Allow me to pre-introduce myself.

Let’s make sure one thing is clear from the start: I am not, and do not fancy myself to be, a social media expert.

No one is. One may be strategic, in-tune, engaged and even experienced. But social media is constantly evolving. With millions of minds around the world actively reflecting on and refining its use, no one person can tell me that they’ve got it on lock.

I realize that clients sleep better when they believe they have an “expert” on their business. And we’d like to tell clients that we have just the “expert” for the job. And whose ego doesn’t like the soft stroke of the word “expert?”

But I’m sorry, social media “experts” just don’t exist. Social media addicts, on the other hand? Well, we are found en masse around the world.  When a friend posted this cartoon on Facebook at 7 am one morning, I felt a little called out, cringing at its proximity to home. Battleship: sunk.

We may joke about being addicted to the internet, but really it goes far beyond that. It’s more than an appendage to our lives; our lives offline are becoming an extension of what starts online. The internet is creeping into every facet of existence, from business to personal, entertainment to news, politics to tragedy.

Social media adds ego and emotion in to the equation, with the thrill of the notification; who commented, liked, retweeted, reblogged, friended, poked, @replied or followed me? Half of those words aren’t even in the dictionary.

And if that many strangers followed me in real life, I would call the police.

Furthermore, as the internet continues to change its relationship with mobile from “it’s complicated” to “married,” the experience of not just being online, but simply being has become instantaneously interactive. A life experience is not exclusive to those who are physically present in a situation. Every action can be captured and instantly shared throughout one’s social media footprint, and network engagement and feedback is immediate.

Through social media, each person is a brand, creating a reality representation of self to a chosen audience of participants. But if each person has become an individual brand, where and how does a commercial brand acquire the appropriate product placement in this real-time reality show?

What is the right way for a brand to use and engage in social media?

Just as there are no social media experts, there is no magic formula for using social media. Fear not, though, for the right way for a brand to engage in social media is determinable in the same way as any other medium: choose and use the most authentic channel that communicates and leverages your brand differentiator.

That doesn’t mean skipping social media. Every brand should be present on social media as a basic cost of entry, though the degree and level to which a brand engages with social media is variable. But it must be rooted in the same value proposition as any other medium, and guided by just as much strategy.

Is that the same across the globe? Or is my perspective uniquely American?

Social media is shrinking an already small world. Across North America, including both Canada and the U.S., internet penetration stands at about 77%. Across the continent of Africa, including specifically in South Africa, internet penetration comprises approximately 10% of the population.1 Yet we are all competing on the same global stage. Social media and the internet connect us in an instant, but what effect are they having on the evolution of the ad industry?

That’s a question best answered within the context of each country. For the sake of The Saturn Return Project, I will tackle this question within hotspots of the industry. Starting one week from today, I will travel around the world to live, work and converse with professionals in my industry. I’m curious how my peers compete and win on this “global playing field.” 

Perhaps we all win by collaborating. Maybe a better understanding, if not some answers, lies in unforeseen strategic blending of the strengths of different regions. Or maybe growth lies in the kind of conversations about our differences that propel us forward.

Each destination is a partner in The Saturn Return Project journey, as are you. Starting with two innovative and inspiring agency networks, TBWA\South Africa and TAXI Canada, these powerhouses will represent industry professionals living and working in four incredible cities: Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Toronto.

Social media is shortening the virtual distance between us. Let’s jump in and see what that means. I will be your feet on the street, if you want to be a part of this journey, to learn and to grow as a global citizen. I aim to share not only my conversations with these innovative teams and industry-leading individuals, but also my cultural experience within these cities and countries. I'll meet you right here, one week from today, on May 9.

Not unlike social media and the industry itself, The Saturn Return Project will evolve as I go along, in collaboration with my agency partners and the communities that host and share with me, including you.

Welcome to The Saturn Return Project, I hope you’ll join the conversation.

| Brianna |

1 Internet penetration statistics:

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