The idea that social media is a new way of running marketing communications on the cheap is a beguiling one and, sadly, totally incorrect. It is also a piece of thinking that is increasingly common. In fact, using social media for marketing is time consuming, expensive and dangerous. The Internet is filled with examples of companies that have tried to ‘go viral’ with campaigns and been held up to public contempt as their lame efforts are pilloried and it is quickly filling with companies that have ‘gone social’ and suffered a similar fate.
It is easy to get social media wrong, particularly easy if you approach it in the same way as you would an advertising campaign. In fact, the thought processes and attitudes that underpin social media are precisely the opposite of those behind ‘traditional’ one-way marcoms, replacing one-way asymmetric communication with a two-way symmetric model. In other words, you have to listen to people and talk to them using social media, not view them as a passive consumer of your message.
Once you get going, actually listening to and talking to people takes quite a bit of time. You’re no longer looking at getting a message out to millions with a simple payment for airtime or space – you’re looking at actually creating engagements. Even worse, you are confronted, probably for the first time, with some uncomfortable facts, such as the fact that nobody other than you cares two hoots about your products for something like 99.9% of their lives. In fact, we are remarkably dispassionate about a large number of things, which is why we had advertising in the first place. To put them in our heads and create preference for one product over another.
Social media additionally gives you the problem of communicating with people who don’t necessarily talk product – and who don’t want to talk to a brand so much as a person who represents a brand. Companies using social media now really do have to live up to their brand values in every way, not just tack them up on a mission statement and forget about them. The organisational challenges can be significant – and expensive.
This piece originally appeared as one of the chucklesomely named ‘A Moment with McNabb’ columns in Campaign Middle East magazine.