THE BLOG
10/12/2010 06:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Do Advertisers Get Social Media?

The first thing you notice, when you look at the new Ad Week 25 list of Twitter advertising voices, is how few of them are the advertising faces -- the creative directors, the CMOs -- who drive this industry.

Which makes me think that maybe there aren't that many great advertising voices on Twitter in the first place. And I've been looking for them. I always have a TweetDeck column set to "advertising," kind of like those NASA listening stations waiting for intelligent life. But instead of insights from people who advertise for a living, I get tweets from busty spammers like @TouchMeNow69. That's someone I might click on -- but not for marketing advice.

I'm going purely on anecdotal evidence here, but I think that advertisers and agencies do not use social media enough -- they just don't get it. And if you don't get social media yourself, it's tough to offer it to your customers.

Why SEOs get social media... and advertisers don't.

I tweeted for @yahooadbuzz at Cannes Lions this year, and after a while I started wondering, "Why is no one retweeting anything?" So I wandered up to the balcony and saw below me, in an audience of hundreds, perhaps a dozen glowing screens.

Maybe it was too hot to carry a laptop. Maybe it was France. And maybe everyone was hungover. (I think that last one's probably true.) But I also think that's just not what the advertising types at that conference do.

Contrast that with Search Engine Strategies in San Francisco, where the search engine optimization people there swarmed all over my team's tweets, and essentially had another conference, right there on Twitter. Even after you take into account how much better my team's tweets probably were than mine, the difference was stunning. The consultants and SEO experts, not people in the advertising business, dominate Twitter.

For Simon Mainwaring (www.simonmainwaring.com, @simonmainwaring), a brand consultant and former creative at Wieden + Kennedy and Ogilvy, says that social media is just the digital days all over. When agencies do social media, if they do social media, they tend to outsource it in some way.

"We saw this with the digital revolution, where everyone would buy digital shops, which let their creative and accounts groups remain islands unto themselves," he says. "They're repeating the same mistake with social media."

There's a reason for that. Taking the time to learn social media, to marry creativity with new ways of connecting to customers, is too much work. Think about everything that's different, now that social media is in the mix: paid media giving way to earned media, listening instead of talking, tweets instead of glossy ads.

In other words, as Simon says, social media is easy: "You just have to forget everything you know about advertising."

"Social media is the opposite of advertising," says Lisa Barone, chief brand officer at Outspoken Media (www.outspokenmedia.com, @lisabarone), an SEO and social media consulting firm. "In advertising you're talking at your customers. Social media is about relationships."

For SEOs, learning the point -- and the mechanics -- of social media has been a lot easier. If anyone gets the value of earned media, and how hard it is to earn sometimes, it's the guy tweaking the content of a Web page to make it more relevant to audiences. And Twitter interfaces are no big deal when you're used to working with some of the tools of the SEO trade.

Barone also says that whereas advertisers have been protective of their content, SEOs have embraced the portability of media -- how easily content gets passed along and shared. In other words, what makes something go viral.

You are what you tweet

A lot of it comes down to this: SEOs are good at social media because they have to be, while advertisers and agencies think they don't have to be. When you're in advertising, you have a nice steady paycheck, and you're part of a big advertiser or agency. You don't have to tweet to get noticed.

When you're an SEO or a consultant, you tend to be on your own. Engagements come through word of mouth. Social media drums up business, and it establishes that you know your stuff. You are what you tweet.

I realize as I'm writing this that I could be wrong. Any day now, some study will say that 97% of agency partners tweet frequently, and already there are agencies and advertisers who are proving me wrong. And tweeting isn't much of a measure of social media aptitude. Who am I to judge? I tweet for Yahoo!, but don't much like to tweet.

But then, I think: Yeah, it does matter. The Old Spice Guy campaign wasn't some kind of miracle -- it came from an agency that knew and understood social media, that did it for a living. If you want to understand what social media can do to reach people, you need to spend some time in the trenches doing it.

People are looking for social success, and they want to connect it to their advertising campaigns. That's a big opportunity. But if you don't know how to do it, they're going to take all of that business to someone who does.

For more from Jeff, visit the Yahoo! Advertising Blog or follow @YahooAdBuzz.