Marketing professionals are feverishly obsessed with “social media marketing.” Social media includes websites where huge numbers of users provide their own content and create connections and relationships by sharing information and following each other’s updates. There are dozens, and perhaps hundreds of these sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, Spoke, academy, Classmates.com, Friendster and Flickr, where people exchange business and personal information, status updates, photographs, videos, news articles, political views, resumes, sexual interests, sports opinions, recipes, health facts and endless amounts of other data.
It doesn’t end there. Social media marketing also includes the use of blogs, online videos, discussion forums and creating ways to allow customers to provide feedback and ratings on the pages of your websites. And a lot more. It’s tremendously valuable and some organizations have done a great job getting real value out of their social media marketing efforts. Without a doubt, there are massive marketing benefits available to marketers who can figure out how to harness the attention and preferences of audiences using social media tools. Everywhere you turn in the marketing world, people are promoting the value of engaging social media for business purposes. I quickly went through a week’s worth of emails to find invitations to attend or view whitepapers, webinars, and conferences. Here is a sampling of what I’ve received over the last seven days:
- How to Develop a Social Media Strategy That Works For Your Brand
- Connecting Constant Contact and Social Media for Internet Marketing Success
- Free webinar – Webcasting + Social Media Increase Attendance: An UNLEASH09 Case Study
- The Best of Both Worlds: How to Effectively Leverage Social Media Relationships with Real-Time Collaboration Tools
- Email Gone Viral: How To Extend Email Reach Through Social Sharing
- 2009 B2B Social Media Benchmarketing Study
- Service in the Time of the Social Customer
- Understanding Your Online Reach
- Generate a Buzz for Your Business Through Social Media Marketing. Convert that Buzz into Revenue.
- 5 Killer Ways to Promote Your Facebook Fan Page
Now, I subscribe to several marketing newsletters, but there are hundreds of others and this list represents just a week of emails– and I probably missed some. Marketing via social media is white-hot– the level of excitement is off the charts.
However, can not yet substitute entirely for other, more traditional forms of marketing. Recently, I was on an “expert panel” at a marketing event and the audience was breathlessly excited about social media. At one point, all of us panelists were asked to comment on the value of this new channel and when it was my turn, I stated that while I thought social media would someday provide enormous marketing value, I was concerned that people were focusing too much effort and attention on it. I said that, in my view, there was probably no huge “first-mover advantage” in figuring out how to market successfully via social media and that it was important to continue to utilize email, direct mail, direct sales, telesales, advertising and other channels for now. I said that people should make sure they stayed current with what was happening in social media and they should be constantly experimenting, but, since no one has yet cracked the code on measuring the results of these new opportunities, it was important not to get distracted from demand generation methods we currently use that we know are effective.
These statements won me a large number of dirty looks and I felt like I ‘d just announced that I was predicting a major comeback in Yellow Pages advertising. Several people in the audience probably dismissed any notion of hiring my company to do marketing consulting for them and I think there may have been murmurs of organizing a lynch mob. The odd thing is that I actually am very excited about the potential of social media marketing and we use it in my company every day. I just think that its value as a form of demand generation isn’t clearly understood yet and, since it’s not very measurable, it flies in the face of responsible marketing for most companies to devote inordinate amounts of resources to it.
We have a tendency in marketing to assume that new channels make old ones obsolete. For example, when email began to gain in popularity and effectiveness, many marketers concluded that direct mail was on its way out. Oddly enough, email marketing, to some extent, became a victim of its own success. Spam grew at a faster rate than quality email, and soon customers’ inboxes were loaded with so much garbage that system administrators all over the country became more aggressive at filtering out unwanted emails. Unfortunately, a lot of good quality email, much of which customers had subscribed to, got caught in spam filters. Deliverability rates of email marketing campaigns dropped precipitously and the whole medium has lost some of its effectiveness. The net result is that direct mail, good old fashioned printed offers sent through the USPS, has made somewhat of a comeback. The death of direct mail was highly exaggerated.
Something similar is likely to happen to social media marketing and I think it’s already started. For example, I get many emails telling me that people have started to follow me on Twitter. These emails contain no information about my new fans, just a cryptic user name, which I can click on if I want to see who it is. What I have discovered is that a growing number of these “followers” are providers of porn and are probably signing up to follow tens of thousands of unsuspecting Twitter users like me. If this continues unchecked, I will not be a Twitter user for long because, as it turns out, I am not actively seeking more junk mail in my inbox. I suspect you are not, either.
Social media efforts
My own company has yet to generate any business from our social media efforts. “Old” methods like telephone calls, emails, speaking at conferences and networking still drive most of our business. When I started Real Results Marketing five and a half years ago, I resolved to go through my contacts and either email or telephone people in my network every month. To this day, most of the business opportunities we uncover happen through this type of work and former colleagues are still the richest source of consulting deals. It’s a real struggle sometimes to make myself take time out of a busy day to make those calls or send those emails, but they’ve proven so vitally important to our revenue stream that I don’t dare let up on these efforts.
I realize that most businesses can’t rely on the founder’s professional network as a primary form of demand generation. Bigger companies have their own tried-and-true methods for driving growth. Your company may utilize a sales force, telesales personnel, advertising campaigns, sophisticated database marketing initiatives, and other tools for creating sales opportunities and I ‘d argue that the importance of those approaches hasn’t diminished one bit in the face of social media growth. Whatever has worked for you historically should still be the primary focus of your sales and marketing. You certainly want to stay plugged into social media and, by all means, attend workshops, conferences, and seminars on the subject. It might even be a smart investment to devote a headcount or two to doing nothing but experimenting with these exciting new marketing tools.
Someday, someone will master how to market effectively and measurably via social media. Once that happens, all of us in marketing will need to learn how to adapt those discoveries to our businesses and use them to drive sales and profits. Until that time, however, marketers should focus most of their resources on the tools they understand so they can live up to their primary responsibility of driving profitable, long term growth for their employers. I have joked that I have become the leading advocate for “antisocial media marketing.” I’m actually a big supporter of these exciting new channels– just not at the expense of marketing techniques that have been proven to work. Nonetheless, my less extreme position on the subject probably means I won’t be voted the most popular speaker at marketing conferences in the future. I’ll just have to be sure I stay one step ahead of the lynch mob and keep making my networking calls month after month. Read more about Social Media in Inbound Marketing.
I hope your business is thriving. You may be hearing from me soon.
Ian G. Heller is the founder and senior partner at Real Results Marketing, Inc. With senior executive experience at companies like GE Capital and Grainger, CEO experience at a private-equity owned firm and countless consulting engagements, Ian brings a realistic and bottom-line focus to marketing and strategic planning.