You can ignore an ad. You can’t ignore a relationship.

Ads vs. Relationships

Just made a pretty cool point in a meeting I was invited to. I don’t often make cool, good, or interesting points in meetings, so I felt vaguely good about myself for a second. I decided to share. Ready? Here we go.

First off, I read this article on Forbes this morning.¬†Basic idea: social media now drives 31.2% of all referral traffic. Last year, it was 22.7%. That’s a big jump year-to-year. (Those numbers are actually Q4 2014 vs. Q4 2013, and the report this is all based on is here.) By some measure, then, social is actually going a little bit ahead of search:

Search vs. Social

I’ve written about that topic before, and honestly, I see it every day on this site. I have a couple of topics where I rank on the first page of Google, and those consistently drive traffic. (Makes sense.) But every once in a while, I’ll get a post that does well on social, and you see a huge traffic spike. (Again, logical.)

Got off the rails a little bit. Ready to hear what I said in this meeting?

I was in with some people for the travel industry. They were talking about how their model, for years, had been to take a beautiful photo of some property they own, put some romantic and expressive language around it, and spend a bunch of money on a magazine ad somewhere. The logic was: This is beautiful, and everyone reads magazines, and so everyone will see it, and they will think it’s beautiful, and they’ll drop what they’re doing and come to this beautiful property, regardless of where it is in the world. (I over-dramatized that for effect, but that’s the general idea.)


That beautiful picture with the expressive language?

That’s an ad.

We’ve gotten to the point in human evolution where people mostly know how to ignore an ad / what is an ad / and the term “ads-y” or “sales-y” is actually extremely derogative.

Now flip the script. Let’s say you take that same beautiful property and someone posts a picture of it on social media — with themselves in the picture, of course, because everyone is ultimately a “me-former” — and now what happens?

Well, when a friend of those people sees that photo, they probably don’t ignore it.


Because that photo is their friend having fun, having experiences.

That’s a relationship.

So in this meeting, I said that:

“You can ignore an ad. You can’t ignore a relationship.”

I got a bunch of head nods, including some vigorous ones (when you get a vigorous head nod in a meeting, you know you just did something right).

There are a lot of problems with social media, for sure — here’s one, for example — and the direct ROI isn’t always clear to businesses. But … and this is a huge but

If you’re a property or a product or really anything that can be sold, use counter-intuition.

Stop going on there and selling/pushing, and stop going on there and tracking engagement metrics and all that, or buying ads.

Rather, encourage the people using your place/product/whatever to post about it, in a subtle way.

In this way, you’re focusing on the relationship, not the ad or the sell or the buy.¬†

A person can ignore all the latter elements; they can’t ignore a relationship or an experience they see in front of them.

(I made this point in a more succinct way in this meeting.)


Ted Bauer