Social media Brian Solis Hybrid Theory

Hybrid Theory hīˌbrid thee-uh-ree |: The fusion of creative and communications, combining earned and paid media to enliven ideas, unite communities, amplify stories and spark desired outcomes.

Business is experiencing an incredible transformation. In marketing, advertising, services, communications and all aspects of business there are great innovations going on, but vision isn’t solely responsible. Innovation has been pressed into existence by the emergence of two separate but related phenomena: the democratisation of content and the equalisation of influence. After years of the socialised media changing how individuals create, find, consume and share information, business is now undergoing a radical shift in focus: whereas once we followed markets, now we lead them.

Image: Salvatore Vuono

Social media requires a new skill set

Traditional business and its supporting branches of information dissemination, connection and contact are no longer practical in the era of interactive media. A new philosophy and methodology is required to effectively break the perpetual cycle of catching up to consumer behavior. Early adopters of the new approach will be the best-placed to earn brand presence and brand value through not only traditional media, but also through the opinions, thoughts, and ultimately the public validations of those we influence – the social consumers – and in turn, the network of those they influence. But it will take more than ideas, creative approaches, or simply “showing up” to the conversation. A new skill set is required to effectively compete for attention, mindshare and ultimately affinity with a new type of consumer.

Hybrid Theory introduces a workforce of cross-breeds: experts who master an array of marketing artistry, together with social sciences such as psychology and sociology; who have creative vision; who are sensitive to the shifting dynamics of modern business; and who are adept in both services and communications. These individuals do not displace the authorities in their respective disciplines; they simply extend their capabilities into new media and corresponding domains and markets.

Who “owns” social media?

In social networks, attention is earned and engagement is a privilege. But instead of innovating or identifying opportunities for meaningful internal and external collaboration and engagement, many organisations and the teams that support them are lost in debate over who owns social media on behalf of the brand. However,  the question “who owns social media?” is a distraction from the opportunity that seemingly eludes most organisations.

In the sixth Communication and Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices (GAP) study produced by the Strategic and Public Relations Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, it appeared as though a clear winner was crowned in the tug of war for social media governorship. According to the report, more than 25 percent of companies gave between 81 and 100 percent of budgetary control over social media to the PR department. Only 12.6 percent gave the same degree of control to marketing. In addition, one quarter of respondents said that PR held strategic control over social media as a whole within their organisation, with only 9 percent saying the same for the marketing department. An interesting point of note is that just over 25 percent stated that marketing held zero budgetary control and 22 percent said marketing maintained no strategic control whatsoever.

Jerry Swerling, Director of the Strategic and Public Relations Center, explained the results as follows: “[Social media] require a relatively non-commercial approach; they entail dialogue rather than monologue; they often convey objective information rather than product features; and they tend to be free-form in nature, which is just the opposite of the highly controlled world of marketing.”

If the results of this study are to be believed, PR is the dominant orchestrator of the strategic and budgetary decisions that drive corporate social media. But to say that it is the industry standard, or even the right or only answer, is far from reality. While PR may not operate with commercial motives, it doesn’t operate without its own bias and agenda. It is only one part of the overall marketing mix and it too is in need of reinvention.

The truth is that while professionals may control the top down aspects of branding, it is the audience that defines a company’s stature in social media today. The value of a brand coheres in the impressions, perceptions, and opinions that people form and share via word of mouth in the real world and in the networks that connect us socially. The web has a long memory and the words of customers enjoy the same visibility, if not sometimes a greater visibility still, than the tailored messages that we employ in our marketing efforts and that we build upon in our SEO and SMO (social media optimisation) campaigns.

So in the great debate about who “owns” social media, the right answer is not “us”. For the time being, it appears as though it’s not created, but rather co-created. As such, our best interests are served by identifying the missing elements that currently prevent our business from embodying a true 360-degree approach in all that we do. Doing so makes us better able to identify and allocate resources where the need for them is most critical. Traditional corporate structures have to evolve because the conventional demarcations between PR, marketing, advertising, HR, finance, sales, customer service et al are weakening our ability to truly engage. To meet the needs and expectations of today’s social consumer, a hybrid approach is required.

The Five Ps of the Marketing Mix

Social networks and the prevailing cultures within each one foster interaction and reward active contributors with visibility and connectedness. As individuals in online networks earn prominence, it’s clear that their authority and influence is only expanding. We are learning that people, their actions and their words are now critical ingredients in business. Therefore, a 360 approach is only complete through the integration of a fifth “P” to the marketing mix: People.

We’re familiar with the Four Ps of the marketing mix. For those who need or perhaps would enjoy a refresher, the term “marketing mix” stepped into the spotlight when Neil H. Borden published The Concept of the Marketing Mix in 1964. In the late 1940s, Borden adopted the term in his teachings after being inspired by James Culliton, who had described the marketing manager as a “mixer of ingredients.” Borden grouped the ingredients of the marketing mix in 13 parts: product planning, pricing, branding, distribution channels, personal selling, advertising, promotions, packaging, display, servicing, physical handling, fact finding and analysis. Years later, E. Jerome McCarthy grouped these ingredients into what we now refer to as the Four Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Place and Promotion.

The Four Ps represent the variables controlled by a marketing manager as dictated by the internal and external dynamics of the market ecosystem. Originally, the 4 Ps were designed to create the perception of value in order to drive activity in a positive and profitable direction.

In the era of social media, the 4 Ps require a new tenant if they are to continue paying the rent. That’s because in 2010, social media has upset the balance of top down communication. Whereas once organisations thrived on the governed dissemination of information, nowadays many of the intermediaries and individuals they hope to reach are far more influential than we may realise.

As content production and dissemination is democratised and influence is equalised accordingly, a new “P” is necessary to ensure the integrity of the existing 4 Ps.

People = The Fifth Element.

(to be continued … )

Social media Brian Solis Hybrid TheoryBrian Solis is the founder and principal of FutureWorks, an award-winning new media agency in Silicon Valley. He has led interactive and social programmes for Fortune 500 companies, notable celebrities and Web 2.0 startups. His book Engage! has been described as “a bible for building your brand with social media” and Brian regularly features on lists of the most influential social media commentators in the world. Connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google Buzz or Facebook.

This is a slightly abridged version of The Hybrid Theory Manifesto, which originally appeared on the author’s blog BrianSolis.com.