Why Social Media is NOT Marketing

There’s a real danger today as functional groups within organizations begin to take on social media.  Who will take ownership of social media, and what purpose will this technology serve for the organization as a whole?  Will it be marketing… or for that matter, PR, product, sales, or R&D… that takes the reigns of tackling this?  The reality is that no single group should be aligning itself with social media alone.

Social media is the definition of a method of communication. That’s it.

It means that individuals can now have conversations with their friends, companies and governments in a way that they never could before.  Everyone can talk to everyone.

It’s open and public dialogue, and people talk about what they want to talk about.

If you read between the lines, I am saying that people don’t talk about things that do not interest them.  And there lies the danger of aligning traditional marketing goals with social media.  A lot of people are not listening to the conversations that are currently taking place, and then going straight for what they know whether it be the fundamental principles of marketing, PR, etc.

I think it’s easier to see with an example (this is not from a specific client, but a generalization from what we see).


Imagine you work in Marketing for a large credit card company. 

Here’s what you know - We market our credit cards to college students, and they are highly profitable.  Typically, they stay loyal to credit card brands over the course of time.  In addition, they hold balances, but eventually pay them off in order to maintain good credit.  College students generally will have increasing salaries over the course of time, and will thus spend more money with us.  Bottom line – College students should be pursued to become new customers of our credit card.

Here’s what you find listening to social media – College students really don’t talk about credit cards with their friends on social networks.  On the other hand, there are a lot of other groups talking about credit cards in reference to your company and your competitors.

Here’s what you think - If we use the right marketing, we can figure out a way to reach college students through social media, if we make the content and tone engaging.  They are a profitable group, so we should probably attack that demographic first.  In addition, they are one of the most active demographics in social media, so it might be easier to engage this group.

Here’s what can happen- It turns out that college students actually do not care enough about credit card companies, APRs and annual fees, especially when it comes to sharing with their friends and communities.  The social media assets that we setup to engage this group begin to accumulate dust, and eventually we think that the social media does not provide adequate ROI.

What we could have done

If we think of social media more as communication method, then maybe we could have started first by listening to who is actually communicating about credit cards.  Are these positive conversations or negative ones?  Maybe it’s newly married couples, entrepreneurs or people starting new jobs. 

Then we need to understand what they are saying.  Consolidating credit cards between couples, financing a new project or increasing credit limits…

And then we need to find ways to answer their questions, and engage with them.  This may involve monitoring, engaging or building social media assets.

But I think we all need to go through this exercise whether we are Marketing, PR or Sales professionals.  Who is talking about us, what are they saying, and can we make that experience better by engaging more closely based on what we do?

Social media is not marketing, but a communication tool that can make some parts of marketing more effective for our business as well as our customers.

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1 Comment

Filed under Corporate Social Media, PR and Communications, Product Marketing

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