Three Words That Should Never Be Used With Social Media

June 15, 2010

At its core, social media marketing is still marketing: it requires a strategy, planning, objectives, measurement, and utilization of key messages. It supports a brand, and needs to integrated with other marketing and PR activities rather than treated as a separate island (just as, for example, a company’s search and display advertising should communicate a consistent message). It’s a component (an increasingly essential one) of an overall marketing and PR plan. It has a purpose and needs a budget.

Print, Radio, Online, TV and Social MediaBut on the other hand, social media is not simply another channel, i.e. to be lumped into a group such as radio, TV, outdoor, print, and social media. Unlike other channels, social media is informal, interactive and personal. So while some essential components of marketing still apply, social media requires a unique approach. Treating it as just another communications channel or advertising medium is likely to be not just unsuccessful but actually damaging to the brand.

This may spark some arguments, but here are three common terms from traditional marketing and advertising that I believe should never be used with social media.

Mass (as in “mass marketing” or “mass messaging”). For most of the last century, advertising and marketing were about mass–reaching the largest number of individuals possible. While the fragmentation of media (hundreds of cable channels, millions of websites) has made true mass marketing somewhat more challenging, the appeal hasn’t disappeared: witness the exorbitant advertising rates for the Super Bowl and shows like American Idol.

Certainly b2b marketers, whose appeal is limited to specific niche markets, have always targeted their messages more carefully than have big consumer brands. But scale has still been an important factor, as the largest trade shows and highest-circulation publications, even within a specific niche, command the highest prices.

But social media isn’t about reaching the largest number of individuals in a particular group, but rather about reaching and engaging those who are most passionate. It’s about interacting with the 20% of potential customers who are likely to provide 80% of your profits, and the 10% of key influencers in your market space who can shape the views of the other 90%. It’s about narrow but deep rather than broad but shallow. To cite one specific social medium, it’s not about having the most followers on Twitter, but having the most engaged followers.

Automate. Automation certainly has its place in marketing; for example, using marketing automation software which can send specific email content to different groups based on their pipeline position or past behavior. But not in social media. Social media is about building relationships and interacting. Automation can be spotted a mile away and tends to really turn people off. To be sure, there are many helpful social media tools that make certain tasks, such as monitoring, more productive. But the core value of social media is in humanizing your brand and connecting directly with your biggest fans and market influencers. That can’t be automated.

Campaign. This word implies a defined beginning and end. A political campaign starts when a candidate announces that he or she is running for a specific office, and ends with the election. In marketing, advertising campaigns utilize a defined set of creative elements over a specified time period. But social media is, again, at its core, about establishing and building relationships. Talking about social media campaigns makes as much sense as saying you’re in a “dating campaign” or a “friendship campaign.” Social media marketing relationships are different, to be sure, as they are fundamentally about business. But some of the same fundamental principles apply; trust is deepened over time, and there is no predefined, fixed time period planned for the relationship. The business value of blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, LinkedIn connections, etc. increases over time.

One of the keys to social media marketing success is to find the proper balance with other marketing activities. Social media isn’t an entirely new, separate realm. But it does have its own unique characteristics that provide its power. Marketers who focus on relationship building and interaction rather than broadcasting and promotion will achieve the greatest returns.

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5 Responses

  1. tom,

    great piece… really liked it. I totally agree with your three words…. I especially liked:

    “social media is not simply another channel, i.e. to be lumped into a group such as radio, TV, outdoor, print, and social media. Unlike other channels, social media is informal, interactive and personal.”

    Lately in talks I’ve been giving – I’ve been saying that Social Media Marketing is a bit like “butter”… By itself it’s not terribly tasty… But it makes every other piece of marketing you do – so much tastier…

    Ironically (and this goes for me too as I continue to use it) one of the other words I think we should ultimately stop using is “media”. Really, at the end of the day, it’s the Social Web – and as marketers continue to apply “media” type strategies to it – it’s frought with all kinds of fail.

    Again, great piece!!



  2. Tom 

    Thanks Rob for the very thoughtful feedback. I don’t necessarily disagree with your point about the word “media” but I think that battle is already lost. 😐

  3. Tinte 

    Social media is so important in the marketing today, but I think that there are even a lot of big companies, that did not notice that until now. It is essential that you spent a remarkable part of the marketing budget in the social media progammes and that you have somebody who has the assignment to look after it. I totally agree with your three words: mass, automate and campaign, that shouldn’t be used with social media.

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