Are you a traditional marketer or agency person, or even a digital agency person who is frustrated at the new crop of "social media elite" who claim that they know all the answers? Or are you a social media marketing maven who is frustrated that the rest of the industry just doesn't get it?
Be forewarned that this article is a little bit of a rant. I straddle both sides of this argument, but I'm equally invigorated, frustrated and amused at the state of affairs in the marketing industry today. This battle between the old guard and those who are competing to become part of the new guard is a repetition of history and has created more confusion than it has solved.
Does the following sound familiar to you?
Agency Person or Marketer: I've read a lot of research about how consumers are spending uber amounts of time in social media environments. How do I engage (or insert other descriptive verb here: tap into, leverage, reach) consumers within these environments?
Social Media Maven: OMG, you used that verb? You clearly don't understand what social media means. Let's look into my crystal ball and I'll give you some clues.
Agency Person or Marketer: OK, so I get the fact that social media is different, but how do I measure this? How do I understand what return I can get?
Social Media Maven: Hold me back, I think I'm gonna hurl. ROI? You actually think that I can clearly explain to you how to measure social media? You have so much to learn, grasshopper.
Agency Person or Marketer: What about your clients? How are they engaging consumers in social media? Are they?
Social Media Maven: If I filled you in on all the details I'd have to kill you, sorry.
Agency Person or Marketer: But I'm running a business. I measure everything. Just because I want to measure the return of a marketing investment doesn't make me a direct marketer. I measure my TV, I measure my online advertising, I measure our existing research projects, heck, I even measure the impact of using different materials to build our products and what it means to our business. How is social media any different?
Guys and gals, I've got news for you--the internet and its diverse sub-segments are not magical parallel universes, rather, an extension of the world we live in. Granted, social media growth is the biggest shift in "media behavior" since search (or maybe video was the next after search). But truth be told, the social media mavens are right in stating that it's not really media at all. Well, at least not in the way we used to look at media, as a channel to distribute messages to audience (advertising).
But that doesn't mean that you can't advertise in social media environments. It means that this is just one cog of a much bigger picture. Are the integrated deals on MySpace not advertising? Sure they are -- yes I know, it's marketing not advertising, but isn't there an advertising component to it? Why do we argue that aspect of the merging of various marketing disciplines?
A Celebration of Integration
Let's also not forget that all of this fits into the bigger picture of a multi-platform marketing communications plan. Integration with the bigger picture is a point often left out of the social media conversation, and I think that's a big mistake. Ultimately, the barrier to big agencies and brands understanding how to include social media in their marcom is simply an acquisition or the hiring of a few people who have experience. The theme of the times is centralization and integration. Clients do not want the splintering to continue. Might we take a step backwards before taking two integrated steps forward? Maybe. So be it. It's bound to be where we will end up.
A New Discipline?
Is social media a new discipline? Maybe. It certainly represents the blurring of media, marketing, creative, technology PR and research. One of the challenges this presents is where the budgets come from and whose responsibility it is to manage. Don't forget that 10 years or so ago many marketers were still challenged with figuring out whether their "online budgets" came from IT or marketing. We can now look back and laugh at that position.
Social media will present an additional hurdle of meaning different things to different brands, based on what your brand means to the consumer. But the benefits of potentially connecting with consumers on a deeper level is huge, and truly the fact that the social media evangelists are trying to convey--observe, monitor, and listen before trying to become part of the experience or conversation.
Ode to the Old School
Agencies and brands don't fret--you are not crazy nor are your years of marketing experience not translatable to an understanding of how to work in the social media ecosystem. Sorry if my social media brethren offer such elitist views at times. I've had too many discussions and overheard/observed/read too many conversations posts from bloggers and the growing "Twitterati" (who often spend more time tweeting amongst themselves than actually DOING anything) about how 10 relationships are innately worth more than a million impressions.
How arrogant and uninformed to think that this rule can be universally true. It all comes down to the definition of a relationship and the quality of the consumer feedback. For many marketers, this will be a factor of what their brands and businesses mean to consumers. Social media becomes a valuable feedback loop or research base for some brands, and for others it's insignificant.
Yeah I said it: Social media can be insignificant for many brands. Are a small group of influencers truly worth that much more than the masses of followers who can be reached via many means? The majority of your brand's consumers and potential customers will never interact with you nor the posts of the influencers within social media. Deal with it. Those evangelizing social media are all vying for the same clients.
The largest brands with the strongest brand personality, the brands that consumers are already proud to be associated with, who stand the most to lose or gain by working within or ignoring social media. The other day an industry colleague, Alan Wolk, referred to these brands quite accurately as "Prom King brands."
Research, PR, Damage Control
Social media as a research lab? Sure, go for it--but the value is relative to the investment and commitment to striking a balance between an authentic experience to the consumer and to providing benefit to the brand.
So maybe the question marketers should be asking is not how to use social media, but how much to invest, which again, is a function of how consumers perceive our brands and what social media means to THEM--not to US. No matter how hard we try to be consumer centric, it seems that it always comes back to that being a bigger buzz-phrase than any other. So social media as a research lab seems like a good starting point for any brand.
While it's great to see brands create new social media extensions to monitor and deal with consumers' feedback and complaints, don't forget that you can't please all the people all the time. Any researcher would largely discount the feedback of the polar ends of positive and negative opinion, which does not represent the market as a whole. This is not to say ignore the customer. It only means that you must manage investment in the polar ends of opinion.
All Roads Lead to Rome
Seriously guys, we shouldn't worry about measuring investment return? If I hear that one more time, I'm going to get sick. The purpose of all marketing investments is the same. To sell stuff. The only difference between disciplines is where in the influence and decision cycle the investment impacts consumers and how easy or difficult it is to measure the potential impact. No marketing investment is made for fun, whether branding, direct response, relationship marketing, research, PR, social media or otherwise.
I promised a bit of a rant here, so there you have it. I'm frustrated that some of us make it so complicated for agencies and marketers to try to understand rather than working hand in hand to play nicely in the sandbox, experiment further and keep the consumer as the focal point of our decision making process. Agree, disagree? Have some great case studies you want to share? Connect with me on Twitter: @JasonDPG or on Facebook. Hey look ma, I'm using social media.