Social Media Does Not Exist

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. – The Usual Suspects (1995)

I had an interesting discussion recently about Social media strategies.  When discussing inputs to a social media strategy, an admitted “social media skeptic” replied that she thought there shouldn’t be a need for them; rather that social media strategies were really just customer relationship strategies.  Frankly, well put.   MarketingSherpa recently published a study of companies that are integrating social media tactics with offline and online marketing tactics.  I’d like to see the evolution over time and agree with the premise – “The benefits of integrating social media with other marketing tactics far exceed the benefits of utilizing social media alone.”

Effective businesses manage all customer touchpoints – every customer interaction is a chance to impact the experience, whether it’s an ad, a product purchase, a customer service call, talking in the store with an associate, or replying to a post in a social network.  When companies start to realize these synergies, they will be able to achieve a lot more than focusing on pure social media tactics alone.  The customer lifecycle is a journey, and each interaction point can have multiple tactics that make it more compelling (and ultimately provide benefit) to the customer.

The technologies that are available influence traditional marketing tactics already.  In some cases, they magnify each other.  Take these examples:

  • 50% click through rate increase in paid search when consumers were exposed to influenced social media and paid search (comScore & GroupM study).
  • Email marketing approaches need to factor in calls to action in social platforms, like soliciting ratings and reviews for products and services, or asking customers to become fans on Facebook.
  • Attribution of revenue from interactive marketing tactics like paid search, display advertising and landing pages now need to factor social tactics (shared links, social content on site) to understand the impact to analytics and optimization.
  • Location based services like Foursquare and Gowalla are about understanding who is coming to your store offline, and enabling targeted promotions to reward visitors.  (Imagine that, technology that helps bring visitors in the door, and keep them coming back.)

While social media specific strategies can help companies digest and learn the technologies and approaches that build success, they aren’t the end game.  I’d like to see more companies treat social media as if it were an embedded part of building customer relationships, focusing on making the most of all relevant touchpoints they have with customers.  I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at how social technologies are changing and influencing other areas of marketing.  Despite lots of hype and lots of platforms grabbing headlines, I’m convinced that companies who truly embrace social media, by understanding and engaging, are the ones who treat it as if it doesn’t exist.

Don’t just take my word for it – there are others that think the same way.  Think we’ll see the day when “social media” isn’t a separate line item in a marketing plan?

Photo credit: niemster via Flickr

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  • Just as some have said that all (digital) media is social, I also believe that we've always used word of mouth and social marketing, but there wasn't anyone codifying it and calling it such until lately. And because some people new to the idea want to think it's a magic bullet, it's been treated as something completely different than marketing.

    I think it's not only inevitable, but that it's necessary for social media to be considered just one piece of the CRM toolset and marketing plan. People who want to focus on making campaigns go 'viral' as their only strategy are going to get left in the dust.

  • For some reason, the “bargaining at the market” scene from Life of Brian (Monty Python) came to mind as I was reading this post. 🙂 We (people in general) used to know how to listen and communicate with our customers, but mass media changed things. It has taken a shiny new phrase “social media” to remind us about smart, solid relationship building, and the power of word of mouth. Having a new set of tools doesn't change the fundamentals of doing good business. As long as we remember that, we probably won't argue over topics like “which department is in charge of social media” anymore.

  • Great points Adam. At a certain point, new strategies/channels/approaches don't stand alone and actually need to be thought as just part of a holistic approach to certain objectives. I think the different moniker is actually important for a while, in order to convey what is new, exciting, different, and valuable about the “shiny object.” At the end of the day though, Social-based service is still service, SocialCRM is still CRM, etc.

  • In my opinion a very relevant post. So much hype is being created regarding social media that some companies are going for the “overkill”. It is important to understand that social media, though being an excellent medium for marketing; is not sufficient to sustain the customers by itself. To have a long term relationship with the customer or to build a “loyal” customer all touch points should reflect what your social media campaign propagates. It is also important to use it as an “engagement” channel rather than an “advertising” channel.

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  • Great points raised here: it really is about the integration and optimizing all the relevant customer/prospect communication touch points. Tactically, though I do think social media will remain its own line item in much the way that above-the-line and direct marketing channels have separate line items. I get/agree with the sentiment.

  • Anne, have to agree with you about it remaining separate, at least for awhile, but the more companies master it and infuse social into their ideas and initiatives the harder it will be to remain its own line item.

  • Great analogy Veronica! And when clients as me which company should own it, I usually respond by asking which one is more passionate to get it started – and let's revisit it after a few months.

  • Excellent point re: codifying WOM and social marketing. I appreciate the thoughts and look forward to the day when companies truly integrate social into their CRM toolset. Will be exciting to watch.

  • Jonathan Trenn

    But social media SHOULD have its own line item. It can be significantly merged into other capabilities and practices, but much of the engagement along what we consider social media channels – more specifically marketing campaigns – will have its own unique attributes. I'd say it is similar to email marketing.

    Costs could still be accrued for personnel, software, registrations fees.

    Part of the problem is that when social media started to make waves few years ago, much of the traditional marketing/PR/CRM types either rejected it or try to delay it. Consequently, a new kind of specialist appeared. Social media strategist. The separation was so strong back then that people who practice social media began to view it as a completely different animal. It's not. Hence the heavy (and very much needed) integration. But social media won't be fully integrated because like most practices it will have its own methodologies and purposes.

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  • “Social Media” DOES exist.

    But when it becomes so ubiquitous, we'll quit referring to it in that manner.

    Want proof?

    When was the last time you said “I can't wait to get home tonight and watch some Expanded Cable!”

    Well, you DO watch expanded cable. And it DOES exist. But there comes a point when we start talking about specifics to a degree that the intermediate term is no longer necessary.

    Social Media will continue to exist. But we won't talk about it like it's a separate thing, and we certainly won't treat it like it is special.

    But it stands to reason that you won't get very far branding yourself as the Expanded Cable Guru.

  • True words Ike – perhaps my title is a little more provactice, but same premise – companies will hopefully treat it as part of intergrated marketing programs about customer relationships and not “special” anymore. In terms of Expanded Cable Gurus – people become experts about the channels & content being served, and certainly coming up with channels & programs that people like is what makes a “guru” in the TV industry… I think there are great corollaries. Thanks for the comment and resulting post at Occamsrazr!

  • I don't disagree that as a tactic it should be treated like email marketing – it's own attributes, tools, approaches… but the outcomes in terms of measurement and coordination with other relationship marketing programs is key. Email marketing has it's own methodologies & purposes, but isn't it driven by and coordinated with the same overall marketing objectives a business has (alongside paid search, ecommerce, etc)? All I'm saying is social should be treated the same way – not the special outsider.

    In terms of social media strategists, those folks need to have more than skills to use social media, they need business context, marketing/CRM/PR acumen, etc. Agree it's not a separate animal anymore. Thanks for the thoughts Jonathan!

  • I really like exploring the position that social media provides a means to amplify (reach, depth, frequency and even intimacy) customer relationship strategies, rather than exist as a stand-alone program. The tactics associated with the social technologies are keeping so many brands dazed, unable to really examine how to move beyond paralyzing the “try now, see what happens” stage to evaluate ways to marry existing outreach/service initiatives with the new tools.

  • Thanks Heather! I agree, but on the flipside companies need to start somewhere. I had a discussion with an industry analyst recently and the whole premise of the chat was how companies just need better customer relationship strategies that include social tactics. Having a social media strategy will help them get started and figure out how to use the tools and why, but it's more important to understand the customer journey – needs, attitudes and wants, regardless of the technology channel to interact. (Sure, social is different approaches and tactics than any other marketing tactic, but it's still just technology and tools).
    Thanks for dropping by!