Saturday, 28 February 2009

Social Media and Marketing Mystics

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So, what is the truth about social media marketing thought and practice? Does engagement with social media require a new 'paradigm'? does it deliver on its promise?

Cam Beck of Chaos Scenario has posted a thought provoking piece asking if Social Media experts have actually delivered anything for their clients. Are social media marketing people at risk of becoming classed as mystics and soothsayers rather than being regarded as credible business practitioners?

Let me start by explaining my position. I got into the on-line social media world two years ago. My interest was driven by two key factors. I was curious about digital social media as a social phenomenon and I wanted to understand how it applied to the daily practice of marketing (whatever we mean by that).One was a broadly academic interest and the other a management interest. Fusing the two together means that I try and look at digital social media affairs from a 'critical marketing' perspective, not as an outsider (marketing is a wicked and evil profession that promotes consumerism and materialism), but as an insider who has 'done the job' and now researches and educates in the field with an avid interest in new and best practice.

Many of you will be familiar with 'dual process' modes of information processing. In order to think critically about marketing it means that I spend a lot of time in the 'systematic' mode trying to unpack the underlying assumptions people make when they are making their claims for the efficacy of a particular marketing management approach. Warning! doing this a lot can make you really pedantic and you can end up as 'Billy No Mates'. That said, critical marketing is not just about using a marketing method or technique and then assessing what worked, what didn't, and proposing an improved way of doing it. It's being wised up to the the taken for granted assumptions that lie behind what marketing people believe is 'the correct marketing way'

Non-Marketing Managers and management writers often criticise marketing for not being accountable, good at spending money and not too good at demonstrating R.O.I. This is because they are driven by the 'managerialist paradigm'. 'Good' management by this view is objective, rational, planned, logical and evidence based. This view also criticises marketing because it is prone to 'faddism', the sort of conversation that claims 'Twitter is the new Facebook' or 'Collaboration is the new Competition' etc etc. Marketeers who indulge in this line of thinking tend to be information 'splitters', seeking out the differences rather than the sameness and claiming the discovery of something fresh and new that everyone else has missed. They also prey on less critical or informed business minds only too keen get 'that competitive edge'.

Typical of marketing management writers who urge caution when dealing with marketing mystics are Robert Shaw and David Merrick, who recommend maintaining a sceptical gaze when looking at people who claim to possess special insight into the workings of the customer mind and who treat Branding as messing with Barbarella's ogasmatron! Similarly managerialist writers such as Emperor Kotler take great pains to ensure that marketing has scientific credibility, and tend to airbrush out of the picture emotions and perceptions as a crucial aspect of the marketing job. (See how face to face selling and marketing communications are relegated to aspects of the marketing mix in this type of writing)

One of the ironies of being a marketing professional is, like us or loathe us the vast majority of people see us being particularly skilled in social influence. The public face of marketing IS face to face selling and marketing communications! By definition this means we have to be involved in all aspects of rhetoric, the pathos (emotion, perception, experience) the ethos (authenticity and responsibility) not just the logos (method and measurement).

For me digital social media is a crucial dimension of modern marketing that should resist having the soul beaten out of it by the logisticians. Throughout history whatever the organisation, commercial or public service, whoever the trader one man band or big corporate people with something to sell (idea, product, service)have been in the business of connecting with human beings and conducting conversations. Does this mean that it is unaccountable? No! of course not.

Social media marketeers don't necessarily have to deliver a direct 'cause and effect' sales result. They can be measured in terms of influence and engagement. Creating conversational arenas, the tone of the dialogue, the shaping of thought are fundamental aspects of marketing effectiveness too. A social media strategy is about creating a space in which the organisation and its representatives become respected for their thought and opinion leadership. Once social trust has been created then people will trust your products and services. This is not new! How often have you heard people say 'this is a people business you know'

So, in response to the question 'what have you done for me lately social media expert' you will do well if you are an honest broker. You are critical of faddism and mysticism, you ensure there is ethical robustness between conversational claims and product and service feature and benefits and you skillfully construct appealing and dynamic social spaces in the minds of the people you seek to influence.

What do you think?

Read More:
Green Comunications Blogs About 'The Emperors New Clothes

And straight from the hip is...
Wolf-Howl a great post about social media 'b.s.' and false gods and idols. ^5.


  1. Hi,
    Social media marketing for business is essential in today's business climate to get your company noticed. When you engage in this practice, you use social media channels to promote your company.

  2. Social media, when done correctly, also allows your online brand to grow and not just your rankings. Website branding is just as important as website rankings and with branding comes much deeper market penetration in front of your audience.