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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.