Why Social Media Marketing Is Not Delivering on Its Promise: Part 3

by Sean Garvey, President, InGo

Last week, in part 2 of the series, I talked about how the majority of marketers, both in the events industry and outside of it, feel frustrated and disappointed by the reality of trying to produce and measure the ROI of social media marketing. This week, I’d like to conclude this series by revealing how I believe we can change our approach to marketing on social media and better unlock its potential.

One of the implicit promises of social media is encompassed in the word social.  Social media, for all its current disappointments as a marketing vehicle, has shown many examples of the incredible cultural power it has: overnight YouTube celebrities, virilization, ice-bucket challenges, etc.  There is no doubt that there is dynamite in social media.  However, the way social media marketing has been adopted to date is with an emphasis on the marketing and a lack of emphasis on the word social.

Everyone knows intuitively that word-of-mouth marketing (trusted resources freely recommending a product or brand to other interested, potential buyers) is the most powerful type of marketing, and all the studies bear that fact out.  But that’s because it really isn’t marketing per se, at least not in the traditional sense.  Marketing is essentially an activity that brands undertake, to get their message in front of as many of the right consumers as possible, and they pay very handsomely, both to craft that message and have it delivered to the right consumer at the right time. The presence of a monetary incentive and the lack of trust in the relationship, make it a subtly but inescapably adversarial one: the brand has a vested interest in convincing the consumer to buy, and the consumer knows this.  Word-of-mouth marketing - ‘person-to-person’ not ‘brand-to-consumer’ - circumvents and cuts through all of that native distrust and natural skepticism.  The only problem is, it can’t be bought.  

In fact, to buy it is to neuter it….  

So therein lies the oh-so-frustrating rub; a technological advancement that enables word-of-mouth marketing on an unprecedented global scale, that isn’t purchasable or obtainable by brands via the traditional approach.  To square this circle, a change in thinking and a different approach is required. 

The first step is to recognize how social media is different than any previous technological advancement.  Unlike TV, email, even the printing press, it is not unidirectional (brand speaking to passive consumer.)  It is bidirectional and even multi-directional.  On social media, the “consumers” have a voice, and they love to use it.  And that leads to our second insight.  

The people on social media are not ‘consumers waiting to be marketed to.’  As noted above, they have a voice, and they are talking, a lot.  What are they talking about?  Themselves, their opinions, the things they are passionate about and want the world of their friends and colleagues to know.  Consciously or unconsciously, they are engaged in ‘brand promotion’: the brand of themselves online.   

The last insight, is to notice our own behavior on-line. None of us click on the top returns from a Google search, because we know they’ve been paid for. Yet many of us pay for them.  When logged in as ourselves, most of us are completely unaware of the “suggested posts” on Facebook, but again, many of us marketers pay for them.  

Once we’ve discovered these three insights, we can change our approach to marketing on social media and better unlock its potential.  My audience is not peopled with consumer targets; it is full of potential co-marketers.  Rather than finding more and better ways to target and track ‘consumers’ like they are game, we can turn our efforts to empowering them to market on our behalf.  This is what we call ‘advocate marketing.’

This change in approach is counter-intuitive, and takes intellectual discipline to implement thoroughly.  However, when done well, the results show beyond the shadow of a doubt, that our most powerful marketing asset is already in our possession - our audience. 

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