The December 14th issue of BusinessWeek has an article entitled: Beware Social Media Snake Oil. The article is intended to be a balanced look at the lack of marketing success some companies are having with social media through industry consultants. I disagree that it’s balanced. I think the article is biased against the social media consulting industry. Here’s why…
As the owner of an inbound marketing agency helping clients get measurable marketing results through web marketing strategies which include social media, I take exception to the general characterization of “snake oil” to my entire industry. Sure, it’s hard. As Chris Brogan points out in the BusinessWeek article, social media marketing is still new. Many companies are still trying to figure out social media. And, some are doing it wrong. And, yes some may be getting bad advice from so called experts. But, that’s no excuse to call the entire industry a bunch of snake oils.
We are in a period of transition in marketing history. As we close out 2009 there are still a mix of traditional marketing channels which allow marketers to deliver outbound messages through tried and true tactics including advertising, mail, events, contests, email, etc. But, as time passes some of these so called tried and true marketing tactics are becoming less and less effective. Ask yourself (as a consumer) how many advertisements you allow yourself to see or read? Better yet, ask yourself how many ads truly influence your purchase decisions? Now, ask yourself (as a consumer) where do you go to get information about products and services you’re considering? I’m not against advertising one iota. But, I want marketers to ask yourself are you willing to ignore the connected consumer regardless of your industry? Are you willing to allow your competitors to engage your target market through social media while you ignore it?
Let the Experiments Begin
Most marketers are beginning to realize they don’t have a choice but to participate in social media. If some social media consultants irresponsibly lead you down a failed path ask yourself did he/she promise quick results? Did he/she promise the tactics would work out of the gate? If he/she was one hundred percent honest he/she explained it will take time and the tactics you try may or may not work. A competent social media consultant will formulate a plan based on research and much dialogue with you to develop the plan. After the plan is developed, then let the experiments begin! That’s right – experiments!
The BusinessWeek article is critical about the inability to measure results. There are numerous articles, books and blogs that have argued that measuring results in social media can be difficult. The issue is exacerbated by consultants counting Twitter followers as results. The only results that matter are tied to sales (or equivalent for non-profits). That said, there are many interim steps that lead to sales and a well planned social media strategy can facilitate those steps. All marketers have the choice of implementing any combination of tactics to reach their consumer. The channels marketers use are a choice. It’s been said for decades by marketers: “Fifty percent of my marketing budget is wasted, I just don’t know which fifty percent.” This is no excuse for not measuring. The issue is how do we measure results? I’ve blogged about measuring results and written about it in my book, and so have many others more prominent than me such as Chris Brogan.
Results in Motion
All businesses want to get a return on their marketing. However, measurable results from a social media strategy may or may not look the same as they do in other channels. And, they may or may not happen quickly. While there are many big brand examples of successful social media marketing including Dell, Comcast, IBM, Starbucks, Ford and Zappos, there are also examples of smaller, unknown brands. I call these results in motion because they are a work in progress. Remember, social media is still new!
Consider how Utica, N.Y. based Indium Corp reaches a worldwide audience of engineers to educate them about their solder paste used in electronic assembly equipment. In this B2B example, Indium has 85 blogs staffed by 15 engineers. They also produce video content which is educational and sometimes humorous. Results: They produce contacts with engineers around the world, a portion of which become sales opportunities…Results in motion….
Consider how Toronto based Homemakers Magazine reaches Canadian women to engage them on topics such as cooking, health and life balance. They have a diversiied content strategy which gets delivered across various channels on the web. They measure the growth of their reach, which is a stepping stone to selling subscriptions and advertising…Results in motion.
Consider how Ford Motor Company developed their social media strategy as summarized in this slide deck:
Notice that the word “product” or “sales” is not in their social media strategy statement. But, look at their most recent sales results (below). I’m not suggesting that their social media strategy is entirely the reason for their positive sales performance. I believe strongly that Ford is an example of a big brand who is doing an effective job of integrating traditional marketing (e.g. television advertising) with social media through community centric events and activities which builds trust with the consumer and spreads through word of mouth, all under the leadership of Scott Monty, their head of social media.
These are just a few of many examples of businesses who recognize they must experiment with these new social media channels. In the process of experimenting they are willing to take some risk and learn lessons about what does and doesn’t work. They are measuring results that impact their brand, which impacts their ability to differentiate from competitors and compete for sales.
Do marketers really have a choice but to experiment with social media? Remember the question I asked about where do you turn to gain insights about the products and services you buy? If your answer wasn’t the Internet are you being honest? When you turn to the Internet to search for products and services, do you rely on ads or do you seek input from others and do you allow input from others to influence your decision?
I am a BusinessWeek subscriber and I have been for many years. I rely on BW to keep me informed on many business topics. I have seen BW do follow ups to stories in the past. For example, in May 2005 BW did a cover story on blogging and the impact on business. In May 2008 they did a follow up to that cover story called Beyond Blogs, which expanded the coverage to social media. While the social media snake oil story is not a cover story, I would like to see BW do a follow up story with favorable examples of companies (not limited to large brands like Ford) who are getting solid advice from consultants and who are achieving measurable results, even if those results are results in motion….