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Why Social Media Marketing is Still a Red-headed Stepchild

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I’ve been discouraged in recent months to find that in the wider business world there is still an enormous resistance to embracing newer communications tools such as blogs, microblogs and social networks as part of a fully-integrated marketing strategy. I watch as public relations and marketing departments all but ignore the social media marketing vendors they bring in. I see print ads still going into newspapers failing to mention that the company or organization are now on Facebook or Twitter. I hear PSAs and radio ads failing to mention these new consumer touch points in addition to a web site.

If social media tools can enhance our various forms of more traditional marketing — including traditional web sites and email marketing — why do the social media presences we build get ignored and are rarely integrated into other forms of marketing communications?

There is only so much a social media marketing consultant who has been hired as an outside vendor can do to remind and encourage clients to mention and leverage social media tools. To have a better impact on marketing best practices, we need to first identify why there is so much resistance to a set of tools and a fresh, more interactive and engaging way of communicating with consumers.

Here are some thoughts as to why social media marketing is hard for some to understand and embrace:

  • The learning curve. Social media tools require a degree of learning new technology.
  • The adaption curve. Practitioners entrenched in the “old ways” of marketing are resistant to having to adapt what they know how to do well. Additionally, some people actually get complacent.
  • The added work. Many marketers have their formula down to a well-oiled machine. Social media marketing requires paying attention and responding in ways that may seem too burdensome when one is used to pushing out press releases and making phone calls to the media, as opposed to truly interacting with consumers.
  • The measurement factor. Even though social media marketing is far more measurable than public relations, for example, more traditional practitioners will use “you can’t measure it” as an excuse not to use it.

In order to bring social media marketing tools and tactics into acceptance, we all need to be careful about several things:

  1. Avoid the hype. Don’t over-promise things that social media tools cannot deliver. You’ll fail, and you’ll make the rest of us look bad in the process.
  2. Educate others. Those of us who “get” social media marketing need to remain patient and willing to teach those who don’t.
  3. Support marketing. Don’t come in like gangbusters, saying that social media tools will replace traditional ones, but instead offer to help support other people’s work and help them look good.
  4. Be persistent. Without being a pest, find ways to constantly remind clients and other marketers to remember to mention the social media touch points in all of their communications. They wouldn’t fail to put a web site URL on a press release. Four additional words — “Find us on Facebook” — can make the difference between a single web site visit and a loyal Facebook fan who wants to interact.

What other things are you doing to bring social media marketing tools and tactics into the marketing and communications mix with your company, organization or clients?

42 Responses to “Why Social Media Marketing is Still a Red-headed Stepchild”

  1. Perhaps you should re-read the words: ‘social media’ Social.
    Not ‘business media’.
    Has it ever dawned on people who try to monetize everything that certain types of media do not fit into your bank account?

  2. Business are and should be afraid of social media marketing as it is NOT the familiar one-way conversation, but the conversation is the market…. and that conversation should be anti-Advertising!…. rather the major objectives of this media are centered around… places where people get what they want from other people, versus anything too corporate – like the inner company blog… which means “No Advertising” – at least none that which is self-inflating.

    This is the world of people getting support from other people, getting advocates of your ’cause’ (technology, services as a category verus a corporate identity), giving helpful advise or criticism vs. just praises, and a willingness to just get down and be personal.

    Likewise, it’s important to see things from the ‘defense’ or ‘necessary evil’ perspective: People are talking about your business everyday – there is nothing you can do to stop it. They also expect you as a caring listening business to seek out their ‘public’ conversations, and respond.

    Put another way, if you do hear a big griper and pro-actively respond and fix their problem, the likelihood is pretty good that they will also turn around and become one of your biggest advocates…. and those are the ‘real’ stories people want to hear about?

    By contrast, if you do not respond, but they expect you to find them and do so, your ‘apparent’ lack of concern is a strike against you, from their point of view (and their followers also).

    From another marketing perspective, this is similar to long tail marketing but with a ‘twist’ – that being that really social participants are typically aligned with 5-6 other networks, at multiple depths, and that 20% group also represents the highest level of influence.


    If you’d like to make better sense of social media marketing, Forrester (the market research R&D thought leaders) provides a very well structured approach that defines how these relationships work when analyzing the strategy from these parameters:

    Social Media Technology:
    – User Generated Content
    – Social People Networks
    – Collaboration-OpenSource
    – Ratings, Reviews, Recommendations
    – Tags, Sharing
    – Anonymous publishing

    Social Media Participants:
    – Creators
    – Critics
    – Collectors
    – Joiners
    – Spectators
    – In-Actives

    Social Media Objectives:
    – Research, Listen, Monitor
    – Promotion, Participation
    – Customers selling other customers <=
    – Customers supporting each other
    – Customers adding new ideas

  3. As i stepped into the food court area of a local shopping center, i saw this big tv screen advertising banner for coca cola, and at the bottom surprise for me, it didn’t have the main website of the company but instead had the Facebook Fan Page. My thoughts after seeing this it’s that now social media marketing its playing a big role in online advertising budgets for the big players on this industry.

  4. It’s the (rightly) perceived time commitment that dissuades clients from embracing social media. Create a service offering that manages social media outreach, making it easy and quick for the client to do the actual interacting, and you’ll find many more companies getting with the program.

  5. The issue is one of endurance. Social media marketers need to have realistic expectations. TV has been around for decades and newspapers even longer. In contrast, most people only started using twitter and facebook in the last year or two. Its going to take time for social media to prove that it’s not just a flash in the pan. Most of the people touting the importance of social media are social media marketers – big surprise. If and when businesses can see the value of social media for itself – that is when it will get integrated.

  6. Social Media should be used as more of a conversation piece to make the visitor, reader, or customer feel closer to you and the company. This helps build the brand for the company in a way that big business seems smaller or that they care more. The direct sale method is useless just like the MLM members on the social networks.

  7. I’d be interested in hearing some more war stories from social media pros who have started social media programs at various companies and successfully made the slog to get the company to go from ‘no, no, no’ to full engagement.

    They’re out there. The people that can successfully do that now are the ones that will be well positioned for the coming year.

  8. I would argue that Social Media Marketing is more of the “cool new kid on the block” rather than the “red headed stepchild,” as it seems to be the one phrase in marketing that is getting relentless attention.

    Social Media Marketing is the “shiny new toy/gadget” that everybody wants but many people don’t fully understand how to use it. Many simply want it just to say they have it; to appear on the cutting edge of the newest forms of marketing… Like the people who buy expensive MacBook Pro computers for the graphics capabilities, yet do nothing more than use word processing software and browse the Internet from time to time…

  9. I was talking to the executive director at a non-profit yesterday and she was asking me advice on Twitter and whatnot. After 10 minutes of a mini social media tutorial she said “I don’t have time for this, I’m gonna have to hire someone.”
    That’s the problem for some, it takes so much time to set up and keep up with social media accounts that it sometimes gets put on the back burner.

  10. Rick Lavoie

    Let’s get our minds out of the tactics please. It comes down to the difference between 1 way communication of traditional 20th century and an incredibly valuable 2 way dialog with your consumers now. The biggest thing to convince clients isn’t about the tools but that they actually need to invest in talking with their customers and figure out how. They can spend a fraction of their marketing dollars to have a much bigger impact. They have the power to turn defectors into loyalists.

  11. Excellent points, and all pretty much sum up what I face when dealing with clients and potential clients on a regular basis. I find that the biggest part of my job at this point is: education. I need to educate folks as to WHAT social media is, and then WHY they should use it.

    The other barrier is that because the basic platforms and tools are “free” a lot of folks look at it as something they can do on their own “sometime down the line” and therefore it never gets done.

    As for integrating with traditional media, I was just having a conversation last night that a lot of commercials, and specifically cable network promos, are beginning to include their twitter or facebook info. I’m also seeing more mentions of Twitter during sporting events, but usually it is mentioned by older sportscasters who clearly have no understanding of how Twitter works.

    I’m constantly reminding my clients that they need to promote their online social media properties in every way possible: add it to print materials, website, business cards, email signatures, etc.

    We need to get away from thinking of Social Media as “that thing” which for some reason isn’t integrated fully into the overall marketing plan.

    Thanks for the great blog post, Aliza!

  12. redhead

    Even if you have some intelligent things to say in the article that follows, the ignorance you display by titling it “Why Social Media Marketing is Still a Red-headed Step Child” completely discredits the entire thing. Do you not realise how offensive that is????? You are comparing something that is being cast aside with a red-headed child! How on earth did you decide that putting down a group of people in the title of your social media blog post was a good idea?? I mostly feel sorry for you – I am a redhead, and I have a sense of humour, but seriously – this is ridiculous, and I would bet that a lot of people will stop taking you seriously after this.

  13. This is very true, although the future is social media. People in marketing have to realize that they need to do the shift as well as every other person.
    Of course normal marketing will exist, but with social media there is one thing that is new!
    Guess what that is?

    The art of caring. Being able to care for you customer. Spending less time doing so, and being able to connect to a greater variety of people in less time!


  14. If your business limits its presence to advertising banners and blogging -it’s missing out. In today’s world, there are various opportunities that allow users to effectively target their audience by joining social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Digg, Facebook, and Twitter. By taking advantage of these social networking tools, you can assert your company’s online presence and reach more potential customers.

  15. One thing I notice is that companies that do try to integrate social media into traditional ads/marketing seem to struggle with how to do it so that it makes sense to all audiences and works within the context: e.g. radio ad, print ad, etc. For instance, I do see more print catalogs or mailers with Facebook logos–but often they just say “Become a fan on Facebook!” with no url or anything–then you search for that brand name in Facebook and come up with a bunch of entries. Or radio stations who say “follow us on Twitter”–but don’t give their Twitter handle. A few days ago I heard a commercial for “the Smart Cookies”–I think it’s an American Express campaign or something–three women who blog and tweet and do radio spots about finance. So at the end of the ad the guy says “Follow the smart cookies on Twitter.” That’s it. Is that one account? Three separate ones?

    Only the most motivated/social media savvy would take it upon themselves to hear spots like these, go to that company’s website, and search for those Twitter handles. And as you mention, lots of companies that are on Facebook, Twitter or whatever else fail to highlight those things on their websites–so even if you go look for it you might not find it.

    And the people to whom Twitter and Facebook are still the equivalent of 4-letter words, or at least just mysterious ones–how does a company effectively promote a Facebook or Twitter account in the context of a 20 second radio spot AND explain how to access it? I know how hard it is to explain these concepts to people in person in an unlimited amount of time–I can’t imagine having to sum it up in 3 seconds or one sentence on a mailer.

    • The uses of these technologies extend beyond these simple instance. For example, we recently developed an iPhone application for an engagement ring designer with national locations. The products could be shared via a range of mechanisms including email, Twitter and Facebook. We have the ability to measure such links.

      Not much information is available as of yet, but I look forward to seeing feedback in the future. The most powerful mechanisms are between friends rather than between the brand and the customer. These are of course also the most difficult to measure.

  16. PXLated

    There aren’t that many examples of using social media successfully, especially for normal/average/non-tech companies – seems the same old examples (MotrinMoms, DellHell, etc) are used. Other than monitoring the web, the rest doesn’t look worthwhile without substantial examples.

  17. The biggest disparity between past, lets call it more traditional thinking for a lack of better terms, and the new Social Media paradigm, is that this is a process and not a one time activity.

    Old school says: make cold calls to people you don’t know
    New school says: just did a blog post read by people I don’t know

    Think I’ve just initiated my next blog post… :)

  18. Whenever something new is introduced it takes awhile for people to get used to it. I think eventually most people will see the value in social media and will be more open to using it as a marketing tool.

  19. Maybe social media touchpoints aren’t being mentioned in radio and TV spots because the time is costly and the social media links are on the main website.

    It’s sort of like those business cards that have one side entirely covered in links to different social media profiles. At some point it isn’t helpful to have all that stuff right up at the initial point of contact.

    But I still think your points and advice are solid for dealing with social media resistance.

    • And I also would argue that web site home pages are no longer the ideal first point of contact for most.

      There is far more opportunity for abandonment without clicking on anything or leaving behind an email address on a web site home page (if that option even appears on a home page) than quickly becoming a Fan with a single click or Following on Twitter with a single click, etc.

      Through social media, there is more of a chance of a connection happening and then more chances of continued contact and conversations.

  20. It’s a profound cultural change which is required for anyone serious about building a community (and not tinkering with the medium). Companies with more open culture will have a lot less problems and therefore smaller companies. Our best clients make it a company wide ‘eye opener’ project. It takes a village…they say:)