in the social media space. Let’s just hope they turn out to be jerks!

  • HilaryMarsh

    Wonderful analogy, @janettyler ! In my previous position, communications served as the hub for social media, setting the guidelines and policies for everyone’s use, and monitoring the overall landscape, which I think was just the right role. (Twitter as a preschooler — so true, I’m still smiling!)

  • Hi Janet! I LOVE this analogy! The Facebook IPO thing is making me nuts. Everyone is all up in arms about it, but I’m with you…they’re kids asking for an allowance. 
    We were just talking about this in our staff meeting yesterday. You have to use the social media tools to be comfortable with them. Not only does that mean using them, but staying up on what’s new and changing. If you’re not able to do that, it’ll be impossible to get them new clothes when schooltime rolls around.

    •  @ginidietrich
       Well said. Thank you for the opportunity to share my thinking on the SpinSucks forum!

  • Pingback: Aggregating News Post #1 | Veronica Jenssen's Portfolio()