To be precise, Social Media Marketing is just mostly dead

mostly-deadMy comments on the death of social media marketing generated a lot of reaction, both on my blog and on Augie Ray’s. I was wrong to suggest that it’s completely dead. It’s only mostly dead.

Here’s some context. My work on social media began in 2008 with large corporate clients who hoped to use social media like blogs and Facebook to energize their customers. So when I ask the question “Is social media marketing dead?”, I tend to think about organic social media as a significant part of marketing. Has social taken its place as a major marketing discipline alongside direct marketing, advertising, or PR? Despite its promise, the answer is no.

But is it actually dead? Steve Hall pointed out that it’s irresponsible and inflammatory to just pronounce things dead. David Berkowitz also objected to my acting as coroner. They’re right — I overgeneralized. So let’s be clear about what parts of corporate social media aren’t dead:

  • Social media marketing works great for small businesses with individual customer relationships. HubSpot has made a great business out of that. But the more customers, the harder it is to scale, as Fred Wellman pointed out
  • Social media marketing works well for media and entertainment brands, because people love to share that kind of content, as Esteban Contreras reminded me. Augie includes fashion brands in this category.
  • Social media marketing works pretty well for B2B companies that use content and communities to sell products. Why? Because B2B customers have an affinity for each other, share similar problems, make generally rational decisions based on content, and are actually willing to talk about the products and services they buy, because it’s their job. (For those of you who found it ironic that social media works for me and, I’m basically a small-business, B2B media site; I fit into three exceptional categories.)
  • Social media works well for support. Customers tweet their problems or post them on Facebook, and the customer service group responds and helps them.
  • Advertising on social sites, like advertising on any media site, is effective. But (excepting B2B again), it’s no more effective than advertising on any other site with similar traffic.

That’s a pretty long list of exceptions, so, as Miracle Max said about Westley, it’s not “all dead.” But those exceptions and the occasional success story don’t add up to a big change in the way people do marketing.

The Web has changed marketing, completely, for every company.

Email transformed database marketing completely.

Mobile is changing digital marketing yet again.

Social? It’s a big deal for the exceptions I mentioned, but hasn’t stirred the heart of marketing like those other technologies. For most big companies, it’s a footnote in the marketing effort. That’s why I say social media marketing is mostly dead.

If you fit into one of those exception categories, have a blast. If not, you’ll have a hard time convincing your CMO to put much effort behind social.

Nate Elliott, Forrester’s social media expert, explains that those that are publishing content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn are trying to get engagement with their posts. They measure engagement rate and site visits, fans and followers. But generally, they’re not getting that engagement (fewer than one in a thousand fans engage with each post) and even if they were, as he puts it, “that metric is not useful” as a way to measure marketing effectiveness. “If you’re a big product brand pursuing organic social marketing to drive engagement,” says Nate, “you might as well put your marketing messages into bottles and toss them in the ocean.”

[tweetthis]Social Marketing? You might as well put your marketing messages into bottles and toss them in the ocean.[/tweetthis]

As Augie Ray told me, “If marketing is going to measure its outcome in terms of acquisition and sales, then social at its core is poorly equipped to provide those things for most brands.” As he points out, you may interact with 500 brands in the course of a week — how many of those do you want to have a social relationship with?

And if you’re looking around for someone to blame, blame Facebook. It sucked up all the social energy among consumers, then squashed marketing effectiveness. Thanks for crashing the party, Zuck. We thought you might be Miracle Max, but you left us mostly dead all the same.

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  1. I think larger corporations don’t understand: The average social media user + hates being sold to = least amount of marketing and advertisement noise.

    Any/all products, brands or professional service that a person is following is a reflection of that person’s values or personal identity above all things. I followed Ibanez Guitars and Mesa Boogie amps because I’m a fanatic about guitars and amps. I also don’t have a dime to spend on either of their products, but I love them just the same. And not once did I feel they were hammering in a “social media marketing campaign” down my through to invoke my subconscious, animal brain triggers to buy anything. I just felt highly amused an inspired looking at pretty pictures, watching demo videos and talking about gear with follow nerds. And of course they will have my money the moment I gain a better income. But that’s not from my “personal engagement” from social media. That hasn’t change my level of desire, other than I’m more in the know. But even if I wasn’t in the know, I would still love their products.

    Along the other side, I hate ATT, Virizon and anything mobile related. They hammered too much of their marketing down my thought and I think of them as communication technology drug dealers. Not only would no amount social media marketing change that, it’s in fact made me hate them all the more. This includes walmart, Walgreens, round table and all those other idiotic big names who think I log into Facebook to “engage” with a place where I puechace melatonin and shaving cream.

      1. No, nothing at all. Unless they like to tally how many witty/rude comments are posted. I also wanted to add that a majority of smaller business pages end up being administrated in a similar fashion as a personal page. They will have their friends, or friends of friends following them for the most part, and you won’t seem much difference in content between their personal page and professional page. And very little social engagement happens, as it all ends up on their personal page.. That’s more of the fault of the administration and lack of a strategy, to be sure. But the majority of the smarter ones end up…installing WordPress on a server, write compelling blog posts and go for the tried and true “SEO/Email sign up form”, and use social media to drive folks to their blog.

  2. Facebook is at ground zero of making it up as they go along. Even they probably aren’t convinced social media marketing really works. Like so many enterprises, it’s like navigating a swamp on foot. If you keep moving swiftly you can avoid sinking….