Experiments to evaluation: social media gets serious

You might notice there's something of a theme to this week's issue. We spotted it too, and decided to embrace it with a flash on the front cover: Social in focus.

It would be satisfyingly neat to claim it as a carefully planned editorial strategy, with each piece - from an audience with Google+'s Marvin Chow (page 14) to Simeon Duckworth's essay on digital data (page 10) and how to play social-media validation (page 28) - thoughtfully commissioned to the theme.

It didn't work like that, though. These are simply the issues preoccupying our readers (and so our writers); the fact that they have all come bundling along together this week is a coincidence that reflects a growing obsession with getting social right.

Gone are the days when a luxury car marketer excitedly told me how clever he'd been buying a social strategy on My Space (average audience age: hmm, 12 maybe; average weekly pocket money: £2.50). And it's been months since one of the biggest ad agencies crowed how it had finally persuaded a small FMCG client to sign off its first social-media campaign: a competition on Facebook that, the agency beamed, had attracted, wow, more than 1000 entries. From the agency's glee, I assumed its fee for coming up with this lame idea involved a rather bigger sum.

Simply being seen to use social media is no longer an objective for marketers, nor even their agency partners. As Gordon MacMillan writes (page 21): 'If 2011 and 2012 were about first experimenting and then putting a social media strategy into play, this year has to be about starting to think what is working and what is not.' While the recession has brought so many pressures of accountability to bear across many aspects of marketing activity, social media has too often escaped such rigours and the social specialist has grown fat.

The marketing principles of clear objectives, accurate planning and robust evaluation are overdue in the social-media space. Last week's WARC report, 'Seriously Social', concluded: 'It is time for social media to be taken more seriously.' Like all good reports, it does a fine job of stating the damn obvious, but gives us the license we need to admit it and act on it. Finally it feels as though marketers are starting to get social into perspective.

Claire Beale is editor of Marketing

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