Yes, Virginia, It's Okay to Market via Social Media

This week’s “Social Media Debate of the Week” is whether social media is marketing. Like all good debates, this one has many layers:

  • Can a company market itself via social media?
  • Should it?
  • When is it acceptable for a company to promote itself?
  • How?
  • Is there an “appropriate” balance of promotional and non-promotional content?

Beth Harte kicks it off by asking “Is social media the same as marketing?

Social media is about sharing and discussing information. It’s communications, not marketing. 

The ever thoughtful Mack Collier takes a whack at the topic, too:

The problem that most companies have with social media is this:

1 – They view social media as being a new marketing channel, when actually they are communication channels

2 – Since they view social media as a marketing channel, they attempt to push marketing messages through these channels

3 – Since they view social media as a marketing channel, and attempt to push marketing messages through these channels, they attempt to directly monetize their social media efforts.

All of these problems conspire to ensure that the company has a totally disastrous result.

Social Media are Just Channels…They Don’t Follow Rules

I see what Beth’s trying to say, but I disagree with her on two points.

First, social media isn’t just about sharing and discussing information. Yes, many of us use the social media that way — especially those of us in PR and marketing — but not all of us. There are still lots of folks using social media who aren’t here for dialectics.

Second, social media is neither communications nor marketing. They are simply media. Like telephones, newspapers or television cameras, they are just channels. True, we tend to use social media today more for conversation than dictation, but this is a function of current mores; that can change. If the tone on Twitter, blogs and Facebook is cordial, collaborative and conversational today, it’s just because it’s early.

{ B is for ,,We all use telephones to chit-chat with family and friends. Does that make the telephone a social medium? Maybe. And yet, it’s a marketing medium, too. Telemarketing is a billion dollar industry because, irritating though it may be, it’s a highly effective strategy for some businesses.

Newspapers give us a similar lesson. As a former journalist, I’d like to imagine newspapers exist to inform citizens, keep government and big business in check, and provide a forum for public discourse. They don’t. Newspapers exist to sell advertising.

The lesson here is that while social media enable conversation, we’ve only scratched the surface of how these tools can/will be used. Proscribing how they should be used is like sticking a finger in the dam to stop the coming flood.

Social Media is Opt-In — Who Says Aggressive Marketing Doesn’t Fit?

I agree with Mack, Beth and others who say being a push marketer isn’t necessarily the best social media strategy. But for some comapnies, it might be.

Let’s look at two companies:

Company A does Twitter “the right way.” They put a human face on their Twitter profile, spend time listening, monitor Twitter search, answer questions, resolve customer complaints, and support a community. It’s time-consuming — about 5 hours of staff time each week (translation: cost), but over six months, they’ve attracted 5,000 followers. After building trust, they run a big contest that generates 500 visits to their website.

Company B doesn’t converse; they market themselves. Their Twitter profile is a brand name and their Tweets are an automated stream of press releases and promotions. They don’t spend a ton of time interacting with followers (translation: low costs). Over six month, they attract 500 followers. They get 25-50 visits to their website each week from Twitter.

So, who wins?

My point is this: We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss or criticize those who defy our behavioral codes in pursuit of new marketing tactics. Beth (yep, that Beth again) nails it when she asks, “Who made the social media rules?

What say you? Is social media a marketing channel, a communication channel, or both? Is it fair to dictate the “dos” and “don’ts” of social media? Do you agree with this message about “How to Use Twitter for Marketing and PR?

  • http://www.theharteofmarketing.com Beth Harte

    Scott, you disagree with me?!?! I can't believe my eyes! Hmmm, I am thinking, pony or not, an immediate unfollow on Twitter is in order! ;-) Teasing…

    Okay, not to be nitpicky, but well, I will be because that's just me…and besides I love a good debate. If we look at the definition of social media it's “tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings.” They are tools used to communicate and those communications are not always dialectics. And yes, those tools can be used to market (indirectly), which I did say. I never said that social media couldn't be used for marketing. So, I think we agree, yes? Drat, I guess we really aren't debating here after all.

    But I would agree with you that I am being somewhat staunch in applying the principals of both social media, marketing and communications. Given we are in the adolescence of social media it will be interesting to see what happens to the term. And in following my own thoughts on social media rules, it really is up to the community to determine if they like how a company is using social media to either share and discuss information or just plain push marketing messages. As well, your example is a great way to demonstrate the potential validity of SMM. But I'll choose to be Company A (except, I'll pass on the contest!) over Company B any day. (BTW, I seriously doubt that company B will generate that much traffic each week. I'd venture a guess that that's why they are looking into social media in the first place, because the traditional marketing tactics were no longer working…and eventually their SMM will stop as well. But that's just my two sense.)

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Thanks for the thoughts, Beth.

    I think in most cases, Company A will be more successful. I wrote this post mostly because of what I see as increasing group think on subjects like “social media best practices.” I know…me, the devil's advocate? Who knew?! ;)

    As much as I prefer the more personal, sophisticated approach to social media, I'm trying to challenge myself, here. It's only a matter of time before Billy Mays is Tweeting about the Foreman Grill, OxiClean or the Really Tight Jar Lid Unsticker Thingie.

    Annoying? Yes. Effective? Apparently. At least on TV. It's already working on YouTube (a social platform), and I'm sure someone will find a way to make money using Shout About Yourself in other social arenas.

  • http://www.datexmedia.wordpress.com Scott Mahler-Datex Media

    Social media is a communication channel, but let's face it, all marketing does is promote their business/product/services through communication channels. That's the conduit for attaining new business. That being said, there is a fine line you must walk, when marketing through social media. I see too many people on twitter that only tweet links to their blogs or websites. Social media is about relationships building, much like networking. If you build an honest relationship with people, they will be more likely to help promote you. Great post and very thought provoking…thanks

  • http://www.theharteofmarketing.com Beth Harte

    Scott, you disagree with me?!?! I can't believe my eyes! Hmmm, I am thinking, pony or not, an immediate unfollow on Twitter is in order! ;-) Teasing…

    Okay, not to be nitpicky, but well, I will be because that's just me…and besides I love a good debate. If we look at the definition of social media it's “tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings.” They are tools used to communicate and those communications are not always dialectics. And yes, those tools can be used to market (indirectly), which I did say. I never said that social media couldn't be used for marketing. So, I think we agree, yes? Drat, I guess we really aren't debating here after all.

    But I would agree with you that I am being somewhat staunch in applying the principals of both social media, marketing and communications. Given we are in the adolescence of social media it will be interesting to see what happens to the term. And in following my own thoughts on social media rules, it really is up to the community to determine if they like how a company is using social media to either share and discuss information or just plain push marketing messages. As well, your example is a great way to demonstrate the potential validity of SMM. But I'll choose to be Company A (except, I'll pass on the contest!) over Company B any day. (BTW, I seriously doubt that company B will generate that much traffic each week. I'd venture a guess that that's why they are looking into social media in the first place, because the traditional marketing tactics were no longer working…and eventually their SMM will stop as well. But that's just my two sense.)

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Thanks for the thoughts, Beth.

    I think in most cases, Company A will be more successful. I wrote this post mostly because of what I see as increasing group think on subjects like “social media best practices.” I know…me, the devil's advocate? Who knew?! ;)

    As much as I prefer the more personal, sophisticated approach to social media, I'm trying to challenge myself, here. It's only a matter of time before Billy Mays is Tweeting about the Foreman Grill, OxiClean or the Really Tight Jar Lid Unsticker Thingie.

    Annoying? Yes. Effective? Apparently. At least on TV. It's already working on YouTube (a social platform), and I'm sure someone will find a way to make money using Shout About Yourself in other social arenas.

  • http://www.datexmedia.wordpress.com Scott Mahler-Datex Media

    Social media is a communication channel, but let's face it, all marketing does is promote their business/product/services through communication channels. That's the conduit for attaining new business. That being said, there is a fine line you must walk, when marketing through social media. I see too many people on twitter that only tweet links to their blogs or websites. Social media is about relationships building, much like networking. If you build an honest relationship with people, they will be more likely to help promote you. Great post and very thought provoking…thanks

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Thanks for joining the fracas, Scott. I'm chuckling at the irony that you posted your company name in the name field of the comment. Hey, why not! ;)

    In general, I agree with you (and Beth) (and everyone else) that social media IN MOST CASES is most effective as a connection/relationship building channel. And, as you rightly point out, it's a fine line when you market yourself.

    I think one possible delineation point could be B2B vs. B2C. I'm much more receptive to Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks blatantly promoting themselves (sans conversation) versus XYZ Sales Coach or ABC Law Firm. I don't want to converse with my donuts and coffee, I want to eat and drink them.

    I dunno…I'm just spitballing here. Thought it would be fun to argue against “conventional” wisdom.

  • http://www.theharteofmarketing.com Beth Harte

    Keep playing devil's advocate & throwing spitballs…we need someone with a voice of reason!! ;-) I totally agree with you that companies will be more like example B (that was my prediction for 2009). That's why I think 2009 is going to be so interesting…as least I am interested in what happens and who gets called to the carpet (for good and bad). :)

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Thanks for joining the fracas, Scott. I'm chuckling at the irony that you posted your company name in the name field of the comment. Hey, why not! ;)

    In general, I agree with you (and Beth) (and everyone else) that social media IN MOST CASES is most effective as a connection/relationship building channel. And, as you rightly point out, it's a fine line when you market yourself.

    I think one possible delineation point could be B2B vs. B2C. I'm much more receptive to Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks blatantly promoting themselves (sans conversation) versus XYZ Sales Coach or ABC Law Firm. I don't want to converse with my donuts and coffee, I want to eat and drink them.

    I dunno…I'm just spitballing here. Thought it would be fun to argue against “conventional” wisdom.

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Thanks for joining the fracas, Scott. I'm chuckling at the irony that you posted your company name in the name field of the comment. Hey, why not! ;)

    In general, I agree with you (and Beth) (and everyone else) that social media IN MOST CASES is most effective as a connection/relationship building channel. And, as you rightly point out, it's a fine line when you market yourself.

    I think one possible delineation point could be B2B vs. B2C. I'm much more receptive to Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks blatantly promoting themselves (sans conversation) versus XYZ Sales Coach or ABC Law Firm. I don't want to converse with my donuts and coffee, I want to eat and drink them.

    I dunno…I'm just spitballing here. Thought it would be fun to argue against “conventional” wisdom.

  • http://www.theharteofmarketing.com Beth Harte

    Keep playing devil's advocate & throwing spitballs…we need someone with a voice of reason!! ;-) I totally agree with you that companies will be more like example B (that was my prediction for 2009). That's why I think 2009 is going to be so interesting…as least I am interested in what happens and who gets called to the carpet (for good and bad). :)

  • http://www.theharteofmarketing.com Beth Harte

    Keep playing devil's advocate & throwing spitballs…we need someone with a voice of reason!! ;-) I totally agree with you that companies will be more like example B (that was my prediction for 2009). That's why I think 2009 is going to be so interesting…as least I am interested in what happens and who gets called to the carpet (for good and bad). :)