Social Media: Just Another Marketing Channel?

There was a study that was reported on recently with the bold headline “Social Media Fails to Manifest as a Marketing Medium“.  The article covers the results of a study done by consumer research firm, Knowledge Networks.  Their press release summarizes the results with the equally bold title “INTERNET USERS TURN TO SOCIAL MEDIA TO SEEK ONE ANOTHER, NOT BRANDS OR PRODUCTS” (the use of caps is theirs).  The findings were, according to them “surprising” and included the following insight:

…when Knowledge Networks asked users whether they regularly turn to (social media) sites when trying to make a purchase decision, the highest percentages among nine categories were 4%, for travel and banks/financial services. Responses for clothes/shoes, restaurants, mobile phone services and five other categories ranged from 1% to 3%…

Almost two thirds (63%) of social media users agree that ads are a “fair price to pay” for use of these sites and features; but a much smaller proportion (16%) say they are more likely to buy from advertising brands. “Staying connected” – to friends and family, as well as meeting new people – is by far what is “most liked” (54%) about participating in social media.

To summarize – this study showed that when I want to buy a new car or a cell phone I don’t go to Flickr or Last.fm or YouTube or Twitter to find out which brand I should buy.  According to this study, consumers “surprisingly” don’t go on Facebook and browse the ads to make purchase decisions. (Note the list of sites included in the study notably leaves out those specifically devoted to reviewing or talking about products/services such as Amazon, Chowhound, Edmunds, Epinions or the like)

Vintage TVs buy stuff now

I grew up in Business to Business marketing where we smirked at the “spray and pray” marketing we saw over on the Business to Consumer side.  We weren’t trying to sell to just anyone.  We had target markets and more specifically, target companies within those markets we wanted to sell to.  Our marketing was about establishing relationships inside those accounts in order to be in a position to someday, when the opportunity arose, sell something. Sure, if we had enough budget we did some traditional advertising but it was more about awareness (so that the CIO, when you finally did meet her, had at least heard of your company) than generating leads.  Big ticket sales were about relationships not jingles or impulse buying behavior.

Building relationships when you are target account selling is fairly easy to do because you can easily identify the folks you want to talk to and each sales person is working a relatively small number of relationships at any one given time.  At the corporate level you can have Customer Advisory Councils and user councils to help extend those relationships beyond the sales rep.

Historically for business to consumer markets, building a relationship directly with customers was difficult if not impossible to do.  How could you ever reach all those people in a way where they could talk back to you?  Before social media relationship marketing really wasn’t something that Business to Consumers marketers did.  The tools in their kit bag were about broadcasting a message out, often as broadly as possible, to consumers while they were doing something else (watching TV, listening to the radio, driving, etc.).

Now we’ve got social media that allows both BtoC and BtoB marketers to engage in a dialog with individual customers and users to give them a much deeper, more nuanced understanding of the products and services being offered and in turn gain a deeper understanding of what customers like and dislike about the offerings.  As a “marketing medium” social media has more in common with a user group than it does with a “channel” like television or print.  It isn’t “just another channel” as I’ve frequently heard it referred to by marketers just getting started with social media.

Saying “Social Media Fails to Manifest as a Marketing Medium” is like saying talking to people fails to manifest as a marketing medium.  Trying to force fit social media into becoming a marketing channel similar to non-interactive, one-way channels like TV or print misses the point of why social media is interesting and important to marketers.

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16 thoughts on “Social Media: Just Another Marketing Channel?”

  1. This is a great post. It’s frustrating that marketers are so stuck in the advertising rut that every new place online where people go there are instantly a gaggle of marketing folk trying to figure out how to push ads at me though it. I blame Google.
    Justin

  2. I’m also a B2B marketer and I’m like you, I don’t get why so much “marketing” has to be advertising. Doesn’t anyone notice that people hate ads and frankly they just aren’t working anymore.

  3. Hi Justin,
    Thanks for the comment. People are frustrated with advertising for sure. The great thing is that there are alternatives – we just need to use them properly.
    April

  4. Hi Pam,
    Thanks for the comment. I think there is a lot of advertising that still works quite well, I just don’t believe in trying to force fit social media platforms into becoming marketing channels. There are far more interesting and effective things you can do with social media that leave traditional advertising in the dust from a relationship marketing standpoint.
    April

  5. Dr. Jim Anderson

    Great post! It sure looks like the study missed the point – today’s social media is redefining the types of conversations that we can have with our customers. The old days of yelling at them (“New & Improved!”, “Buy Now!”) are pretty much over.
    What we can do now is have a longer term relationship that is actually much deeper: why did you buy my product, how did it work for you, what would you like to see changed. This is more talking and less advertising.
    Change can happen even when we’re not set up to see it and it sure looks like we are right in the middle of a sea of change…!
    – Dr. Jim Anderson
    http://www.TheAccidentalPM.com
    The Accidental Product Manager Blog
    “Home Of The Billion Dollar Product Manager”
    Subscribe to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter now: http://www.theaccidentalpm.com/subscribe-to-the-accidental-product-manager-newsletter

  6. Hi Jim,
    Thanks for the comment. I think we’re moving toward a situation where consumers are getting as much as they are giving when it comes to dealing with a company’s marketing department. I see that as real progress.
    April

  7. As usual, your posts are worth my time and more. Even when I have 50 fires demanding my attention, I never skip your posts (same for Chris Brogan). Plus, I would buy products you suggest if I was in the market for one of your suggestions. I don’t watch TV, don’t listen to the radio, don’t read newspapers – I don’t read 95% of my email and I don’t touch my physical (snail) mail. I pay someone to do that because I don’t have time. Bottom line: the only way to sell me something is through my relationships and information streams (like Twitter). So suggest away. 😉

  8. Steve McAuliffe

    Great Post April. We now have a responsible way of communicating and harvesting thoughts and information from our customers. It becomes a comfortable communication among “friends” thus generating sincere insights into products and services. This is the essence of sound marketing.

  9. Hi Julie,
    Thanks so much for the comment (and the compliment)!
    I totally agree, there is nothing as powerful as relationships when it comes to selling.
    Thanks again!
    April

  10. April,
    Well said. I encourage all marketers, espcially B2B, to read The Cluetrain Manifesto. It puts it all in the right perspective. Maybe one day we will start calling social media what it really is, which is online networking.

  11. Great post and as several others and you point out, I think this study misses the point. As you say:
    “To summarize – this study showed that when I want to buy a new car or a cell phone I don’t go to Flickr or Last.fm or YouTube or Twitter to find out which brand I should buy.” There are myriad other long standing, active and influential social media where people go to inform purchase decisions. These can be far more specialised (ie targetted) than social networks: blogs, forums, review sites, message boards, usenets, debate strings following reviews in specialist of generalist online media – BBC.com, NY Times, What Car?(often with high traffic.) Jon Moody http://www.asomo.net

  12. Hi,
    Yes for sure It is a super channel for marketing, but no the way companies try to use it, with advertising.
    It will a succes when we use the marketing “mouth to mouth” trough the social network
    Example: People don´t enter in to a logo or a offer that flashes to take our attention, but I have some trusted friends that reccomends me some places, activities, or products. Then I get interested.

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