GUEST POSTING: The social media tribes go to war

the-outsidersIn the first of a regular series of guest postings, Telstra’s Mike Hickinbotham argues that social media practitioners are splitting into two camps.

The recent debate about the Tourism Queensland and Witchery videos has appeared to have created two distinct online ‘tribes’.  I’ll reference a classic novel to highlight the differences – The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

On one side we have the advertisers – the socials or the ‘socs’ (pronounced ‘soashes’) that are schooled in the traditional ways of top-down, one-way communication.  This preppy crew maintains their focus on advertising but incorporates elements of social media to offer clients or internal stakeholders an additional channel to reach the target audience.

On the other side of the tracks we have the ‘greasers’.  This working class group of bloggers are producing content on a regular basis to engage a community of people that follow their work.  The greasers are often administering last rites to traditional media (i.e. newspapers).

Just like the novel these two sides do not get along.  

Let’s take a look at the quote Naked’s chief executive Mat Baxter provided Mumbrella to highlight ‘socs’ social media thinking.

“We’re aware of the hypothetical rules in this sphere – there are a lot of people out there who claim to have the rule book. But the reality is that it will be shaped by what the consumer will tolerate.”

 What will the consumer tolerate?  From a ‘socs’ perspective, it could be the starting point to connect with the consumer.  ‘Viral’ is an aspirational strategy.  Social media is a transitional tool to support an advertising campaign.

What will the consumer tolerate?  From the ‘greaser’ perspective that question isn’t the starting point to connect with the consumer.  The question instead is ‘what value can I provide the consumer?’  Greasers want to offer something of value that is considered worthy by their community to share with friends, family and colleagues.  Social media becomes a transformational tool – a game changer.

There will probably be a place in the marketplace for both the ‘socs’ and the ‘greasers’.

I think the last ten days will fuel a debate that will continue in the boardrooms and hallways of agencies and corporations.

My question to Mumbrella’s readers is will one side emerge as the preferred choice?  Should one side emerge as the right choice?

Mike Hickinbotham is Telstra’s Social Media Senior Advisor.  You can check out his blog at:


  1. Zac Martin
    2 Feb 09
    10:50 am

  2. greaser -> social lubricant -> conversation -> community.

    Love it. Great post and I think it will be interesting to see what kind of middle ground is found between the two parties over the next year or two. I have a feeling it will lead towards one side more than the other.

  3. James Duthie
    2 Feb 09
    10:53 am

  4. I’m clearly a soc, and am not a fan of the use of the word ‘tolerate’ in this context. Are we really looking to push the boundaries of the audience’s tolerance? Isn’t that what email spammers did all those years ago? That worked out well…

  5. James Duthie
    2 Feb 09
    10:56 am

  6. Eeek… sorry. I meant to say I’m clearly a greaser, Yikes!

  7. Greg Lexiphanic
    2 Feb 09
    11:04 am

  8. This separation is something I’ve spotted too.

    The “soc” way seems to treat potential customers as though they are constantly resistant to any new message and need to be bent to their will.
    The “greaser” way looks at potential customers as though they are constantly open to something worth sharing with others.

    Both statements might be a little extreme, but you get the idea.

    I think there’s a place for both approaches and there always will be. Traditional advertising (one-way communication) still has its place as a way to spread the word and, potentially, start conversations.
    “Social media marketing” provides further fodder for discussion by creating social objects that people want to share with one another and talk about.

    With that said, I think it is difficult for the two modes of thinking to be combined. This is evident in the two campaigns you mentioned when much of the “value” was eroded when the social objects of the campaigns (in this case, the videos) were proven false. Trust was lost.

    In the future it would be nice to see agencies with separate sections for the “socs” and “greasers”. They should definitely collaborate when possible but it’s important that they stay within their areas of expertise.

  9. TferThomas
    2 Feb 09
    11:09 am

  10. Interesting article and thanks to Greg for twittering about it firstly…. given me something to ponder.

    Well done… I enjoy challenging thoughts.


  11. david
    2 Feb 09
    11:15 am

  12. nice post! go the greasers!

  13. Sam Clifford
    2 Feb 09
    11:22 am

  14. The distribution method really dictates what is possible. Newspapers and advertisements are targetted, top down media whereas the internet is decentralised and facilitates the sharing of information rather than just the announcement. The internet is far more interactive, far less controlled and has a far greater potential to tap into the collective consciousness of a people than the traditional media.

    If it’s not clear by now, I’m in favour of the “greaser” model. I think the socs are misguided in their attempts to half-arsedly embed elements of social networking and internet strategies in their advertising. Attempts to design things that are going to “go viral” in a timeframe of a number of months is going to lead to the production of stale, uninspiring, old hat advertising campaigns which will impress no-one. I’m thinking explicitly of Dr Pepper’s “Cherry Chocolate Rain” song with Tay Zonday and some random rapper. It was just garbage.

    I think the socs really need to commit to genuine bottom-up techniques rather than having an endless process of create and review, getting things approved by boards, etc.

  15. Jen Stumbles
    2 Feb 09
    11:26 am

  16. As an industry we need to balance the opportunity social media presents with a commercial company’s need to communicate. Both examples are a little extreme and surely Mat doesn’t actually believe our approach should start with what consumers will tolerate… Isn’t the point here that we should have an open mind in what might appeal to consumers and not be socially regulated by a few people commenting in the space?

    Surely from an industry point of view it’s about achieving communication objectives in a way that presents value to (and respects) the consumer? Shouldn’t good advertising provide fodder for discussion if it’s to have a social marketing strategy? Doesn’t the whole idea of social marketing make the one-way-dialogue redundant in this space?

  17. Matt Granfield
    2 Feb 09
    11:31 am

  18. ‘Tolerate’? Try ‘Appreciate’. Expect better results.

  19. Adam Joseph
    2 Feb 09
    11:41 am

  20. If there are indeed two “tribes” then I’d suggest new names for them – the Purists and Impurists.

    Purists see social media as something of a “Fifth Estate”, enabling freedom of speech/content for the Blogostocracy. Commercialising this in any way is seen as being anti-social by them.

    Impurists see social media with more commercial eyes as another “channel” to reach the “consumer’. They have more chance of getting paid handsomely for their efforts, while most Purists do it for the kicks.

    There’s probably two more tribes – a mega-tribe of those who just don’t give a damn (who are very unlikely to be reading this on Mumbrella) and another tribe of those who don’t neatly fit into any of the other three.

  21. reevesy
    2 Feb 09
    11:43 am

  22. i think it could be a tad early in the rumble to start dividing the industry into tribes. What’s happening in reality seems to be a mix of experimentation and tactical opportunism

  23. Stan Lee
    2 Feb 09
    11:54 am

  24. Yawn!

    Sounds like a bunch of private school kids complaining that those nasty public school kids stole their iPods and over priced pastel coloured Nike sneakers.

  25. David Jackmanson
    2 Feb 09
    11:59 am

  26. I disagree that there are “Purists” who are against commercial uses of social networks. Trying to use social networking to get customers, clients or fans is fine *as long as* you are also genuinely part of the community and don’t just spam people with your commercial stuff all the time.

    I think that people who have a problem with the recent Witchery Man “lost jacket” campaign don’t like it because they see it as dishonest, not simply because it’s commercial.

    What irks me is when commercial enterprises think they can take advantage of social networking without putting in the effort to be a part of the community. That’s a sure way to get ignored or laughed at. If you’re not interested in putting in the effort, just buy an ad.

  27. Ben
    2 Feb 09
    12:06 pm

  28. yikes.

    wouldn’t it be interesting to show this article and comments to a marketer removed from the world of social media.

    i think it’d come across as a lot of blah blah blah blah. blah. blah … blah blah etc

  29. Zac Martin
    2 Feb 09
    12:10 pm

  30. @ Ben

    Just like I find anything not about social media as blah blah blah blah?

  31. James Vosper
    2 Feb 09
    12:27 pm

  32. If the results of the campaigns translate to enhancing the brand and increased sales then the “greaser” campaigns have worked.

    Any marketer removed from the world of social media needs to think about their future.

  33. Adam Joseph
    2 Feb 09
    1:09 pm

  34. @David Jackmanson. Spoken like a true Impurist, albeit one with a conscience!

    I look forward to the days when “social media” is just “media”. Said the same about “new media” …

  35. Angus
    2 Feb 09
    2:02 pm

  36. I hope I’m a gr-oc.

  37. James Duthie
    2 Feb 09
    2:03 pm

  38. Sorry Adam, but I’m with David completely. It’s not as simple as purist/impurist. Indeed, there’s a whole industry emerging to leverage social networks for commercial gain. But they’re not purists.

    These people don’t approach networks with an old school purist approach (broadcast). Rather they adopt a participative approach to earn trust and become a valued member of the community. Commercial gain is not gained via deception/manipulation, which is the key difference.

  39. James Duthie
    2 Feb 09
    2:05 pm

  40. I really should read my comments before posting. Please swap impurist with purist in the above comment… sigh.

  41. David Jackmanson
    2 Feb 09
    3:17 pm

  42. @Adam Joseph, I actually tend more towards the “Purist” myself (if it exists).

    I *expect* to find 95% of the software I need for free on the Internet, you’d have a bloody hard time getting me to pay for anything but the most amazing content, and I can’t *stand* the “SEO/Marketing/Social Media Gurus” who infest Twitter like a particularly virulent strain of blue-green algae.

    Having said that, I have ads on my blog which I want to turn into a real money-maker, and I use twitterfeed to send all my blog posts to twitter. But I do genuinely take part in the twitter community – I talk with people about things I find interesting, not just things that might get me more readers. There’s other people on Twitter who might get buyers for EG their artwork or programming skills who I really like.

    So my attitude is “Be interesting, interested in me, or both”. If you don’t do that, I won’t be interested in taking the time to get to know you whether or not you have a commercial goal. For a perfect example, check out mumbrella’s own twitter account – I’m commenting on this site right now because I choose to follow mumbrella on twitter and this article showed up in the twitter stream this morning. Even if this site had lots of ads and was a clearly commercial venture, I’d still follow because the site and the twitter account are interesting and engaging.

  43. Ian Lyons
    2 Feb 09
    4:06 pm

  44. I just want to know – where we gonna rumble?

  45. David Jackmanson
    2 Feb 09
    4:29 pm

  46. @Ian Lyons behind the pizza place, chains and tyre irons OK, no guns or knives.

  47. Laurel Papworth
    2 Feb 09
    5:50 pm

  48. I have trouble differentiating between the two these days. Every blogger is providing social media agency services, and every agency is muscling in on the “social media bandwagon”.

    I do have trouble seeing viral videos as social media. Social network marketing, yes, social media, no. There will continue to be debate until we see more social media projects and less “seeding of ‘funny’ videos” into communities that have their own etiquette, rites, rituals, events and rules.

    As for me, I mostly stay out of it. I mean, you could see all these challenges from bloggers as free education right? I do enough of that. Heh.

  49. Nathan McDonald
    2 Feb 09
    7:40 pm

  50. When I first read the word ‘tolerate’ in the quote from Mat Baxter I laughed out loud. Is that what we aspire to for our clients? To be tolerated?

    We tolerate (read: ignore) advertising when it brings us free content.

    We do more than tolerate advertising when it’s dressed up as entertainment (eg. AFP or video content distributed virally), which is why Witchery think they should be happy with this approach. If the brief was for awareness, they succeeded.

    But what is the cost of that awareness? And (as Laurel points out) is that really social media?

    Most people don’t tolerate being lied to for very long. And the more times that agencies behave in this manner on behalf of clients the sooner all tolerance will disappear. This kind of tactic may work for an awareness campaign, but in my opinion it’s counter-productive to the reputation of both the agency and the client in the long term.

    I think the idea of ‘two tribes of social media’ is misplaced. Based on the above definitions, one tribe is placing content within a social media environment. Using it as a channel, thinking about it as ‘media’ not ‘social media.’ Talking AT people.

    People are starting to expect more. In the long term, people won’t tolerate brands that interrupt and lie to them within communities that they have created.

  51. eunmac
    2 Feb 09
    8:32 pm

  52. Sorry but I’m having too much fun watching new Pepsi ads and chatting to Pepsi’s twitter persona @pepsiuber to join in here.

    Now, who was it that took the word ‘fun’ out of social? Fess up!

  53. Kate Richardson
    2 Feb 09
    9:28 pm

  54. This debate is getting old and tired now and I just can’t bring myself to comment on it.

    Whoops I just did.

  55. Stephen Collins
    3 Feb 09
    6:01 am

  56. Greaser. All the way and until I die.

    Customers (whether they are someone you’re actually selling something to, or whether they are an internal client within your business) aren’t something to be manipulated so they perform the action you want them to.

    Treat them with respect, engage them, be open and honest and give and expect value. You’ll be amazed what happens.

  57. Simon
    3 Feb 09
    2:33 pm

  58. Last time I looked Witchery was a store for 30-45 year old women and now I assume their husbands/boyfriends. I would assume that these people have no interest in social media marketing on the waste of time promotion delivered by Naked. Now this whole thing is very interesting to the advertising industry and will go in a pitch book of cool things we’ve done at Naked but I thought marketing was about finding and talking to your customers is a way that made sense to them. I can’t see how that campaign filled the brief. Most women I know in that age group are pretty focussed on their lives and way to busy to engage with time wasting nonsense like that campaign. Also no self respecting bloke would be seen dead in one of those jackets.


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