Here’s some context. My work on social media began in 2008 with large corporate clients who hoped to use social media like blogs and Facebook to energize their customers. So when I ask the question “Is social media marketing dead?”, I tend to think about organic social media as a significant part of marketing. Has social taken its place as a major marketing discipline alongside direct marketing, advertising, or PR? Despite its promise, the answer is no.
But is it actually dead? Steve Hall pointed out that it’s irresponsible and inflammatory to just pronounce things dead. David Berkowitz also objected to my acting as coroner. They’re right — I overgeneralized. So let’s be clear about what parts of corporate social media aren’t dead:
- Social media marketing works great for small businesses with individual customer relationships. HubSpot has made a great business out of that. But the more customers, the harder it is to scale, as Fred Wellman pointed out
- Social media marketing works well for media and entertainment brands, because people love to share that kind of content, as Esteban Contreras reminded me. Augie includes fashion brands in this category.
- Social media marketing works pretty well for B2B companies that use content and communities to sell products. Why? Because B2B customers have an affinity for each other, share similar problems, make generally rational decisions based on content, and are actually willing to talk about the products and services they buy, because it’s their job. (For those of you who found it ironic that social media works for me and withoutbullshit.com, I’m basically a small-business, B2B media site; I fit into three exceptional categories.)
- Social media works well for support. Customers tweet their problems or post them on Facebook, and the customer service group responds and helps them.
- Advertising on social sites, like advertising on any media site, is effective. But (excepting B2B again), it’s no more effective than advertising on any other site with similar traffic.
That’s a pretty long list of exceptions, so, as Miracle Max said about Westley, it’s not “all dead.” But those exceptions and the occasional success story don’t add up to a big change in the way people do marketing.
The Web has changed marketing, completely, for every company.
Email transformed database marketing completely.
Mobile is changing digital marketing yet again.
Social? It’s a big deal for the exceptions I mentioned, but hasn’t stirred the heart of marketing like those other technologies. For most big companies, it’s a footnote in the marketing effort. That’s why I say social media marketing is mostly dead.
If you fit into one of those exception categories, have a blast. If not, you’ll have a hard time convincing your CMO to put much effort behind social.
Nate Elliott, Forrester’s social media expert, explains that those that are publishing content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn are trying to get engagement with their posts. They measure engagement rate and site visits, fans and followers. But generally, they’re not getting that engagement (fewer than one in a thousand fans engage with each post) and even if they were, as he puts it, “that metric is not useful” as a way to measure marketing effectiveness. “If you’re a big product brand pursuing organic social marketing to drive engagement,” says Nate, “you might as well put your marketing messages into bottles and toss them in the ocean.”
[tweetthis]Social Marketing? You might as well put your marketing messages into bottles and toss them in the ocean.[/tweetthis]
As Augie Ray told me, “If marketing is going to measure its outcome in terms of acquisition and sales, then social at its core is poorly equipped to provide those things for most brands.” As he points out, you may interact with 500 brands in the course of a week — how many of those do you want to have a social relationship with?
And if you’re looking around for someone to blame, blame Facebook. It sucked up all the social energy among consumers, then squashed marketing effectiveness. Thanks for crashing the party, Zuck. We thought you might be Miracle Max, but you left us mostly dead all the same.