Five Big Shifts in Social Media Marketing

April 19, 2010

Social media reflects a larger trend toward buyer empowerment that has changed not only the practice but the underlying philosophies of marketing over the past several years. Power has gradually shifted over the past couple of decades from manufacturers (e.g. HP, P&G) to the channel (e.g. TigerDirect, Wal Mart) to consumers and b2b buyers. Prospective customers are now using technologies like iPods, TiVo and ad blockers to avoid advertising messages. Interruption marketing isn’t quite dead, but it is no longer nearly as effective as it used to be. Marketers now have to work harder and smarter to earn the attention of potential customers, not just buy it.

Shifts in Social Media MarketingWhile many if not most marketers have adjusted to the new practices required, one still sees corporate Facebook pages with few fans and no clear purpose, Twitter streams filled with nothing but obnoxious “Hey! Buy my stuff now!” messages, repackaged marketing brochures masquerading as thought leadership content and the like. B2c and b2b buyers alike are tuning out such messages; they increasingly listen to each other, to key influencers, and to marketers willing to add real value beyond just schlepping their own products and services when making their purchase decisions.

Just as social media has changed the sales practice, here are five shifts that savvy marketers recognize and capitalizing on to increase sales in an age of consumer empowerment generally and the rise of social media specifically.

Buyer control vs. vendor control: in traditional interruptive marketing, vendors produced messages (advertisements, direct mail, email blasts) and prospective buyers consumed these messages. Production was active, consumption was passive. That equation is now reversed. Buyers control which messages they want to see. Prospects seek out the information they want, and respond to messages that are entertaining, compelling and/or informative. They will help spread great content virally, while ignoring or mercilessly parodying what they don’t like.

Desired content vs. marketing messages: responding to the first trend, marketers are now challenged to produce helpful or interesting content rather than just brochures and marketing collateral. To be sure, marketing content still has its place, but that place is now when the prospect wants it, not at the front end of the consideration cycle. To earn a buyer’s attention up-front, marketers must produce attractive content, whether through entertainment or games in the b2c space, or problem-solving, research-oriented materials in b2b marketing.

Dialog vs. broadcast: in perhaps the biggest shift produced by the rise of social media, prospects now seek two-way communication with vendors rather than passively consuming marketing messages. In the early days of the internet, traditional forms of media (magazines, newspapers, marketing brochures) were simply moved from print to online; communication was still primarily one-way. Forums and blogs began to change that, empowering prospective purchasers to ask questions of vendors, and of each other. Now, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media tools have exploded this capability. Conversations are less expensive than broadcasting from a media standpoint, but much more costly in terms of time. Budgets consequently must shift from buying one-way media to adding personnel or supplementing staff with outside experts who can successfully engage potential buyers in product conversations.

Ongoing vs. campaigns: Traditional marketing often revolved around campaigns, such as a defined run period for a specific advertisement or series of ads, that had a clear beginning and endpoint. Social media marketing, in contrast, is ongoing. Try using a blog specifically for a campaign and you’ll end up with an abandoned blog and disillusioned readers. Traditional campaigns were about producing sales in the short term; social media is about developing relationships that lead to (increased and ongoing) sales over the long term. Well-crafted campaigns led to one-time buyers, who may or may not have returned. The successful use of social media produces long-term customers and brand advocates. This shift has also altered best practices for successful product launches.

Indirect vs. direct measures: Traditional advertising and marketing campaigns often lent themselves to convenient, direct measures of success (or failure), e.g.: 100 people saw our ad, 10 responded, and two purchased. ROI was a simple calculation. Social media can be measured, certainly, but the metrics are frequently less direct and ROI challenging to measure with any precision. While research shows that social media engagement increases revenue, direct tactical measurement is difficult. For example, while it’s generally better to have more Twitter followers than fewer, quality matters more; better to have fewer but more engaged followers than a bunch of spammy followers who inflate follower count without adding any value. Retweets are valuable, but exactly how much are they worth? What’s the value of engaging an influential blogger who may indirectly drive buyers your direction, even though he or she will never actually be your customer? What’s the value of answering a question or engaging in a discussion on LinkedIn? Certainly, marketers should measure what they can, such as website traffic driven by various social media sites and the quality (conversions, time spent on site, etc.) associated with that traffic, but beware the temptation of excessive “last click attribution”—just because a visitor who came from Twitter ended up buying your product or service doesn’t mean the microblogging service should get all of the ROI credit. They may very well have seen your messages and interactions in a dozen other social media and more traditional forums first.

The genie of consumer empowerment is unlikely to be stuffed back into the magic lamp soon, if ever. While the specific tools for engagement and social media interaction will no doubt continue to evolve over time, marketers who understand and adapt to the shifts produced will be well positioned for ongoing success, and unaffected by the continuing decline in the power of interruption marketing.

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17 Responses

  1. Effective (keyword there) Social Media Marketing is still primarily dominated by the early adapters. This is great information that those new to Social Media should pay close attention to. Glad I “stumbled” across your blog.

  2. Tom 

    Hi Cheryl, glad you found this as well, and thanks much for the positive feedback! I hope this is helpful to those still struggling to get results through social media marketing.

  3. This is a great article – thanks for sharing! I especially liked the ongoing versus campaigns and the indirect versus direct points. These two areas are often overlooked as important distinctions between the traditional Outbound approaches when comparing them to the new Inbound model.
    Online or Internet based marketing and sales systems consist of many components which must work in concert to achieve the objectives. Yes, Social Media Marketing, or SMM, is effective, but as you suggest above, it must work in conjunction with your SEO efforts, too, and your website must fit tightly into the same strategy.
    We find it helps to divide the process of turning your website into an online Prospect Magnet into 4 phases:
    1) Attract more visitors to the website through SEO, SMM, and PPC. Yes, SMM is important, but so is SEO.
    2) Engage those visitors’ attention with industry leading content (website copy, white papers, videos, podcasts). Match the content to the prospect’s buying cycle to ensure you can nurture them around the cycle (see below). Given your statements regarding the shift in power from seller to buyer (and by the way, the stat I have seen is that today 92% of B2B buyers begin their search for a solution online), we now call it the buying-cycle instead of the sale cycle.
    3) Qualify these visitors by grading their profiles and using their digital footprints to rack up a score and hence “know” their quality. And then, nurture them from cold leads to hot prospects with multi-touch drip email campaigns.
    4) Automatically feed these hot sales ready prospects directly into your CRM and automatically notify the assigned sales rep (based on product or territory or whatever…).
    If you’d like to know more about Sales and Inbound Marketing Automation, our website contains a Resource Library of white papers, tools, videos and an extensive glossary, all covering the above in more detail.

  4. This is an excellent article that frames the paradigm shift changes that have occurred in marketing. Effective marketing has moved from a “push” to a “pull” model. This article provides good advise on how to adapt to that changing model. Thanks for writing this.

  5. Tom 

    Thanks for the kind words Jack, glad you liked this. As I note in the opening, I think an increasing number of companies get this, but there are still marketers trying to force a “push” model through social media – and that not only doesn’t work well, it risks doing more harm than good.

  6. Kyla 

    This is a very helpful article. It summarizes all the latest issues pertaining to web marketing.

    Undeniably, changes in (B2B) business to business sales acquired great lost and gain to those who cannot adapt to the fast growing needs of business that depend on the internet.

    Social networking sites like facebook and twitter made it to the top. They are now the leading standard that allows new opportunities and opens new generation of on-line business in the coming years.

  7. Thanks for sharing! A very interesting article. Social media marketing has been a very useful tool for business.

    Try visiting our site as well,, we help companies manage the social web.

  8. Andrew Wyatt 

    Interruption marketing is decreasing – so is email marketing as that is interruption marketing too.

    Inbound marketing combined with content marketing is the future.
    The main problem is after getting all the traffic: only 3% will ever leave contact details behind or contact you.
    How to know who visits your website without interfering with the visit and the visitor.

  9. Tom 

    Actually, inbound marketing generally produces a higher conversion rate, 5% or better. Also, that’s only directly measurable conversions; others will occur in ways that are difficult to attribute directly to inbound marketing though definitely driven by those practices.

  10. Jen 

    Thanks for such an insightful article. :)

  11. The social media nowadays has definitely affected how we conduct business. It has given more opportunities for online marketers and it has also given a bigger chance to those small business that can’t afford the traditional way of marketing products or services

  12. It is a great article. Thanks for others.Social Media Marketing is the most viable option for B2B Marketing Agencies. So many of the marketing professionals have taken to social media marketing in their B2B marketing and have reaped enormous benefits.

  13. Bryan 

    What an informative article. You make plenty of good points; the world of marketing and business is now more than ever being driven by the consumer, thanks to their ability to block out products they don’t want to hear about. It’s interesting to note that, while the Internet has been a boon to advertising, it also creates new market considerations that must be taken into account.

  14. This tips are helpful for some business strategies,and specially for those beginners in the Social Media Marketing. They will know more on about buyer control and vendor control.

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