By Joe Pulizzi published April 13, 2010

Five Reasons Social Media Marketing Comes Last

My friend Shama Kabani’s book,
The Zen of Social Media Marketing, officially comes out this week. I was one of the lucky ones to receive a review copy and I can tell you it’s worth the read.

I’ve been following Shama for the last three years, and what amazed me about her is that she consistently created and distributed excellent content, and tied that into her entire marketing and social media strategy to launch a successful business and an amazing book.

I asked Shama if I could share this portion of her book with you.  Thanks Shama!

Five Reasons Social Media Marketing Comes Last

There’s been a lot of talk lately about companies that are abandoning a website in favor of social media marketing.  To me, that’s an experiment I believe will fail, because if there’s one thing I’m certain about, it’s that social media marketing should come LAST.  Why would someone who makes her living helping companies from Australia to New York City manage or outsource their social media marketing efforts say that?

Because it’s true.  To start with, social media isn’t a marketing platform.  It’s a consumer platform.

Marketing platforms like advertising, direct marketing, and telemarketing are one-way communication platforms.  A company creates the message, and delivers it creatively in hopes that the consumer will respond.  The company is in control of the message – and the only voice consumers have is to “vote with their wallets” by acting on the marketing message, or not.

Social media is a consumer platform, where teenagers in Melbourne, customers in Minneapolis, and prospective buyers in Midlothian all have the same opportunity to voice their opinions, ask questions, and share experiences.  Consumers are in control of the message, and they revel in their control.  Marketers can join in the conversation, and help to shape the dialogue, but it is definitely not a place where traditional marketing methods work, and it is definitely not a one-way communication platform.

So why bother with social media marketing at all? Because it’s where your customers are turning for information about the products and services they buy.  Consider Facebook alone.  If it was a country, it would be one of the 25 largest in the world – smaller than the U.S., China, and India, but bigger than Indonesia, Israel, Denmark, and Canada.  Over half of all consumers say that they have already purchased something – or switched to another brand or retailer – because of a recommendation they got through a social media site.

It is no longer a question of whether or not corporate brands should be participating in social media – it’s just a question of how they can use the new online communities to help them get the word out.  This is where the confusion comes in.  Social media is where the customers are – and you have to be there.  So why shouldn’t you just scrap the old methods and jump headlong into the new medium?

Because social media is a great place to share information, and introduce consumers to your company and your products, but there are five important reasons that it comes LAST in your marketing plan.

  1. Customers look for recommendations and reviews on social media – and then head to your website to make a final purchase decision. Your website is the place where you can SELL your products and services.  Social media is the place where you introduce a potential customer to your brand.
  2. You own and control your website, but you don’t own or control any social media platform. I’ve known people who were banned from Facebook or another social media site for violating a rule or policy – and sometimes for no apparent reason at all.  When you get banned, you lose it all.  All of your content, all of your contacts, erased in an instant.  That just doesn’t happen with a website you own – and you make your own rules for your website, so you’re sure not to inadvertently break them!  Even if your host comes crashing down in an emergency, a back-up can have you back on line in minutes.
  3. Social media is a great amplifier – and it does just that. For something to be amplified, it has to exist first. So your brand identity, your marketing message, your logo and your content all needs to exist separately from social media, and be based on solid planning and execution, so that social media can amplify it.
  4. Marketing platforms – advertising, websites, email, e-newsletters, PR, webinars, special events, catalogs, etc. – reach the audience you define.  Social media reaches an audience that defines itself. The Toyota Scion XB is a good example – Toyota marketed the boxy car to hip urban dwellers in their 20’s – but someone’s grandmother discovered that it’s design was perfect for her arthritic knees, and the 55+ crowd started raving about the XB on social media sites.  Now 60% of Scion sales are to those over 50.  There’s nothing wrong with that of course.  But what if a club finds itself besieged by underage fans who want to see their favorite band because a viral campaign didn’t clarify that it wasn’t an “all ages show”?  You need both the controlled message and the opportunity to benefit from a viral buzz.
  5. Social media is a broad platform – but it isn’t deep. It’s impossible to go into much detail in a 140-character tweet.  And it’s almost as hard to go into detail in most other social media platforms. The best social media campaigns refer people to great websites, downloadable content, memorable videos, or valuable information.

So, for now, I remain convinced that a great website (or blog for small businesses) is the hub of any great marketing campaign. Traditional marketing is far from over – but it has evolved, and social media is a huge part of that.  When was the last time you got a piece of direct mail that didn’t have a website address for you to visit? Every morning I listen to NPR (National Public Radio), and every morning the broadcasters invite me to tweet them my questions or fan their Facebook page.

Marketing today is the art and science (dare I say the Zen?) of leveraging multiple platforms to get your message across so that you can motivate people to take action.  The goal is the same now as it was in our parent’s day.  Only the tools keep changing.

Shama Kabani is president of The Marketing Zen Group, and author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing, which hits store shelves this week.

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute , Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, including best-selling Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill) and the new book, Content Inc. Check out Joe's two podcasts. If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Jeff Molander

    I’m a big Joe Fan. Joe, love ya… but seriously?
    I must be living on another planet. I have never heard ANYONE discussing abandoning Web sites for social media. I hear a steady drum beat AWAY from use of social media for marketing. Anyone with me???
    Secondly, I disagree: The WORST social media campaigns “refer people to great websites, downloadable content, memorable videos, or valuable information.”
    The best social media campaigns produce SALES and LEADS.
    Am I just wacko? Anyone else tired of creating conversations, downloads and traffic and interested in sales and leads? Perhaps I’m in the minority, Joe

  • Shama

    Hi Jeff,
    Thanks for your comments. Actually, I get at least 2 emails a week asking me if they really NEED a website anymore because they have a Facebook profile. The question exists. In fact, did an article on this exact subject last week:
    As for sales and leads – I am ALL FOR IT! However, people have mistaken expectations. They skip the business model, the website, the ummm – good product or service! In this regard, I think social media comes last and is part of the puzzle. It is unlikely that someone will see your FB fan page and buy. I’d LOVE to see that happen – and when it does it is luck. 99% of the time, it is the start of a relationship.

  • Jesicca

    Really nice article Shama. Informative and makes complete sense. Indeed social media is booming but you need to use it wisely.
    You must first have a brand presence in order to give away your message on social media so that people can actually go on and check what your business is all about. I find these days people all over social media but when I click on and go to their sites, they are not that pleasing or professional and thus that good impression is vanished in a jiffy.

  • Nicola Connolly

    This looks like a great book Shama, some really interesting points.
    A well built, beautiful and SEO friendly website is the solid foundation of any online marketing campaign – like you say, Social Media, when used successfully, amplifies your message and directs visitors to your website where they can do the ‘action’ bit (after having the ‘conversation’).

  • Shama

    Nicola and Jessica –
    I appreciate the kind comments and I am excited to see others who get it! = )

  • Roger Friedensen

    Briliiant! This is spot on. Like any communication tactic/channel social media must be built on a logical, well-planned and smart foundation of strategy and messaging. In the absence of that, you might as well just be tossing darts blindfolded in a dark room.

  • Brian

    Really like the thought leadership. Too many companies are ambushing FB, hoping to find the Holy Grail. The rational is that it is free and has a potential large fanbase. I personally don’t believe customers consider themselves “fans” of a company, but rather customers.
    Unfortunately companies are extremely misguieded with good intentions, because the real ROI is happening in thier own communities on thier websites, generating SEO, analytics, brand advocates, call deflection, and new product ideas.

  • Shama

    Roger –
    I love that analogy! How descriptive and and “spot on.” = )

  • Julie

    I completely agree with this argument and applaud your work spreading the word that social marketing should be the last step in a marketing process for companies, however, I must say I disagree that social media is simply a consumer platform. Partners, investors, the media and other non-consumer stakeholders are also utilizing social media and expecting to interact with your brand beyond traditional Web sites, direct mailings, newsletters, etc. Regardless of this point, companies should still be using your lessons when employing social media tools. Thanks for a great read!

  • Greg Satell

    Great article! I’ve argued similar things on my own blog, especially the point about social media being a great amplifier, but not a replacement for branding.
    However, I’m not so sure that social media should be last. It takes so long to build that I think it makes sense to think about it as a integral part of an entire communication strategy.
    Not first or last, but as part of an integrated approach.
    – Greg

  • Clinton Forry

    Great article!
    I find myself dwelling on the choice of the word “last.”
    Last, as in chronological, or as in hierarchical? Different implications for each…
    I agree with @Greg above in the chronological sense — “Not first or last, but as part of an integrated approach.”
    Putting it last in a hierarchy makes more sense. Get a solid site first. Other things follow.

  • Shama

    @Clinton – Hierarchically speaking. = ) Love the distinction! (Joe – you have such SMART readers!)
    @Greg – Yes, of course. My point was that people need to put the basics first and not ignore key business principles. Perhaps it is best to say “Before?” = )
    @Julie – Excellent points. You are right – there is a place for everyone. But it is best used as a 2 way communication channel vs a one way broadcast.

  • Joe Pulizzi

    @Shama…obviously you hit a chord here.
    @Jeff…I agree with you about sales and leads…when that’s possible, of course. I like to think of integrating social media more as part of creating or maintaining a behavior. In other words, we may not be at a point in the buying cycle where sales is a possibility. Although we are all still trying to figure this out, social media’s best use may be as a nurturing tool.
    Love this discussion. Thanks for bringing it to the table Shama.

  • tony:frosty

    1) Actually this is reversed. Customers visit your website first to check specs and other facts, but they won’t make their decision there. They’ll make their decision after reading reviews, perhaps researching some forums and then talking with their friends on Twitter or Facebook to get their opinion.
    2)Agreed – but you can definitely influence what occurs on those platforms.
    3)For good and for bad.
    4)Not for long. Facebook knows who you are and will most likely be selling that data to companies sooon. Twitter has just instituted their Promoted Tweets and you can be specific on who you want to reach. See
    5)This is the one I have the greatest issue with. Sure if you define social media to be Twitter – but that’s not the case. Blogs and forums are all forms of social media, and I’m not sure how you can classify those as being shallow.
    Also as far as Twitter is concerned – yes it’s a social network but it also becoming the backbone of all social networking. Almost all the platforms now have an option to send updates and other bits of information on Twitter. It’s like email – except anyone can read it. It’s why FourSquare and Gowalla are now viable.
    As far as websites are concerned – I believe that the integrated social presence is the future. It’s a site that blends your blogs, pics from Flickr, videos from YouTube, tweets from Twitter, and any other presences you may have in a singular branded location. A great example of this is The Ford Story.

  • Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    The people who are trying to promote Social Media vs websites are the Social Media networks hoping to go public, the investors (VC’s), and the Journalists/Guru’s who have recently carved out a nice living around social.
    Social is a great place for a small-medium sized business to help market without traditional ad spending. But for big established businesses I see no need for Social at all to tell the truth. At least not at this point. Having even 100 people comment on a Fan Page post is peanuts if you are P&G who have 2 billion customers.

  • Deb DiBiasie

    Great information and reaction as the tweets, retweets, mentions and comments add up. Social Media has its place, which I don’t believe to always considered as last. It is integral to the ability to share and communicate our opinions like never before. Declaring social proof, as exhibited by this thread is great when the content is positive in nature. However,I have an extreme dislike to the opposite that can exist… when it becomes negative and damaging or protection of intellectual property is the issue, when there is disclosure of certain kinds of information or when it affects the personal security of the world, etc…then it becomes#1.

  • Mike

    I appreciate the insight of this post, but I think this post falls short on considering modern consumer behavior. Social media should NOT, or ever, be last, and if it is, it is being implemented improperly. Social media should be integrated and supplemented simultaneously with marketing materials such as blogs, promotions, website etc. With the economy the way that it is, although showing signs of gradual improvement, consumers and professionals alike want to ensure that their decisions are maximizing their investment. I do not believe that consumers turn to social media simply to convert, or just as a forum, but as a means to seek out a personality and brand that they are comfortable giving their hard-earned dollars to. If the organization is using social media properly, it does in fact have influence on the conversation through its voice. And consumers go to social media avenues to listen to this voice, discern if it is one they resonate with, and in turn decide from there if they want to buy. Social media isn’t replacing brand, it is supporting it. Regardless of whether a visitor landed on a social media platform or a website first, in this day and age, the two (along with any other marketing tools in place) are going to work in tandem to influence a consumer decision. Both need to be branded, and yes, used wisely. This goes for both B2B and B2C, big and small business, service- and product-oriented businesses. Sure strategy might change with each company, but nonetheless, social media is still a scope through which consumers see and experience your brand.
    You said: “Marketing today is the art and science (dare I say the Zen?) of leveraging multiple platforms to get your message across so that you can motivate people to take action.”
    Using your art metaphor, it used to be where a website was the paintbrush and the canvas on which the marketing “artist’ did his or her work. But with social media in the mix, the paintbrushes are distributed evenly between social media, website, and other marketing tools, all of which have a fairly equal role in painting the portrait that is your brand.

  • Dan

    “Over half of all consumers say that they have already purchased something – or switched to another brand or retailer – because of a recommendation they got through a social media site.”
    This was given as a reason why corporations get involved in Social Media. But are people changing their minds based on what corporations are saying or what their peers are saying? I would argue it’s the latter. So I don’t see this as being a compelling reason for companies to engage in social media.

  • Joe Pulizzi

    Hi Dan…the answer is both. Buyers look to corporations to provide them with valuable information on a consistent basis (according to the Custom Content Council – about 70% of buyers would prefer to get educational content from corporations). One major way to distribute that information is by having conversations with customers and prospects through social media. For example, Junta42 gets about 15% of its total traffic through Twitter, with a good number of those people signing up to Blog RSS, enewsletters, white papers, and our service. Not sure where we would be without leveraging just this one outlet, let alone other places where our customers hang out.
    If a brand can be part of the community, without just inserting their sales information that no one cares about, the payback can be huge.
    Thanks for responding Dan.

  • Scott Yoder

    I think this confirms that for a commercial website, social media is a means to an end. Your website is where you create and manage most of your informational marketing content. Social media is a way to promote it.
    I put social media closer to a link strategy than replacing a website. The content of merit is on the site, and suggestion to check it out is made on social media.
    Anyone who tries to do business development on social media alone will be like a person who has a business card but no phone. Its a net without an anchor.

  • gps car dvd

    This looks like a great book Shama, some really interesting points.

  • Savita Bisht

    Good post.Article mentioned very interesting points. Thanks for that.

  • Marcus Dane

    It is this thing that has been pointed out by a lot of big businessmen when the trend of using social media for advertising created a hype. They greatly encourage fellow businesses, small and even those starting yet, to own a business website which has a corporate website design or an ecommerce web site design that is accessible and usable not to create a black propaganda on social media but for businesses to have much freedom and space in advertising, handling customer queries, and giving exposure to the business. As said in the post, social media are a consumer platform and not a marketing platform. Those sites are more good at establishing social connections or social networking development, and it is still the venues which are a corporate web design that does the greater part of managing business activities.

  • Sarita Rawat

    Good article. keep write as always. Thanks for sharing………

  • Tommy and Salinda Howell

    This is the blog of all blogs that I needed today. When putting things in to perspective, it’s sometimes easy to just jump at the hottest thing appearing on the internet. Getting a copy of the book now so we can pay it forward for our readers.

  • Peter, KLEVUR Website Design

    I completely agree with the author. We get people every day that say they don’t need a website because Facebook and Twitter are the only place to market. You have no control over what happens once your message is out. There will be tons on money made over the next ten years patching up online reputations from what got destroyed through social media. Read a few comments on a new article from the social world and you will say, “how in the “xx%//” did they come up with that point of view.
    Great article and great advice.

  • Mark-Social Media Marketing Consultant

    Yes Social Media is very important as a promotion and branding tool, however we also use and value Direct Marketing and Networking as effective methods of getting new business.

  • Wendy

    This does look like a thoughtful book, and some excellent posts above. I would add that social media can and should also be used to listen to customers and prospects alike so that a business can better respond to needs, enhance differentiation, develop new solutions. This would put aspects of it a little higher up on the action plan than dead last, but I agree with the gist of Shama’s points. Thanks for posting it.

  • Deepak

    I would like to say “wow” what a inspiring post. This is really great. Keep doing what you’re doing!!