If you want to know where social marketing is headed, look down

From Facebook to online advertising, Tribal DDB's Ed Lee ponders a post-social demo.

There’s no shortage of people trying to predict the future. In fact, there are 19,333 pages of results on SlideShare for the term “trends.” While this column also predicts the future, it does so by analyzing the present – if we want to know where we’re going, we need a realistic idea of where we are now.
In the spirit of this issue’s focus on youth, I’m saying that is exactly where we need to look. Working with clients such as Teletoon in Toronto, BC Dairy in Vancouver and McDonald’s via Kid Think, we at DDB Canada have plenty of opportunity to research and learn from Canadian youth. The biggest change we’ve seen falls into the following buckets: entering the post-social world; Facebook as a utility; pervasive use of mobile; and, lastly, avoidance of online advertising.

Russell Davies in the U.K. coined the phrase “post digital” about two years ago, and the current youth population is now well into the second generation of digital natives. And while social media was fresh six years ago, if you’re 17 or 18, you’ve only known an adolescence with social media.
As my friend Eric Weaver (@weave) says, “Google gave us search, social gave us sharing and we ain’t giving either back.”
This generation’s entire online lives have been based on collaboration, the ability to publish and share, and they’ll bring the ethos of social media into the work force and into their lives as mature consumers.
Brands need to reconsider how they’re built to serve the consumer. Today’s (and tomorrow’s) consumer doesn’t want to wait until you have a heavy-up media buy. They have questions for you right now. 24/7/365.
Post-social indeed.

Facebook as a utility
We know, anecdotally, that “youth” are on Facebook, what we didn’t know is how much. According to a mash-up we did of Facebook’s ad-targeting data and the 2010 census, 117% of Canadian youth aged 15-19 have a Facebook account. (The statistical anomaly is likely due to out-of-date census data, kids lying about their age and duplicate accounts.) Facebook is the new lunch hall, the new camp fire, the new common room for everyone, but especially for the social natives.
For brands, it means online ecosystems need to change. The dot-com still plays an important role in validating consumer decisions but the real magic is happening on Facebook, where sharing and recommendations happen more than one billion times a day. If you have an online strategy, you need a Facebook strategy. Failing that, you need a “startegy.”
Twitter? Not so much.

Pervasive use of mobile
If youth aren’t on Facebook, they’re on their mobiles. BBM, SMS, playing games, downloading apps and, of course, checking Facebook. About one-third of those on Facebook access it through mobile devices.
For marketers it means we can get closer to the point of purchase and apply influence in times and, thanks to geo-location based services like Foursquare, locations that really add value to the bottom line – either through intercepting a consumer on their way to a competitor or incenting a visit through a deal. While every year is slated to be the one mobile “breaks through,” there are few great examples of brands doing things well – Pizza Hut’s excellent branded app and Axa Insurance’s fantastic iAd being two standouts for me.

Avoidance of online advertising
While this generation shares too much (pictures of underage partying, ill-advised poses and even cyberbullying), they are highly savvy and skeptical online. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract traffic through display advertising. The new currency is sharing and recommendation, which means marketers must get smarter with the content we create.
Just 6% of 12- to 17-year-olds and 12% of 18- to 24-year-olds, according to a recent Forester study, want an engaged relationship with your brand. Highly entertaining branded content is the name of this new game – in order to break through, your marketing must have share value. In order to develop share value, we need to take advantage of all new and evolving technologies and opportunities (see how effective advertising on Twitter was for Virgin America) while realizing that each piece of marketing needs to stand out not only in its category but against every other advertiser.
When youth are avoiding your paid online media, you need to earn your media through outstanding (literally, standout) content like P&G did for Old Spice, BMW did with The Hire and Johnnie Walker did with “The man who walked around the world.”

So what?
In this post-social, Facebook-as-utility, increasingly mobile world in which consumers are avoiding advertising, marketers need to do two main things:
Up our game. Every campaign is a Super Bowl campaign in that we need to get people talking about the content and the brand.
Rethink the process. We must reinvent ourselves in a mirror of the consumer who doesn’t see any distinction between “marketing,” “customer service,” “supply chain” or even, heaven forbid, “human relations.”

Ed Lee is director, social media at Tribal DDB Toronto. Find him online at Edlee.ca or @edlee on Twitter.