IPAsocial 03 – If advertising is a firework, social media is a bonfire

“Social Media is a conversation. That seems to be one thing that we can all agree on.

But given that Social Media is a rather noisy and opinionated conversation, what value do we think we will have by adding our voices to it?

We are not Social Media gurus. In face we are rather sceptical of people who claim they are. We are simply 10 people from across a wide range of communications disciplines in the UK and the US who would like to share some thoughts. Thoughts that have either been bugging us or inspiring us, thoughts that we believe could form some of the building blocks for successful Social campaigns. We came together to respond to and add our voices to some work that the IPA had done earlier in the year.

We have each defined a Principle which we feel is important in this Social world. You will find each principle up here but they are also on our individual blogs where we will be curating the conversation which we hope they will generate. Please do get involved, maybe you think these principles don’t apply, are there better ones? Are there changes that you would like to make? Are there examples that you could add to help illustrate them? The only thing that we ask is that as part of the advertising and communications community that you become part of the conversation. After all the more opinions that are being shared and built on, the more interesting and stronger the outcome. At least that’s what we are hoping.

Thank you in advance.

You’ll no doubt remember all the bonfires and fireworks posts from before… well, this is the project that it’s been for (which I’m delighted to be a part of)…

It’s well worth reading the brilliant summary of The Big Picture by Mark Earls first, and you can see the  list of all ten principles here.

As for the principle I’m babysitting, at the moment it’s as follows:

IPA social principle 03:  Continuous conversation, not campaigning

If advertising is a firework, social media is a bonfire; slow to start, collaborative to build, then gets bigger and brighter…

The traditional advertising approach to campaigning is like setting off fireworks. 

Great fireworks are attention grabbing beacons on steroids; they make crowds gasp in delight, and draw an audience from many miles around.  


Yet while advertising burns very brightly, it dies very quickly.  Fireworks are an expensive way to keep a crowd happy all night.

Social media isn’t like setting off a firework; it’s like building a bonfire.  


It takes time to start.  There’s careful initial construction, a gentle blow here and there, and the gradual addition of more wood.

Then a couple of other folk gather around.  Some of them will even help you build the fire; break some wood up, throw more on, poke around in the embers to make sure the fire doesn’t go out.  

As more people gather, and help the fire grow bigger, the more it will attract yet more people… with attention and dedication, as everyone fuels the bonfire it will only ever burn brighter.


A social bonfire isn’t something you can ‘campaign’.  It doesn’t fit snugly in four week bursts, it doesn’t come with a guaranteed reach & frequency, and it’s hard to know exactly what it’s going to cost from the outset.  

If you want to start a social bonfire, or want to help other people make their bonfires bigger, you’re going to have to commit some time, effort, ingenuity and resource. 

Because it’s not just about the bonfire; it’s about building it together.

“If you are going to engage, you have to have a plan and make sure that resources are available. Because you can’t gracefully exit – once you’re in, you’re in. The days of walking away from a campaign are over – once we engage, we have to commit to it.”

Denise Morrissey, Online Community Manager, Toyota

(Source: http://www.engagementdb.com/)


So, what’s next?

These ten principles are just a starting point; provokers of conversation, thought, ideas… an invitation to you (yes, YOU) to join in. 
Why?  Our aim with this project is to move the debate beyond simply the theoretical, and into the practical; examples of approaches that have worked, and which have not.  What does success look like?  What do you need to do first? 
We believe that by sharing information and case studies around ‘social communications’ we will all, from the largest agency to the nimblest freelancer, from the most traditional client to the youngest start-up, benefit from this open source of knowledge.
So please, join the debate below…

(NB: I may take a while to respond, given circumstances, but some of the other guys in the group are going to weigh in too…)