When I first started tweeting and blogging, the big thing everybody was talking about was, “You need to network and really engage with people.” That seemed to be the end-all and be-all of most social media advice you got. This advice was offered regardless of your business. If you were a marketer – you needed to engage. A lawyer? You’d better engage. A salesman for cans of dried soybeans? Yep. You’d better engage.
The problem I’ve had with this is that just talking to people makes marketing (or selling) kind of difficult. If I ask you how your ill family member is doing, you might like me better as a person, but will that make you buy from me? Not necessarily. In fact, in that kind of scenario, what I do for business is probably the last thing on your mind.
Now, the tide is turning and we are trying to talk about social media as just another marketing channel. However, I fear that there are some big steps missing in this transition. How can we go from just “talking” to actually using social media as a marketing platform?
What is marketing?
Initially, I was going to make this post primarily about the dichotomy between “talking to people” and marketing. I asked my Facebook crew how they defined marketing. I got a wide diversity of answers, only a few of which were the results of me knowing some very smartypants people (i.e. marketing is lying, marketing is a myth). I lead a hard life. Anyway, here are some of the answers I got:
“Building a structured awareness of a product or service to a targeted buyer.” ~Bob Reed
“Marketing is basically everything behind the process of creating lifelong customers.” ~Olivier Blanchard
“For me, marketing encompasses everything from POP, packaging, media to the person the company hires to deliver their widget to the masses, but I’m pervasive that way.” Molly Cantrell-Kraig
“Marketing is the art and science of communicating the value of your product or service to prospective and current customers.” ~Sean McGinnis
“Influencing (positively and/or negatively) consumer behavior through targeted messaging.” ~Andree Cojocariu
I also remembered that while back Heidi Cohen had gathered insight into how people defined marketing. Heidi notes that the American Marketing Association defines marketing thusly:
“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
I guess they should know.
So, I had my definitions of marketing. But then my friend Nic Wirtz threw me a little curveball. He said, “I’m stuck. Social media is mainly ‘talking/engaging with people’.” If that’s true, I began to wonder if social media “marketing” is really an appropriate phrase to use.
The catch with marketing on social media
Here’s the big problem. With so much emphasis early on focusing on “engagement” and “the conversation,” marketing got framed as bad, as did selling. If by sheer chance you talked to someone who needed a car and you sold cars, then you were the beneficiary of social media serendipity, but I’m not 100% sure that’s marketing, at least based on traditional definitions. If you talk to people a lot and they know who you work for but you never talk about business, you might be sharing value with potential customers, but it’s a value that does not always tie directly back to your business.
Knowing that most companies need to make money in order to survive, some companies have tried to barge into social media communities with a strong “buy me” message. Note what happened, for example, when Toyota decided to message countless people with promotional messages around Super Bowl time. These kinds of ploys make people feel like marketers and marketing are yucky (professional term). Note, for example, how Dan Perez reacted when marketers started jumping onto the Pinterest bandwagon. Certainly those kinds of tactics aren’t positive either.
So, if talking to people is NOT marketing and marketing on social media sites is evil, what do we mean when we say “social media marketing?” Is this some sort of hybrid created by Dr.Xavier in his secret hideout?
Social Media Marketing
This is a case where, honestly, I really don’t have a 100% solid answer. Wikipedia defines social media marketing as: “The process of gaining website traffic or attention through social media sites.” That could well be part of it, but the purpose of marketing is really to create sales, right? I mean, that’s what you’re hoping for. Maybe this is how people got so confused about ROI. If you are driving traffic to your website, it may look like your social media marketing campaign is a success. However, if all of those people are visiting and then leaving without buying (or maybe without even coming back) you’re in a bit of a pickle.
So, if we can agree that marketing is NOT talking to people, and if we can agree that marketing on a lot of social media sites is most definitely frowned upon, and if we can agree that social media marketing ultimately needs to drive sales, how are we defining social media marketing?
Or am I just crunching my brains over a peanut?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/intersectionconsulting/3542116767/ via Creative Commons