Last week we came upon an article in Forbes that really grabbed our attention. The article is authored by Shel Israel, primarily known as an author of books having to do with the social media space. The article got our attention because of the title: Will Marketing Muck Up Social Media?
If you are not involved heavily in social media, you might find the gist of this article particularly confusing. You’ve probably heard at least some of the benefits that social media can offer marketers. You may have heard about the influx of Twitter and Facebook users, and perhaps you’ve even had conversations about whether or not social media would be a good marketing tool for your company to use. So why are we talking about marketers “mucking up” the social media space?
“Humanizing the Brand”
When social media first began to catch fire (around 2007) one of the big areas of discussion and excitement was that brands could now be “humanized.” This meant, initially, that if you started a Twitter account and mentioned that you work for xyz company, potential customers would now be able to put a face to the company name. “Oh, right, xyz company. Hey, so and so works there and they’re great!” The thought was that connecting people with a brand or company name, existing and potential customers would feel more comfortable buying from that company. They’d no longer feel like they were buying from a company, in fact. They’d feel like they were buying from that individual.
Over the last couple of years, it seems like this message has been diluted a bit. Humanizing the brand has been replaced with the idea that social media is about networking, relationships, engagement, the conversation, and other non-transactional sorts of exchanges. Articles like the one mentioned above even have begun to give the impression that trying to market a product or sell a product using social media platforms is now frowned upon. Social Media, at least according to some social media purists, should just be about conversing with other people. Anything else is “mucking it up.”
How do you use a phone?
For marketers who have been exploring how to use social media, the best analogy is that social media is like the phone. It’s a tool. You can use it to connect with other people, and the only difference is that other people can “listen” to your conversation. When you use the phone for business, you probably exchange some niceties. You might ask how your contact’s mother is doing, how the new puppy is working out. If you’ve known your contact for a long time you might share some laughs. But there is always the knowledge that this is a business call. If you are a salesman, your contact won’t be surprised that the conversation eventually comes around to you trying to sell something. If you’re a marketer, your contact won’t be surprised if the conversation begins to focus on marketing plans. The conversation is in a business context, even if it ventures off into more personal types of conversation now and then.
Social Media should really be thought of in the same way. If you are using a social media platform as a marketer or as a salesperson, you can talk to people. You can “engage.” But there needs to be an underlying understanding with your contacts that ultimately, you’re there to do business. You’re there because this is part of how you want to earn your living.
Mucking Up, or Marketing?
Beginning to use social media for marketing purposes can be extremely intimidating because it seems like there is so much that can work against you. The kinds of marketers that Shel Israel is talking about in his article are the ones who don’t take the time to understand the tool. If you join Twitter and do nothing but post links to your press releases, you’re not going to get off to a good start. If you learn how the tool works, learn how much leeway you have, and if you have a plan going in, social media can be an effective marketing tool. However, if social media purists continue to argue that any marketing online is bad, it becomes increasingly difficult to see how social media can be seen as a marketing tactic in any light.
As with any form of marketing, there are good examples and bad examples in the world of social media. The simple act of using social media as a marketing tool or as a selling tool is not an inherent negative. Social Media purists will have to embrace the fact that the novelty of social media is beginning to wear off, just as has been the case with fax machines, phones, and email. Social Media is at heart a tool, and it’s a tool marketers and salespeople have a right to use.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/darwinbell/522009553/ via Creative Commons