Q Why the current obsession with social media? Hasn’t media always been social?

Patrick Collister, The Joined Up Company

A OK, I'm going to make a confession: Facebook is one of my guilty pleasures. Through Facebook I learn that: somebody's shower is leaking; kids and dogs are dressed up for Hallowe'en (the Ghaddafi costume seems like a topical touch); someone is eating spare ribs in Massachusetts; people are checking in at airports; someone's off to watch TV; someone's cat is looking cross; my friends in Tallinn are having another long dialogue in Estonian; someone has just been kissed by the postman... all human life is here. And mixed in with all this are links, to pop videos, to lectures, to newspaper articles, to cartoons, ads, blogs, albums of photographs. I could try to compare all this to things we used to do before, but it does seem to me there's something genuinely new here, and it's still too early to know quite what it's significance will be.

What I don't see yet is quite why this is hugely interesting or important for brands or advertising. Apart from the fact that any medium with over 500 million users can sell a lot of advertising space. I looked at my Facebook page today for two things. What brand conversations are going on? And what are the advertisers doing with it?

There was one ‘brand conversation’. (I was lucky: most days there's nothing like this.) It went as follows:

V: tip: don't bother with Heinz tomoto (sic) soup from a paste sachet thing. they is rubbish... taste awful and very small once made up. Just don't bother
D: But earlier today I got an ad from Heinz saying that you endorsed one of their products.
V: interesting...
D: I have to say I like them!
E: Be careful before you click LIKE on commercial pages...
V: I like much of thier (sic) stuff but this was yucky.
B: I am afraid I am with D. I liked.
V: not a patch on the tinned stuff for me. and by the time it was all mixed in properly it was more or less cold. I'm going back to tins.

You can tell why market researchers have got so excited. To hear stuff like this, you used to have to drive to Buckhurst Hill in the rush hour, ply respondents with warm liebfraumilch and pay them 30 quid each. Now it's already transcribed for you, if you know where to look for it.

Seriously, though, if you were a marketing director, would you fly your entire team out to Silicon Valley for a week on the strength of this?

Now let's look at the ads. There were five on my page when I looked, as follows:

New Andrea Bocelli album! Experience the world's most beloved voice like you've never seen and heard before...

  • Patio Awnings from £75, with next day delivery!

  • Love customised mugs? Get a personalised mug with your favourite pictures for only £5 shipping included. Get it today!

  • New Citroen C3 for £x. You'd better believe it! Now you can buy a Citroen C3 etc. for just £x. What a deal!

  • 30% off fitted wardrobes. 21 days from order to fitting. Now you can wake up in the Fitted Bedroom of your dreams for less!

The first thing that I notice about these is that the style and standard of copywriting doesn't seem to have required much innovation in order to adapt to the radical new social media world. Perhaps this is because the old DM tricks of the trade still hold, and exclamation marks and the words ‘get it today!’ or ‘what a deal!’ still make all the difference to click through rates.

The second thing I notice is that none of these (honestly) appear at all cleverly targeted at me rather than anyone else. The fact I like opera and I get Andrea Bocelli is the closest it gets (and that's not very close). I've never bought a customised mug and I abhor fitted wardrobes.

The third thing I notice is that I don't believe I've ever clicked through an ad on Facebook. OK, sample of one. But then I went and sat by the fire with a G&T and looked through the Frome List, a free ‘what's on’ guide to my home town. Within five minutes I found five or six ads that actively engaged me: things going on locally at places I know, things that were new and interesting, and some even rather well-written. I must say, it felt ‘social’ for me in a way that the patio awnings offer somehow never did.

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Admap. Click here for subscription information.