The subject is social media. I admit I am nowhere near an expert on this relatively new form of advertising and interaction, but my editor has asked me for my viewpoint. Far be it from me not to interject my opinions.

When I first heard of Facebook, I thought it was another name for a scrapbook. It turns out I wasn’t too far off. I won’t bore you with a definition of Facebook because you are all experts. My first impression was that it was just another form of e-mail, and I couldn’t understand the big deal. Then my techie wife took me on a tour. Well, I still don’t understand why anyone wants to know how often I clean the lint out of my dryer, but I can see why you are all so excited. It is an opportunity to stay in touch with the whole world whether you want to or not. And to be sold all forms of product, causing you to forget to eat and sleep.

From a pure communications standpoint, everyone sees the same thing at the same time and can react. So it’s like having a 24-hour newscast about your friends. The downside is that I can post anything I want to say and it is there for all to see—hence the big bullying problem that is occurring. It is hard to defend against a lie.  

My biggest problem about social media is that it has created a forest of trees with phones plugged into their eyes that are missing the whole world around them. I was at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon recently and witnessed a busload of kids disembark, all staring at phones, in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Now I realize that creating mayhem in some game is important and talking to your bud about the latest shade of puce for hair coloring may be the deal breaker, but come on, you’re at the Grand Canyon. Look around.  

So, what’s my take on the advertising implications for the quick-serve world and this social media flap?  

I was watching a football game last night. I saw two kinds of commercials: cars and phones. The car commercials all featured gray cars going really fast. The phone spots all featured phones doing everything except making and receiving calls. And the best was a gray car being driven by the phone, going really fast. Traditional advertising media just don’t work anymore. A whole lot of people have the technology to skip all the ads, and they do. Enter: social media advertising.

Social media equals addiction and instantaneousness. All those people bumping into things because they are staring into their phones personify addiction. Talk about a captive audience. And they are getting all of their information instantly. Those are two things that traditional media can’t even touch. But quick serves can.  

I can change my ads in an instant depending on what consumers want. But I see a definite lack of creativity in the ads on Facebook and a continuing violation of the one precept all writers hear all the time in advertising school: Just one idea, please. I was bombarded with ideas and stuff and given very little reason to read it all. So I would definitely work on the creativity of the advertising, and maybe on the amount of information imparted.  

The other area is brand image. I have read that the only reason some advertisers are on social media is to be on the cutting edge, to be cool. Well, it is a great way to define an image if you construct the ads with image in mind. But too many don’t. And it is particularly important when the company is trying to get me to be a friend. I will much more readily buy from a friend.  

Contemporary change is the lifeblood of social media advertising. You better be up with what they are talking about and interested in. They have to like you.

So, as quick-serve restaurants, what else can we do to be more successful on Facebook? We can get our friends to tell us their stories about the product, like Toyota. We can turn the advertising into a soap opera and make people want to read the next installment. We can change the offers constantly and make everyone want to tune in to find out the latest one. We can do Internet-only offers. We can reward the user who sends our offer to their friends. We can revive sampling in the stores, again using the instant nature of social media. We can enter cause marketing and use social media to influence who the recipients are.  

But, whatever we do, it should be a lot more creative than it is now. And we need to be a lot more cognizant of the image we are portraying.

The one biggie we need to be really aware of is keeping the advertising current. Too many ads I saw were yesterday’s news. Contemporary change is the lifeblood of social media advertising. Just look at the attention span of the user. You better be up with what they are talking about and interested in. They have to like you.      

The whole idea is to trade on addiction and instantaneousness. Those are the advantages of social media. If you are looking for an appliance with an on/off switch, an AM radio, a phone that just makes and receives calls, or a black-and-white TV, forget it. You are in the age of the Ford Edge. Learn to type so you can talk to your kids. And remember, “no talking” has a whole new definition today.  

The fact of the matter is that social media is a great place for quick serves because we can change on a quarter (inflation, you know). We don’t have to build a car or a phone, or make a $1 million ad to get noticed. We just have to have a lot of friends—and we are really good at that.

Happy Cyber Trails, and a peaceful life in the New Year.