Is Social Media Marketing a Waste of Time?

MarketingProfs community manager Beth Harte started me thinking about this with her discussion in the MarketingProfs group at LinkedIn where she referenced a post by Social Media Explorer Jason Falls who said…

"I’ve got news for you. In the world of business, all that [social media] talk will get you exactly nowhere. Conversations do not ring the cash register. Engagement does not sell more product. Talking with people just means you have to take time to listen which prevents you from spending valuable time selling more product."

A short while later I came across a post by John Jantsch who suggests we should stop wasting our time with social media. He said…

"In short, without a plan, one that’s steeped in your overall marketing strategy, any tactical form of marketing, including creating a Facebook Group, will be a waste of time." 

What's the common thread between both discussions? Is it that social media is a waste of time and that we should all grow up, forget about this "markets are conversations" meme and get back to the real work of marketing? Not at all! 

Both Jason and John tout the virtues of social media engagement, but wisely discern that there are limits. It's not a panacea, not a nirvana, nor a replacement for other forms of marketing. Social media, in and of itself, is a marketing approach that needs to be integrated with other forms and help drive revenue to the organization.

"If you don’t stop selling the fluff and start driving the bottom line, you’re going to have to go back to whatever you were doing in 2005," said Jason. "Make your company blog drive search results to the keywords you want to win. Present calls to action that lead your Facebook fans to buy your product. Entice Twitter followers to subscribe to your e-mail newsletter where you can present similar calls to action for purchase."

John's emphasis is on the need to begin by crafting a marketing strategy of which social media may be a part. "In short, without a plan, one that’s steeped in your overall marketing strategy, any tactical form of marketing, including creating a Facebook Group, will be a waste of time," says John.

John suggests you start with strategy and let tactics follow. And he sees social media as a tactic, not an overall strategy. 

One person who has this down pat is Chris Baggott, founder and CEO of Compendium Blogware. Take a look, for example, at his own blog:

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There are no less than five (count em, five!) calls-to-action associated with the blog, one in the header, three in the right-hand column and one beneath the post itself. While that may seem a bit like overkill, I think Chris does it to artfully emphasize the need to associate informational content-oriented marketing (i.e. a blog) with direct response, lead generation approaches.

In closing, here are my responses, first to Beth's discussion question, then to Jason and John's post respectively: 

"My mantra is that of the Cluetrain's, markets are conversations, therefore, participation is marketing. However, that being said, it doesn't ring quite so true down the hall with the sales staff. They want to see the cash register ring. To get that they need leads and plenty of them. (I find the CEO tends to side with them as well. Something about the balance sheet, P&L statements and EBITDA) 

"The onus up.on me now is to prove that social media works in real-world business environments. The blog posts I have on my edcal involve very pragmatic content, designed to prove the case for social media engagement."

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"In 2005 I was doing the same thing I'm doing today, just with a different and more limited set of tools (blogs mostly), and that's proving the case for new media. 

"I'm a purist, but enough of a pragmatist to know that social media is not the begin-all/end-all. It's part of an integrated marketing effort that involves an emphasis on calls-to-action, lead generation and bottom-line differentiation. 

"One of the largest deals we ever signed at the company at which I work came as a result of my participation in the blog and social media spheres. You're right, it's the longer road, but it can and does lead to a payoff. 

"Chris Baggott just testified to the positive effect blogs are having. How long have they been around, more than a decade? Give Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter et al time to mature. Each will find its place in the marketing mix. As you noted, it already is."

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"I'm with you on this one. Any form of marketing engagement must begin with a focus on strategy. To do otherwise is to take a shot in the dark. Social media can and does work, but, as a form of marketing, it is subject to the same rigors and scrutiny faced by any other form.

"And while I'd love to suggest that conversations in and of themselves are sufficient to drive results, without and end game, they often do not. At least, that's been my experience.Lead with strategy and the appropriate tactics will follow."

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