social-media-schoolGiven 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.

Matt Owen

Published 6 September, 2010 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen is a marketing consultant based in London. He was previously Head of Social at Econsultancy and currently runs Atomise Marketing. Opinions expressed are author's own.

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Comments (12)

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Steve Dempsey

Couldn't agree more with all of the above. Integration of SM with existing marketing & communications is the next evolutionary step. 

Mind you, the most common problem with social media i've noted is that clients think it's a cheap and/or quick alternative to traditional communications.

great post though.


almost 8 years ago


jacob wright

Hallelujah.  Readers in the UK will be reminded of William Hague's gaffe last week - there were smear rumours about him posted on the internet but the majority of the population knew nothing about it until he made the mistake of issuing a statement to the press...  If you want fast awareness and quick shifts in perception, broadcast is still king (and probably always will be).

almost 8 years ago


Juius Duncan

Enjoyed your points, and agree that we've got to beware 'hype' around social. On your last point I would question if it's only a ever going to be 'a single, albeit diverse, aspect of marketing'. The fundamental change that social brings i.e. an instant 'backchannel' for consumers of marketing, makes it a game changer in my eyes. This is demonstrated in the growth of behaviours like social TV viewing (as supported by the new BBC iPlayer's social functionality). Other marketing disciplines will remain important, but they will all be touched, altered and enhanced by social.      

almost 8 years ago


Eddie May

Excellent post and a great reminder that, while SM is clearly here to stay, "traditional" media still exerts a huge influence on consumers and still drives much of the debate and conversation in the social sphere.  The most effective campaigns see the two areas working hand in hand, and aligned with ATL activity. 

almost 8 years ago


Allen Bonde

Great post and reminders that social media is a channel - nothing more and nothing less. And I love the point about buzz and brand awareness predating social media. Amazingly these practices existing before the Internet too ;-) One additional point about replacement or 'substitution' of other sources. Just as when we saw certain types of spending at a campaign or advertiser level shift from print to online in the early 2000's, economic substitution IS happening with social media. For example, some viral coupon campaigns being run on Twitter using our platform are in fact replacing email campaigns - in some cases with similar or better performance but a much lower cost. And I have several clients who have shifted campaigns from Google AdWords to Facebook, for the same reason. Economics is a power driver!

almost 8 years ago


Mike Newton-Ward

Excellent points.  I think something that is lacking whether one is talking about traditional media or "new" (i.e., social) media, is thinking and planning STRATEGICALLY, rather than just jumping to tactics.  Also, many individuals--and organizations--equate marketing with communication, and miss all the wonderful light that the science of marketing can shed on why people do the things they do (that goes beyond knowledge and awareness).

almost 8 years ago

Ling Khang Lee

Ling Khang Lee, eCommerce Development Analyst at Bankwest

Great article. I agree with many of the points highlighted. Companies need to think strategically and integrate tools into the marketing mix for effective penetration. Many people forget that social media is just a tool.

almost 8 years ago


Fredrick Nijm

You are so correct. You cannot just jump to a new channel and forget what was working and got you to where you are today. I believe Facebook will only get bigger and bigger and more powerful of a tool, but it is not the only tool out there. Social media is just a set of tools that need to be used together. 

almost 8 years ago


David Laud

Excellent points - social media can only really work for a business if it's linked to the overall communication strategy.  It's another form of broadcast media that requires planning..the paradox here is that most social media is instant fast moving and reactive - if it looks planned and slick it's likely to be ignored.

A challenge for today's marketers is therefore to retain a sharp and effective personality with social media that engages the audience.

Totally agree that we shouldn't overlook lessons from traditional media. By way of example, if your twitter accounts are TV channels you'd not get far  broadcasting adverts 24/7 but you may gather eyeballs with interesting, funny, informative and entertaining messages with a occasional promotional plug. 

almost 8 years ago


Outsourcing Philippines

For proper use of social media, we need to know or learn the basic in marketing. That way we could promote or market any product well with social media.

almost 8 years ago


Barry Dennis

"Know your Customer."

Of all the Basics that apply to Social, Know Your Customer seems to be most relevant.

All things flow from that basic Marketing Commandment.

almost 8 years ago



I think social media is still a babay among many other forms of marketing and a lot of folks still misunderstood what it's really all about.  It's simply not a numbers game, but it's a platform that lets you connect with your customers faster.  I totally agree with you on trust.  Businesses who made huge success out of social media marketing did it not because they got the most number of audience, but because they sold the idea of trust.  I guess, not many will admit that they find this the hardest thing to do on the Web.

almost 8 years ago

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