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By Thomas Baekdal - March 2011

Social Is Like a Freight Train

Trying to explain what social media is all about is never easy. There are so many different aspects to it, so many channels, so many different types of markets, so many different people.

The hardest part is always trying to explain why it is not compatible with traditional marketing. The constraints are different. The format is different. And, the lack of control is enough to scare the bejesus out of any traditional marketing department.

Traditional marketing biggest constraint is print. Not the paper itself, or the format, but the time it takes to produce the finished product. The time of production introduces a delay that encourages people to group things together.

It is much easier (and cheaper) to go for the big bang, than trying to make a difference in a lot of tiny steps. So print marketing is all about the event. It is about pulling enough material together to make one big splash all at once. That big splash does make a difference. We all remember something that was really spectacular. Something big and wonderful.

But it is like the old saying. If you tell a lie often enough, people will eventually believe it is true.

Grouping things together, in order to make a big splash, is not the most effective way to do things. It is just the best the traditional world could do with the constraints of print.

With the digital world, you are free to use the best approach for every situation. Sometimes that is indeed a big splash. But, in most cases, it is much more efficient to build a lasting community over a long period of time.

This is where the channel and constraint of social comes in... with time.

Social does not work "instantly." You need time... lots of it. But the pay off is also a lot higher. The best way to describe it is to compare social media with a freight train.

A freight train is not as sexy as Ferrari. It doesn't create an instant boost of excitement. It cannot turn as fast either.

Moving a freight train requires a lot of work, and a lot of horsepower. Much more than the Ferrari. It accelerates very slowly. And, you have to work for it. Taking a freight train for a spin involves a sizable amount of time and patience.

But the pay-back comes with mass. Once a freight train gets up to speed, it is unstoppable. Not only that, but you don't have to do much to keep up momentum. It almost runs itself - at speed.

It also carries a lot more weight. Compared to a Ferrari, the power of a freight train is many times more powerful. A freight train is all about getting the job done, while the Ferrari is about showing off.

Social media is like a freight train. All the social trends sound very sexy, and many people think of them like a Ferrari. But social is not a Ferrari. It never was.

So how do you get successful with social media? Well, it's simple, really... you make sure that your train is worth being on.

Take people where they need to go and pack your bag for the long haul.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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