Who Killed Social Media Marketing?
Ask not for whom the bell tolls, the bell tolls for social media marketing.
I’m usually not one to whistle past the graveyard (seriously, I’m not!), but I have to admit that the trouncing which social media marketers are taking lately is delicious! For the past few years, anybody who has failed to drink the social media Kool-Aid has been mocked and insulted by triumphant social advocates.
Now it seems that the worm has turned. A recent flurry including an Ad Age column and an Ad Contrarian post expose supposed social media successes to have indeed been failures. Additionally, TechCrunch shows MySpace’s decline is actually accelerating. What happened? It’s time to do a post mortem.
The Hype Cycle
Probably the simplest explanation is that social media marketing fell prey to the Hype Cycle, which I described in an earlier post. The basic idea is summarized in this chart:
Social media certainly has had its “peak of inflated expectations.” For a while, you couldn’t turn your head without someone proudly proclaiming that “it’s all about the conversation!” Anybody who was the least bit skeptical was ignored, if not shouted down.
Now it is clearly sliding down into the “trough of disillusionment.” The negative press has begun, social media itself is consolidating into three major companies (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) and marketers seem keen to get back to basics.
Social Media Specialists Lacked Marketing Expertise
Social media advocates were certain that they had discovered a new media paradigm. They would trash the old “interruption model of TV” and claim that the “old media era” was over. However, they missed the fact that even revolutionary new paradigms don’t obviate old needs.
Newton’s theories reined for centuries until Einstein came along and established a new paradigm. As a result not one bridge collapsed and not one building crumbled. While we enjoy new things like GPS systems and nuclear power that Einstein’s equations made possible, I would argue we still depend more on the engineering principles that Newton gave birth to.
The fact that very few, if any, of the new social media gurus had actually ever run a brand worked against them. They failed to understand traditional marketing tasks. In effect, what they were proposing was very much like expecting GPS navigation to put cars out of business (to torture the analogy a bit, but not much).
So let this be a lesson to all the aspiring paradigm-changing media gurus out there: If you set out to break the rules, first learn what they are!
Social Media Marketers Didn’t Know Much About Social Networks
Another thing that was often overlooked is that there is a substantive difference between social media and social networks. Unfortunately, social network theory is highly mathematical and difficult to learn. It’s much easier to tweet and make friends on Facebook.
Christakis and Fowler, two renowned scientists who have studied social networks show why excessive use of social media can blind you to market realities. Who you’re connected to will, to a great extent, affect how you think. If you’re getting most of your information from social media, your conversation is likely to revolve around how great social media is and overlook everything else.
Marketing, however, is a very real job. To be good at it, you need to understand the passions of people very unlike you and how they are influenced. So, to use social media effectively, it is important to learn some basic network principles.
Enthusiasm is no substitute for expertise.
A few years ago, I pointed out that ROI for social media is a fruitless quest. My reasoning was simply that digital media as a whole, much less social media specifically, makes up a very small proportion of marketing activity. Therefore, it’s impossible to isolate it from traditional media, where the bulk of marketing budgets go.
I was, of course, shouted down, called a “hater” and treated to a barrage of non-sequitors. One woman, interestingly, insisted that results have nothing to do with how much you spend (a curious position for someone trying to make a case for ROI).
Nevertheless, many continued to make outrageous claims in defiance of clear facts, insist that traditional media was dead and generally make asses of themselves. Is it any wonder that there was a backlash brewing?
Social Media Marketing is Dead! Long Live Social Network Marketing!
So who killed social media marketing? Social media marketers, of course. And they failed for the worst reasons: hubris, avarice and stupidity.
This, of course, is not the last word. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that social marketing will climb the “slope of enlightenment” and reach the “plateau of productivity” just as the hype cycle predicts. However, the emphasis is likely to be on social network marketing and not confined to social media.
Next Wednesday, I will outline four ways in which social networks can be harnessed for marketing: Customer Relationship Management, Big Seed Marketing, Social Listening, and utilizing the web’s new social infrastructure.
Now that the kids are being put to bed, it’s time to get serious.