Social Marketing is Ruining Social Media. And Marketing.

Matt Wurst

VP, Client Management

Clickbait alert! Really, this headline should read:

BAD Social Marketing is Ruining Social Media.And Marketing.”

But in many ways, this exemplifies one of the biggest challenges for marketers today: social media and social marketing are two very different things. They cannot, and must not, be thought of as interchangeable concepts. Here is how to separate them:

Social media consists of a number of constantly-evolving digital platforms used by billions of diverse audiences with different expectations and needs.

Social marketing is how brands are planning and executing content and communication strategies on social media. The latter is just a small subset of the former.

As one of the earliest proponents and providers of social marketing strategy and tactics for brands over a decade ago, I now find myself explaining to clients, partners, and anyone else who will listen that social marketing is no longer an obvious, turnkey, repeatable model for brands. Not even the best content can guarantee success. Nor can engagement, alone, be relied upon to drive the business results that most previously assumed or took for granted for the better part of the last decade.

From Like… to Love

Before there was social marketing, social media platforms were far less developed, structured, and regulated (some may argue that the regulation still has a ways to go, but we’ll leave that for another time and place). The investment of marketing and advertising dollars in digital and social became a feedback loop for growth and development in the early part of the last decade.

As the platforms attracted more users, more brands naturally followed. “Free,” organic reach opened the floodgates and gave way to a crowded, competitive media landscape as everyone competed with each other for attention. That kicked off a cycle that drove greater revenue, spurred investment in the development of features, products, and services to… bring in even MORE revenue. And so on.

As marketers, we fell in love with the enhanced creative canvases that these platforms could provide. We became transfixed with the targeting capabilities and hypnotized by the insightful data they offer. The value exchange radically transformed on both sides, with brands wanting more… and consumers demanding more. So was it love… or was it lust?

Start Over. Then Do It Again. 

We are now well into the second decade in the life of social media marketing. And if you’re still working from some social media or marketing playbook, throw it out (Unless you want to hold onto it for sentimental reasons)! Many marketers are acting like the rules of social engagement on social platforms are the same now as they were five or 10 years ago. The primary reason is that everyone wants a piece of the action, but can’t always agree on the best way to leverage existing channels (or new platforms) to reach the right audiences.

After spending time with many clients, partners and prospects over the past year, listening to many stakeholders within each of these organizations and tracking a significant volume of output across hundreds of brands on dozens of platforms, one thing is clear: social marketing remains an operational quagmire. Different internal teams often have different objectives, believe that social media platforms can drive different results, and require varying levels of resourcing and financial investment.

Consistent inconsistency is pervasive.

Social platforms can still help boost a combination of consumer awareness, acquisition, consideration, and conversion for brands. The financial hurdles to achieving any, or all of, those goals have certainly increased, which has made the prioritization and process that much more important. In short, the platforms and the broader digital marketing landscape are evolving faster than most brands can keep up with.

And if you remember nothing else, Organic is NOT dead. It just doesn’t work as a solo tactic.

How Is This Different?

What SHOULDN’T have changed is how brands define and measure success. But so many lost sights of, or deprioritized actual business objectives. Engagement is not a proxy for conversion. And the all-important consumer value exchange has gotten lost. Constantly asking (and answering) what the brand can offer its consumer (or potential consumer), and what is it looking to get back in return was once at the root of social strategy. Marketing is transactional.

In no other aspect of marketing – print, television, experiential, out-of-home, search, does the channel lead the strategy? So why do we let social platforms define how brands market and advertise? Social marketing is digital marketing… and digital marketing is brand marketing. Social platforms can be a critical component of a digital and broader marketing strategy, but hiring social media-only agencies to support, plan, execute or consult on a brand’s social marketing needs is far too limited an approach.

So What? Now What?

Going back to the original formula, it turns out, should be a concurrent, convergent feedback loop: insights + strategy + content + amplification + optimization… and repeat.

Being insightful means understanding the consumer: who they are, what they search for, how they search for it, and where. Don’t assume your audience lives in a bubble, tap into their interests in order to see the highest ROI. These insights should inform a revised platform strategy built like a house. And like any blueprint, the best-laid plans will go to shit if you don’t have a solid foundation.

From our foundation, we will now look at the current themes topics and trends defining social marketing today, including using the insights and data from organic content to inform a paid media strategy will ensure that your social marketing approach is no longer trapped in the last decade.

you may also be interested in this article : “9 Trends for Today’s Social Media Marketing Landscape”