Here’s the truth about social media marketing as I see it right now: there are three camps people sit in with it all. 1.) Love it, but not exactly making it work for their business. 2.) Are doing it, but grudgingly and without much hope of seeing a result. 3.) Are still thinking about doing it, but just don’t feel the big push.
Is that how you see it, too?
The Old Days
In 2009, people were crazy about social media. The big companies really wanted to understand this because it felt like it would be a great way to connect in a different (cheaper) way. The little companies saw this as a mix of a burden and an opportunity. Traditional ad people were mortified and felt it seemed stupid. PR people loved it, but weren’t really sure how to count it in their “earned” reports. Bloggers found an instant and easy force multipier for their content.
I got lots of meetings with companies who really wanted to figure out the play for themselves, sometimes just to explore, and other times to try a project, and other times, just to give some thoughts. I visited everyone from Google to Sony to Pepsico to Microsoft, to GM, etc. In all cases, there were two patterns:
1.) Social media nerd with little power seeking validation externally.
2.) Social media nerd but C-level, like CEO or CMO, who needed to convince the troops.
Meanwhile, Julien Smith and I wrote Trust Agents, which was about how to be human at a distance, and how to build trust. (Not a book about social media, but still on many people’s list of favorite social media books – and thank you for that.)
By 2010, lots of companies were “doing” social media, but when pressured to give me examples of their metrics, I got a lot of “well, we’re experimenting.” I also released Social Media 101, which still sells reasonably well because it is a book about social media.
By 2011, I started pressing and asking companies when they were going to take social out of the lab and make it a part of their channel strategy.
In 2012, Julien and I were at it again with The Impact Equation. We argued that everyone showed up on the social web and just cluttered it with “noise” instead of action. It’s still not a book about social media. More than 3/4 of what we espouse in the book would work perfectly well with zero computers. This was the year that I saw a lot of my social media brethren inside of big companies leave those companies and get lost inside agencies. 2012 was actually the year where most agencies had weaponized their versions of social media for their own interests, sometimes good and sometimes kind of mechanically.
(2012 was also the release of Google+ For Business about that social network most people still love to hate.)
I’ll say this:
The state of social media marketing is fairly depressing from my observations. It’s mechanical. A very informal survey of several brand accounts just shows them chirping out blather to elicit responses or likes, but with no follow-up, no next steps, no actual business intent. Just… faux interaction. The number of companies who have outsourced their social media brand voice to an agency or third part of some sort is higher than ever. And I’ve no idea the stats on corporate response rates to efforts, but they can’t be especially interesting.
Our “browse” culture is clicking and sharing and reposting stuff all over the place. Great content is now like a trading card game. We retweet and share and like and stumble interesting stuff so that we can keep our own feeds alive, but we’re barely reading the stuff we’re sharing and we’re definitely not taking a next action. Click a link? Hardly. Take a next action? Not at all.
What Needs To Be Done?
I’m sifting through that right now. MY version of the solution is Mastering the Digital Channel. On Thursday, I’ll release a podcast interview with Jay Baer about his really smart solution. I know a lot of other people are working on their variation of the answers, too.
Let me say this as my starting opinion:
1.) Social platforms are still a viable communications/marketing channel, but need to be better managed.
2.) Blended models have always been better. Throwing out the old ways is/was/will be silly.
3.) Companies who don’t actually care about interaction with their buyers can ignore this. We’re ignoring you, anyhow.
4.) If you’re going to pretend to use social, at least pretend to use it well.
That’s it for now.