Social Media is Not Your Savior

It may be unexpected counsel coming from an agency’s lead representative of the social media marketing practice, but the truth is, social media will not save your marketing program.

With my mind on spring training this week, here’s an analogy: the pitcher is arguably one of the most important members of a baseball team, but pitching alone can’t carry a team to the World Series. The same is true for social media. Marketing is a team sport, and social media is just one player.

Yes, I understand – and advocate daily – that social media can be a powerful communications tool and has enabled a sea change in how we communicate. But so did the printing press, the radio, the TV, the Internet. There will always be game changers. But that doesn’t make any one of them the Holy Grail.

The reality is this: a winning marketing program is integrated; it includes the best combination of channels and tactics, and although social media may be the newest kid on the communications block, the basics of good marketing still apply.

Social media is not a strategy: Clients often ask, “What’s our social strategy?” While I understand what they’re asking, the preface to the response is that we don’t consider social a strategy in and of itself. Social media are channels – channels which need their own best practices applied to them – but channels nonetheless. Our strategy is a marketing strategy. How and why we use social media (or other PR tactics) all play into meeting the overall strategic framework.

Social media should not be a silo: “If you build it, they will come” is a dangerous approach to embarking on a social media marketing effort. Consider the realities of Facebook: there are 800 million users, and Social Bakers indexes almost 1.5 million Facebook Pages. That is a tremendous amount of information being fed to and from an incredibly large, diverse audience.
Consider further that the vast majority of people who “Like” your Page don’t come back to the Page to get your updates. They get them through their News Feeds, and only a percentage of the news you are posting is reaching those feeds. This isn’t meant to discourage; social media marketing can have a positive impact on your marketing efforts. But you need to make your programs more holistic. Support online via offline with visual reminders and links to your social channels on signage and in advertising. Use email marketing to drive social participation. Just as you wouldn’t put all of your eggs in the TV advertising basket, don’t expect social media marketing to do it all.

Social media is not all about marketing. Last fall, Harvard Business Review published a great piece on social media being much more than marketing or technology. It’s one of the reasons I tend to be adamant about using the term social media marketing – and not just social media. The uses for social media go beyond the marketing realm – it can, and is, changing the way we collaborate with internal teams, gather customer insights and R&D, and conduct customer service.

It’s an exciting time to be in PR and marketing; and social media marketing is an exciting arena in which to work. But unfounded in more traditional best practices – identifying target audiences, determining your business and marketing goals, developing a holistic program in line with your strategic directives – it won’t be your savior.

2 Responses to “Social Media is Not Your Savior”

  1. Candace –

    Thanks for your thought provoking post. While I agree with you that social media is not contained to only marketing (or pr, sales, customer care, or (fill in the blank), I respectfully, disagree and believe that it demands a strategy of its own .. not unlike pr or marketing or customer care or (fill in the blank).

    Assuming that social media touches all aspects of an organization, IMPO it’s critical to have an over arching direction that integrates with all BU/departments/employees who are impacted by its intrusion (I use intrusion not as a negative). Without that high level focus how can the brand promise or values be consistently represented internally and externally? How can we use social media to support business goals and objectives? How can we incorporate it into campaigns and use it as a digital conversation tool that becomes an asset unto itself?

    Social media has evolved into more than just a channel, communication outreach or customer service vehicle. I would suggest that the “tools” of social media e.g. social networks, blogs, podcasts, blogger relations, etc. are the tactics under the umbrella of social media strategy.

    Going back to your title — social media, for sure, is not the savior of a brand or enterprise. However, it has evolved to command the same respect as other marketing/communication disciplines to be consider a ‘strategy.”

    • Hi Toby:

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. While I do still strongly believe that a social “strategy” is better placed within an overall marketing strategy – which would also encompass PR and advertising – I completely concur with you that social media marketing has evolved to command the same respect as other marketing disciplines. In fact, my view is that because it is such a valuable and credible part of marketing success, that’s exactly why it doesn’t belong in a solo and should be integrated into the larger marketing strategy.

      As you so smartly put it, “how can the brand promise or values be consistently represented internally and externally” without that larger view?

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!


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