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?
- 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.
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?“