More reactive than flourine. Funnier than boron.
The Beginning of the End for Social Media Blathering?
Categories: marketing, social media

I’m writing this quickly on Super Bowl Sunday, so there are no links to the various companies mentioned below. I had intended to swear off of social media topics for a while, but I think I may revisit a couple of topics thanks to some recent developments on the technology/software side. It’s no secret that the noise surrounding social media has reached critical mass in certain circles. I simply had to disconnect from it. At one point I enjoyed watching marketing adopt Facebook, Twitter, user-generated-content, etc. There were some hits and misses in social media marketing, and some good opportunities to express opinions about various efforts, but recently I’ve had a belly full of hearing from the self-appointed masters of social media as they push their pet theories about “communicating” and “engaging.” I’m not implying that their theories are necessarily wrong, but they are unmeasurable, and to that extent they’re virtually worthless as marketing. Are they good for corporate communications? Sure. Brand identity? Eh, maybe. Customer engagement? Absolutely. Marketing? No.

Believe it or not, marketing, as a practice, is real. It’s about more than “engagement” and “touching a customer” and “establishing a connection.” It should be able to prove its value to an enterprise. Value is best expressed in financial terms. Any value that is expressed in non-quantifiable, subjective terms like “engagement” is, in the end, too squishy to be worthwhile over the long term. It may make some consultants and speakers a lot of money to speak in those terms, and demonstrate to companies how they can “think” in those terms, but that isn’t really “business.” That’s motivation. As much as I hear that marketing isn’t about ROI anymore, I know I’ll have a hard time selling that to the powers that be. (That’s actually something I read recently on one of the “expert” blogs. I won’t link to it, because I truly think it’s one of the most idiotic statements I’ve ever read. I don’t want to drive the guy’s traffic up by a single click. Let’s just say that he describes himself as “internationally recognized” for his social media expertise. He doesn’t need my help selling himself.)

You may be asking yourself is there a point to this post or is this a simply a tirade? The point is that I believe the sun is peaking through the hype clouds. Sanity is beginning to prevail. The folks who jumped on the social media bandwagon as a way to become an overnight expert are beginning to run into the reality called data. It turns out that even social media can be measured. Who would have thought that possible? (I mean, besides everyone who actually has done any marketing and isn’t a tech guru turned social media gadfly.) At the forefront of this change are companies like Techrigy (now a part of Alterian), Radian6 and Nielsen. The tools they have developed to search through social media channels for references to brands, products, companies and such are very cool. They then score mentions for sentiment, placement, etc. and provide feedback on what the social media sphere has to say. It’s the same thing PR practitioners have always done, but automated to cover the much larger universe that encompasses social media. Their timing could not be better. The sooner companies begin using these tools the better.

I truly do not begrudge anyone any success. If a social media expert earns top dollar speaking at conferences about “Social Media 2.0” that’s great for him or her. (Slight digression here: I have a lot of respect of Tim O’Reilly, but I really do want to barf whenever I hear “two dot oh” placed after any phrase other than a software release. Mr. O’Reilly is not responsible for the proliferation of naming any online trend with 2.0, but I do wish he had never come up with the whole Web 2.0 stuff.) I wish the whole lot of them well. My advice to them is this: make your money while you can. (I’d suggest you invest in companies making social media monitoring tools!) Agencies and marketing departments have very different expectations from the channels they employ than fluffy concepts like what you profess. They expect results that can be communicated to clients or finance departments. Those results are almost always reported in data. And agencies and marketing departments are already beginning to discover the tools that convert social media results into that data. I, for one, hope it happens quickly.

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