Social Marketing

By , July 27, 2009

It’s amazing how “buzzwords” and jargon continue to drive attitudes and behavior of companies and investors. For the past year, “social media” and “social networking” have been the hot buzzwords, and everybody wants to hire marketing people with a proven track record in “social media.” The problem? Nobody has figured out a way to profit from “social media” marketing.

Yes, of course, some folks who make “apps” and templates for FaceBook or MySpace can make some money.  And perhaps some “people search” and dating services can derive a profit, in large part due to the incredibly low cost of advertising in social media.  And there are some very specific campaigns that drive attention via FaceBook and Twitter, but of course we don’t know the cost and benefit (ROI) from those campaigns.

Capitalizing on the real marketing opportunity in “social media” requires a huge investment of resources (time and money).  Often, firms overlook the importance (and cost) of “reputation management” (I wrote about this in a book review in 2002: social media and community-building efforts “create huge risks of brand dilution and potential legal liability”).

Few clients are willing to invest so much without clear proof of long-term profit.  I’ve seen many “marketing efforts” in social media which claim success, but without any empirical data to support that claim.*

This all has a troubling impact on my business as an internet marketing consultant. I’d estimate that nearly half of all the ads seeking “internet marketing help” mention “social media marketing” as a primary task (and perhaps 90% of the “well-written, serious” ads mention social media, though less often as a primary focus).  In a few cases, there are some very legitimate opportunities for “social media marketing,” but the majority of employers are just playing buzzword bingo, or wasting energy on pipe dreams.

Of course, I won’t exclude “social media” marketing efforts (if a client can allocate the proper resources, social media should be a component of its marketing efforts).  But I have no desire to allocate time to “social networking” sites that don’t show any promise of positive ROI — nor will I lie about my expectations from these efforts.

I don’t serve a client (or employer) well, if I “do what they say, not what they mean.” What they mean (or ought to mean) is that they want to earn profits from the sale of goods or services. Too often, what they seem to say is, “despite any proof to the contrary, I believe that there is a way to profit from social media, and I want to hire someone who can do this.” One result is an influx of “padded,” fraudulent resumes.

Personally, I’d like to hire someone who could spin straw into gold, but I shouldn’t be surprised if all the applicants claiming that ability turn out to be dishonest.

Of course, profiting from marketing efforts in “social media” and “social networking” is much more plausible than spinning straw into gold. And every business should always allocate some resources to exploring new opportunities. However, given the absence of any clear evidence that it is being done, merchants should not over-allocate resources to this pipe dream.

— Mark J. Welch

* Probably the most significant “demonstration” of the power of social marketing was the response to Oprah Winfrey’s “Twitter” promoting a KFC grilled-chicken coupon.  The campaign drove so many people into KFC stores that many actually ran out of chicken, and within a day, KFC stores stopped accepting the coupons, instead asking consumers to instead complete a form in order to receive a different coupon later.  Yes, there were crowds in the stores, and awareness of KFC’s new “grilled chicken” option exploded overnight. But the cost was incredible consumer disappointment and resentment.  Was the campaign “profitable,” and if so, did the Twitter component help or hinder that profit?

Relevant Links:

— “Forget social media, SEO and PPC is where the money’s at” (, describing a Forrester research study) discussion about the eConsultancy/Forrester report.

One Response to “Social Marketing”

  1. Mark Welch says:

    Here’s a new and helpful link to a short ebook (for Amazon Kindle) explaining why social media strategies won’t work for everyone: Social Media Frenzy: Why Time Consuming Facebook, Twitter & Blogging Strategies May NOT Work for Your Business – Consider These Alternative Social Networking Initiatives

    The book is FREE today (and probably for the indefinite future, since the author is using this short ebook partly to promote another book he wrote).

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