Social media budget is Soylent Green!

Soylent Green Movie PosterCatching up on reading the blogs of some of my respected friends in the social media biz, and I came across this latest one from Adam Cohen where he reacts to the thought that social media at companies is too labor intensive.

He’s right. A quote from his article:

As these [social media] tactics become more successful, they become more expensive.  These tactics require long term effort and can certainly can do more damage if abandoned.  But it takes more effort to continue to manage, build and grow, and that can mean more costs internally, at a minimum.

What he touches on but I’d like to put the emphasis on is that social media represents a shift in thinking on where the money goes . . . from ad space to people.

A real world example:

My brother Jim works in local politics as a campaign manager (and for the record, his record is now 3-0 starting with his work on the Obama presidential campaign). He has found an interesting new formula for winning which others have been very slow to pick up on. He takes much of the budget that would normally go to ad buys, which even for small local races can be in the hundreds of thousands, and he hires and trains a small team of young field operatives who go door-to-door every day for months on end and have real conversations. Now he does leave some in ads for the final get-out-the-vote push, but most he shifts to the ground effort. Most campaigns don’t do this, they get hired guns to work a few weekends and all they really do is leave door hangers, never even knocking.

The odd thing? His approach actually saves money. For instance, for the campaign he’s working on now, back-of-the-napkin math revealed that the repurposed available media budget would allow him to knock on every door of every registered voter that could vote for his candidate three times. Three conversations per voter. He doesn’t even need more than one in many cases.

In my brother’s last campaign, he beat a wealthy candidate who had many more endorsements and much, much larger ad budgets. It took a run-off, but he did it. Is there a fundamental change at work here? I think so.

This post’s title is a reference to an old science fiction movie where the horrific reality behind a popular consumer product, Soylent Green, is that it’s made from people (as in, people’s bodies, yikes). The last, famous line from the movie is the revelatory “Soylent Green is people!”

The reality behind social media budgets that grow as conversational efforts become more successful? They are people! But it can be cheaper than an ad-driven strategy, and you’ve just created new jobs at a time when those people could really use them. That isn’t horrifying at all.


5 thoughts on “Social media budget is Soylent Green!

  1. Doug,

    Thanks for this great case study. I think, when looking at political campaigns, it is very easy to see the affects a new approach to reaching people has on results. The campaigns tend to be linear and the results are measurable.

    I say new but really this approach has been around for a long time. We’ve just moved away from it lately.

    Heather | @heatherjstrout

  2. Hi Heather, great point on the trackability of political campaigns. Managers start with very good data sets (names, addresses, etc. of registered voters) and get data on whether they’ve voted after early voting and post-election (not who they voted for, however). My brother’s other key to success seems to be how data-driven he is, which allows for really efficient use of that ground force.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. I love the quote from this blog about where the money goes “from ad space to people”. I’m so excited about the move to reinvest in people. The idea of using your social network to make purchasing decisions is not new, but the platforms we have now to reflect our global world of social network help bring this idea back. Thanks for giving me more to think about, Doug 🙂

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