Last night’s joint IAB and WOM UK debate, ‘Should social media be paid for?‘, was intended to be taken with a big pinch of salt. The two teams purposefully dug their heels in, ramped up the drama and pushed their views to the extreme to make the assembled crowd really question the possibilities and limits of paid advertising in the social space – but some genuinely interesting issues surfaced amongst the bombast.
On the ‘for’ side, Kate Box, Head of Social Media Sales at Microsoft Advertising, and Steve Filler, Commercial Director for Unruly Media, made the case that consumers don’t mind whether content is paid for. Brands need to act like brands, and they claimed that visibly advertising is more honest; paid advertising in the social space gets results, and is essential for the survival of the industry.
In the ‘against’ corner, I joined Ciarán Norris, Head of Social Marketing at Mindshare, to assert that paid media is, and should remain, by definition separate to earned or social media. Although paid can inspire social interaction, the independent social space is all about relationships, flourishing on a currency of status, passion, expertise and networking, and those can’t be bought. Interactive, digital, online PR and the like all have their place – but they’re not truly social media.
The votes came down on the side of ‘for’, but the atmosphere was lighthearted as both sides acknowledged that valuing one did not exclude the importance of the other, and that a mix of paid stimulation and inspired independent WOM and listening is best. For an idea of how an integrated view can look, it’s worth reading Neilsen’s Pete Blackshaw‘s recent post on Maximizing Super Bowl Advertising ROI in a Paid Vs. Earned Media Environment.
Some genuinely interesting grey areas also emerged. Where does inspiration end and payment begin, when brands are providing trials and freebies? Doesn’t the industry need to firm up its definitions so that brands don’t just think they’re ‘earning social’ by throwing a few interactive ads online? And isn’t it essential that brands don’t see social media attention as ‘free’ – more that they must pay for it in man hours for listening, responding and creativity, rather than cash?
If you couldn’t make it to the sold-out event, let us know your thoughts and questions below. We’re also looking to continue the series, so speak up about what you’d like to see debated next.