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MANDATE MEDIAdigital strategy for people changing the world

Another day, another Facebook critic. Here's how one missed the mark.

By Kari Chisholm:

A pair of authors - Brad Fay and Ed Keller - have written an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that's getting some attention. In "Why Successful Branding Still Happens Offline", they argue that brands invest in social media at their peril - that the best marketing comes from face-to-face relationships.

For brands, however, online social networks are far from the Holy Grail of marketing. The research is increasingly clear and compelling that for brands that want to be social and generate conversation, a far bigger and more powerful force is real world, face-to-face conversation.

First, I think Keller & Fay are right on their initial cautionary note -- you have to have a good story to tell. A crappy story won't move no matter the medium. That's always been true, and never more so than it is now.

Second, I think Keller & Fay are right on the core premise -- that human-to-human conversation is the gold standard. But that's knocking down a straw man. No one ever claimed Facebook would beat a personal recommendation. That's something we've long known in politics. We primarily move voters through canvassing and we primarily raise money through candidate call time and events.

But third, I think these authors are overdoing it by pooh-poohing social media. Being overly dismissive may be the only way to sell books and get the WSJ to publish an op-ed, but social media is and can be a powerful tool for amplifying those human-to-human conversations.

They dismissively say that "most links that are shared reach only 5-10 people." That is a) not such a bad thing when replicated across thousands of fans, and b) empirically false. Among our clients' Facebook pages, we're pretty consistently seeing numbers in the 25-40% of fans seeing each individual post - and reach even further than that when friends-of-fans are included.

As for regular people, when a person with 500 friends posts on Facebook, typically something like 200-300 people will see it. (Depends on how interconnected your friends are, how much engagement you typically get, etc.) It's true that usually just 3-5 will engage with that post, but seeing it is the main thing we're talking about here.

And a final thought: In politics, we're asking people to "buy" a "product" that they can't test drive or taste before they buy, can't return to the store after they've bought it (except in Wisconsin), and won't get another chance to buy again for several years. In that environment, unlike retail, personal recommendations and conversation are even more important than ever. And social media is a powerful tool in the toolbox. (But no, not the only tool in the toolbox.)

Posted by Kari Chisholm on May 31, 2012 in strategic issues, facebook | See full archives