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Untangling the Confusion Between Social Media and Social Marketing

The world of social media is dense with jargon that defies consistent usage across the business. This sets the stage for confusion and mismanaged expectations especially when people bandy about the terms social media and social marketing as though they are interchangeable.  They’re not and by understanding the difference you can begin to knit together the right mix of “media” to “marketing” in the social realm.

Let’s start at the most conceptual level and work our way down to the practical, real world application.

At its most essential essence, it’s useful to think of social media as a communications platform similar to your home or mobile phone network. Social media is your community communications network where you can connect “many to many” like we do in Facebook or LinkedIn .

By contrast, social marketing is focused on riding the social network’s communications traffic to deliver a marketing message. The devil is in the delivery details and this is where much of today’s marketing angst lies.

A useful starting point on constructing a model around how to mesh social media with social marketing is to be inspired by what we would happily tolerate in our real, social world. For instance, would we welcome a ten second ad before making a call on your phone? I don’t think so. Then we should overtly respect that boundary in social marketing and accept that when people are in their social networks, they are there to connect. Most attempts to push an ad to them will likely to be dismissed or resented as a distraction.  

Social marketing done right shifts the focus from a brand’s need to disperse a message to a new  sensibility focused on how to add value to conversations by becoming a relevant part of the dialogue.   That’s easier said than done in social networking today using Facebook as an example. It is first and foremost a social network that also happens to deliver social marketing. That, IMHO, is where the fissures in the Facebook edifice start to show.  Ads presented are demographically precise but they are utterly irrelevant to the reason you are on Facebook – to connect with your social network. And this disconnect is not going unnoticed. Mark Cuban recently declared:  “Facebook Is Driving Away Brands - Starting With Mine.”  http://readwrite.com/2012/11/13/mark-cuban-facebooks-sponsored-posts-are-driving-away-brands, suggesting an inflection point.

Does that mean that social networks should not allow advertising? Of course not but let’s start getting smart about how to work with social media for the good of social marketers.

Here are basic brand rules of engagement for how to deploy social marketing in social media:

1) Be focused on how you can add value to the community not on getting your message out. This is accomplished by ensuring you are a relevant part of their conversation – not a distraction.

2) Be grateful for all feedback, good and bad, by considering them gifts. When time is our most precious commodity - if a person took the time to communicate – then that is worthy of note.

3) Be a trusted participant of the conversation by being transparent.  If a product is getting bad feedback – own it and see how to fix it.

4) Be respectful that people really do want to buy but they don’t want to be sold within every inch of their digital lives. Consider carefully how intrusive that promotion you are planning will be. Ask yourself if you would tolerate the real world equivalent and be guided by your instinctive answer. 

5) Recognize that great social media can never be “earned” - it is ALWAYS the result of a dedicated (a.k.a. paid) team that steadfastly focuses on building social credibility. Earned media is a myth. Move on.  

Now that we’ve untangled that knot of social messiness – you can begin to craft new designs that can soar to social marketing heights. 

Happy knitting. 

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