Given that it pays my wages, I’m not supposed to let you know that social media isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for marketers everywhere, but try as I might I still can’t quite come up with enough reasons to ditch your other streams and hand your marketing keys over to Zuckerberg just yet.
While it can’t be all things to all people, there’s no denying that social media is still experiencing impressive growth and has great potential for innovation and engagement. Yet traditional media is still huge and it’s concerning that some of the hype surrounding social media could eventually be doing more harm than good for businesses.
One of the major problems is a lack of understanding.
In the past I’ve spoken several times about the unwillingness of some executives to adopt social strategy. It’s pleasing to see that this is becoming less of a problem, but it’s also worth noting that the river flows both ways here.
Social media is a fairly young discipline even in the barely-codified world of digital marketing, meaning that many social media managers have a background that isn’t based in marketing.
In some ways this is a very good thing. Social media teams aren’t burdened by many of the set in stone rules that bound traditional marketers, meaning there’s greater room for innovation (not to say that traditional marketing can’t innovate as well –quite the opposite), and room to create genuine one-to-one customer interactions without always worrying about the bottom line.
In many cases, social media staff genuinely are there to help the customer.
Unfortunately in some this has led to a sense of superiority. It’s rare that you’ll find a broadcast media ‘guru’ after all, but while social offers some great opportunities, it’s important that as social media professionals we don’t get carried away.
There’s a ton of posts out there about what social media can do (and I’ll be making plenty more of them in the future), but maybe it’s time social media professionals address the gaps in our own knowledge?
Let’s look at a few of the more common problems and see what we can do about them:
Assuming social media is more influential than traditional media
While digital spends have increased massively over the past decade, print has steadily declined.
It seems that people simply aren’t prepared to pay for general content any more. However, while newspapers may be struggling other sections of broadcast happily soldier on, their fortunes increasing steadily as they expand into new markets.
TV experienced a minor drop in penetration but studies now show increasing adoption in younger users, while even the advent of free streaming services hasn’t been able to significantly reduce global radio audiences.
Often we’re all too keen to stack falling broadcast numbers up against rising social adoption, but it’s worth keeping the wavering fortunes of many social platforms (MySpace is the obvious case in point here).
Broadcast media is a fluid, adaptable medium that continues to be the information service of choice for many people. Likewise, it’s worth considering for a moment how much of your social media output actually falls under the broadcast banner.
Tweeted about a new service or written a blog post lately? Just because you invite comments actively, the initial post is still a broadcast.
Social media professionals need to work out how they can expand upon broadcast services, rather than attempting to compete with them.
Social media is the best place to create brand awareness
One of the great things about piling cash into Facebook ads and the like is the fantastic ability to track conversions.
In terms of direct sales, social media campaigns offer extremely fast turnaround and accurate feedback but it’s important to remember that brand engagement and advertising isn’t all about counting click-throughs.
Social media professionals often find themselves struggling to communicate that successful social campaigns are about more than just numbers, but when it comes to sales we're too often guilty of forgetting our own words.
To succeed, businesses project and plan years in advance, mapping extremely complex customer behavior and seeking out new audiences who may not click that ‘buy’ button for a very long time.
Social media professionals like to talk about ‘creating buzz’ and ‘increasing brand awareness’, but it’s important to remember that brands have always engaged in these practices.
Social media makes feedback easier to monitor but you need to remember you aren’t reinventing the wheel here. Get advice from other marketers about how best to engage and plan long-term.
The audience can be trusted to curate their own content
Or to quote Spinal Tap’s David St. Hubbins: “I believe everything I read”.
Given the sheer volume of commentary and information available online, it’s easy to assume that choice now resides purely with the consumer.
Using services like AllTop or Digg we can pick and choose which content reaches us. Not a fan of sport? No problem, simply set your preferences to exclude anything even remotely connected to Wayne Rooney.
We’re all editors now, so why pay someone to do it for us?
Of course, there is a flipside to all this. With so much content doing the rounds, there’s a real difficulty in finding the good stuff.
Sites offering quality, well researched information have that most valuable of all internet commodities: trust.
Just because we can custom define searches and RSS feeds to within an inch of their lives, doesn’t mean we always will. People enjoy learning new things, and receiving news from an unexpected source is one of the primary joys of online existence.
Those with the editorial and journalistic skills to research, curate, and organise material are more important than ever.
Social Media is replacing other sources
Social media is continuing to experience impressive growth but it’s important that SM marketers don’t assume this means that audiences are abandoning other sources.
Since its inception the media has constantly fragmented and continues to do so. Facebook may well be heading for the billion, meaning sm is genuinely a marketing force to be reckoned with, but it’s a real mistake to assume that these growing audiences are coming from somewhere else.
Have a look on your own Facebook page, and you’ll most likely see updates from friends talking about TV shows, print news and movies alongside the various ‘likes’ and links.
It’s important to realize that an expanding audience in one channel does not automatically mean a decline in another.
Customers are increasingly utilizing multiple channels for shopping, news and business, rather than abandoning old channels in favour of the new.
Social media will never be more than a single, albeit diverse, aspect of marketing.
Social media marketers need to realize that while there is massive potential the emphasis now needs to be on integrating successfully with other marketing channels and creating a multi-channel presence rather than disparaging the effectiveness of other channels. If we make the mistake of competing against ourselves then we’ve already lost.