Is Social Media BS?

November 10, 2010

That was the provocative question raised, and answered, by HubSpot VP of Marketing Mike Volpe in a webinar last Friday. Per Mike’s usual style, the webinar was packed with helpful information but too much for one sitting, and to get through it all Mike talks at about twice the speed of those disclaimers at the end of radio ads. HubSpot has apparently found a way to pump oxygen directly into Mike’s lungs, as he didn’t audibly pause to take a breath for the first 40 minutes of this presentation.

Traditionally, big brands used TV and print advertising, while their smaller counterparts employed direct mail and telemarketing, to reach consumers directly through interruption marketing. When marketing moved online, advertisers shifted efforts to banner ads, pop-ups and email marketing. But caller ID, DVRs and ad blocking software have put consumers in control of the marketing messages they see; traditional interruption marketing is becoming progressively less effective. Mike’s answer is to shift to inbound marketing: think like a publisher, produce valuable and interesting content, share it where people are talking about your industry or the types of problems you solve, and let buyers come to you.

Key point #1: Social media is a critical component of inbound marketing. But it’s only one part. Successful marketers can’t rely solely on social media or treat it as a silo, separate from other marketing activities. It has to be part of the fabric of marketing efforts.

Key point #2: To be successful with social media, you need to change the way you do business. Some—in fact, many—types of marketing activities lend themselves to testing. You can run a small AdWords campaign focused on a single asset to determine whether a bigger campaign is justified. You can test banner advertising on an industry publication site for a month or two before deciding to commit to a longer run. You can send a small delegation to a trade show to evaluate the potential for a big booth next year.

Social media is different, however. It isn’t another channel, it’s a new way of engaging your audience. Trial efforts are doomed to failure because it takes time to attract a following and build trust. You can’t dip your toe in the water, and don’t put an intern in charge of your social media efforts! You have to jump in all the way, and involve your best people: the ones who know your products and services inside and out, and understand the issues your customers face.

Success at inbound marketing requires that social media be integrated with other marketing objectives: branding, content, SEO, research, and lead generation. This diagram from HubSpot illustrates the relationship visually.

Key point #3: A blog should be at the center of social media efforts. Blogging makes you and/or you company more interesting online. Content powers social media success. It adds substance to your Facebook status updates and tweets.

Key point #4: In today’s world, a brand is what consumers say it is. In the old days (pre-2003 or so), brands were carefully crafted by agencies, creatively packaged, and presented to the public via one-way broadcast communications (TV, magazines, direct mail). With the rise of social networks, blogs, forums and review sites, markets now define brands. Companies can enhance (or damage) their brand image based on how they respond. For example, poor customer service? Fix it. Then humbly tell the world what you’ve done. Argument, advertising, or avoidance are all losing strategies.

Key point #5: Marketers should spend 100% of their time on social media. This was actually addressed as an answer to a question about the appropriate amount of time to allocate to social media activities. Mike’s answer was brilliant: “I spend 100% of my time on social media. But I also spend 100% of my time on SEO, 100% on developing new content, 100% on lead generation, 100% on branding…it’s all one activity, not disconnected efforts.”

Key point #6: Your buyers are now in control. It’s getting increasingly difficult, expensive and ineffective to buy the attention of your market (see the second paragraph above). You have to earn it. Thinking like a publisher and socializer rather than an advertiser enables you to earn that attention. If you don’t earn your buyers’ attention, they’ll stop following you. If your Twitter following starts decreasing or your Facebook fans begin to disappear, it’s time to take a hard look at what you’re doing and make changes.

Compelling Stats

Combining social media with SEO provides 97% more links, on average, back to a web site.

Websites with blogs attract 55% more visitors on average than traditional static websites.

Twitter users who also have blogs have 79% more followers on average than Twitterers who don’t blog (and that figure is even higher—102%—for small businesses that lack the drawing power of a popular brand).

In a recent HubSpot survey, more than 40% of respondents said they had landed new customers or generated revenue from Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and/or a company blog.


So what should you do? The presentation included “Practical Tips” at the end of each section, among them:

  • • Start a blog about your industry—not your company. Try to make it the premier publication for buyers in your industry.
  • • Post blog content to social media, and put social sharing buttons on your content, making it easy for your readers to share as well.
  • • Use social media intelligence on your leads. For example, if you generated a lead through LinkedIn, and that buyer appears to be very active there, communicate with him/her through LinkedIn. Don’t force them into a different channel. And watch what they are posting about, questions they ask, etc. to learn more about their needs.
  • • Use social media monitoring tools to track your brand mentions, and also those of competitors. What your competitors are saying on social networks can give you a glimpse into their strategies. And what their customers are saying can tell you a lot about their strengths and shortcomings.
  • • Follow your target customers. Listen to what they are saying—really listen—before responding. Ask lots of questions.

Which Brings Us To…

Key point #7: Social media is here to stay. Traditionally, all marketing channels have become less effective over time. For example, the first companies to advertise on TV were highly successful with it, but as more and more companies began running commercials, they became less effective. Today, many viewers record their favorite shows and skip through the commercials. Similarly, direct mail was a highly effective channel at first, before it became saturated and the term “junk mail” was coined. Ditto for telemarketing. And email marketing. So why should social media be any different? Because it is the only channel where the user is in control. If a thousand companies start using Twitter as a broadcast platform for 140-character ads, it doesn’t make Twitter any less valuable and no one has to quit—people will simply not follow those companies.

True, the evolution of marketing will continue,  perpetually, and eventually it’s likely some new shiny, sparkly thing will come along that grabs everyone’s attention. But the user-control aspect of social media is likely to continue fueling its popularity and growth for a long time to come. Enterprises and marketers who embrace this and focus on earning attention will prevail over those still trying to buy it.

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9 Responses

  1. Sounds like it was a really interesting presentation.
    I think one of the most important points you touched on here that most people forget is that in social media you have to earn the attention of your public. Ads on TV were forced into our living room, but online the public is in full control. In order to get the attention you can’t just shove something in the publics face, you have to make them want it. It’s a drastic change to the way the world used to work and companies need to learn to adapt to it before they get left behind.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  2. I think where most companies go wrong is that they are sold social media as the marketing, when in fact it is simply one tool for marketing ideas.

    What they should be paying for is the marketing ideas to go with it.

    I see so many companies sold a blog, but not educated in what sort of content may actually attract visitors, so they end up wasting their time writing content that no one will ever read.

  3. Tom 

    Richard, you are spot on. Marketing messages, random thoughts, and “hey, look at me!” type posts don’t attract a readership because they don’t offer readers any value. The best posts come from companies that understand their audience and the questions their customers and prospects have.

  4. “Marketers should spend 100% of their time on social media.” This is very true and this is very timing in the present age. Now, marketers should really take advantage of the social media to reach its customers.

  5. So Much Hate! So Much Anger! BS Sells! Over 99% of what we read is BS. The Media, that’s you, are failing your social responsibility of never supporting Organized Mob Hate BS comments about innocent individuals for exposure and profit. E.G.: Riding the BIEBER bandwagon, BIEBER sells.
    Hate Kills. Hate is Ugly. Are you a hater? You can change. Don’t be a hater. Don’t Kill. Take back control of your emotions and always question what you read. No one is perfect. We all have flaws. Choose to be positive. It’s a personal choice. It’s your choice. A positive approach will serve you well in your personal and family lives. Get honest. Help others who could use support. Share these vibes.

  6. Tom 

    Not sure what to make of this Mary. First off, you do realize you are commenting on a post written two and a half years ago, correct? And there really isn’t any “hate” in the post…did you read it? But indeed, we all do have our flaws.

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