How to think outside the (Face)book


Marketing magazine recently published an article from me on rethinking social strategy. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below:

In Rocky, a mumbling underdog boxer goes toe-to-toe with a big-talking, well-funded opponent by using unorthodox training methods designed to help him go the distance with the best fighter in the world.

Social media was Rocky a couple of years ago. It allowed the smaller, creative brands to compete with the multi-nationals and their colossal traditional media budgets.

In Rocky II, an injured Rocky has to learn to fight left-handed in order to take on Apollo Creed in a rematch. He adapts to his limitations, evolves, confounding his opponent and ultimately beating him.

Social media was Rocky II about a year ago. Brands who had adapted and evolved quickly were able to gain traction by blindsiding competitors with huge gains in social, ultimately beating bigger, better funded brands in their industry.

Right now, social media is somewhere around the second act of Rocky III.

In that film, a complacent Rocky, a long-time world champion who has learned to rest on his laurels, is soundly battered in the ring by a younger, faster, stronger, tougher, meaner opponent – aptly named ‘Clubber’.

As more brands pour money into Facebook, as the bigger brands get better at social, as your radical approach turns into complacency, you’re now finding it harder and harder to cut through, to grow your followers, to achieve high engagement.

In all likelihood you’re being beaten, and it isn’t pretty. Something has to change.

Back to the film. Shell-shocked, Rocky completely rebuilds himself as a fighter. He starts from scratch, re-thinking his entire strategy, re-learning how to box in a way that will let him compete.

In the rematch, a leaner, fitter, faster Rocky lets his opponent hit him. And then he lets him hit him some more. He lets his opponent concentrate all his energy on hitting him hard for long enough that the bigger, stronger fighter tires himself out.

And then Rocky attacks. He hits Clubber hard when he least expects it, and beats him convincingly.

Let them concentrate on Facebook. Let them take it, they can have it. When they’re not looking, hit them from different angles, from different platforms. Hit them hard.

You need a Facebook page like you need a .com, but Facebook is not a social strategy.

There are over five million brands on Facebook, and counting. You can’t win at Facebook. But you can still win at social.

The 2012 Presidential Election is an excellent example. Barack Obama didn’t win by going after the big majority where he would have probably lost, he won by gaining huge percentages among minority groups – Mitt Romney largely ignored or insulted these groups, he didn’t think he needed them, and it probably cost him the election.

Many brands are doing this exact thing right now in social. Consolidating their foothold in Facebook, relying on the majority user base for engagement and return on investment.

Change your approach. Go after the small percentages, target niches.

Look at Tumblr, 80 million blogs worldwide, more than WordPress, and serving more than 20 billion page impressions per month, more than Wikipedia. Part blog platform, part social network, the potential for great content to go viral is huge.

Look at Pinterest, the fastest growing website in history. Look at Twitter. Look at Instagram.

Sure Facebook has over 11 million users in Australia, and Tumblr only has three million, but add that to the three million on Twitter, the half a million on Instagram and the half a million on Pinterest and those percentages start to add up.

You’re not going to win by trying the same old tactics, or by fighting competitors on their terms. You’re going to win by evolving, by changing tack, by trying something new.

Ultimately, you’re going to win by thinking outside Facebook.

There are exciting times ahead. Social media is only a few years old. New platforms are emerging all the time, each with unique opportunities and user bases, each allowing the savvy brand to refresh their strategy, to change, to adapt.

Each offering another chance to win.

If the coming year brings as many changes as the last, by the end of 2013 we’ll be in the middle of Rocky IV, training in the Russian wilderness trying to work out a way to beat an unstoppable opponent.

Forgive the analogy. My point is that as long as there are new platforms and new opportunities, there will always be a way for you to write your own underdog story with social media.

Whether you decide to get in the ring or not is up to you.