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The social media marketing backlash has begun. Blame the unlikely team of The Onion and IBM. The former dropped a pitch-perfect takedown of socmedia "experts" right before Thanksgiving. Then Big Blue released data that showed Facebook had almost zero effect on Black Friday sales, and Twitter actually had zero.
The one-two punch confirmed my deep suspicion that a lot of the buzzword-laden blather around social media marketing the past few years was itself a form of marketing for self-conferred experts looking to make a buck off scared blue-chip companies. That's not to say there aren't bright, honest people plying their trade. It's just that I keep waiting for one of them to have a Jerry Maguire moment.
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For those not familiar with the movie, Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) was a sports agent who gets tired of the dishonesty in his industry and pens a mission statement, paper copies of which he distributes to everyone else in the firm. (Hey, this was 1996.) Things don't work out as planned, but at least he gets Renee Zellweger. If you're a social media marketer feeling a bit Maguire-ish lately, here are some talking points:
No more buying Likes. It was forgivable in 2009 to try to rack up as many Facebook fans as humanly possible, but now that it's almost 2013, it's time to acknowledge how pointless this is. That's especially true if a consumer has to Like something in order to take part in a promotion. Sure, you get exposure when a friend of that consumer sees the Like, but the truth is, your target doesn't necessarily like you. He or she just wants to try to win something. Therefore, the exposure that comes from that Like -- whether it's a Sponsored Story or just an update in the Facebook Ticker -- is fraudulent. Just like in real life or in screwball comedies, you can't trick someone into liking you. They'll always figure it out later.
Salvaging a customer interaction on Twitter doesn't make you Steve Jobs. We've all seen and heard stories of incensed customers who whine about their experience on Twitter and then get set right by a competent customer service rep on Twitter. But here's another story for you: Over the summer, I had a horrible experience with United Airlines. I went on Twitter to complain and United never responded. The nerve! Now, here's the funny part. If I was booking a flight and United's price was even $10 cheaper than the next airline, I'd book with them again. That's not because I'm a forgiving person. It's because for me, price is my top priority in booking a flight. On the other hand, I had a wonderful interaction on Twitter this summer with Best Buy, but again, I'd drop them in a heartbeat if Amazon was selling one of its products at a lower price. The moral: Customer service via social media is great, but often irrelevant.
One final example: Back in 2005, Dell became a whipping boy for ignoring uber-whiner Jeff Jarvis, whose DellHell blog became a prime example of the pitfalls brands face if they don't have a social media strategy. So, Dell got a bunch of social media experts to turn things around. Now the company is a model for any brand looking to set up a dialogue with customers in social media. And so how is this working out for Dell? Not so well. As The Guardian recently wrote, "Dell is looking like the sick man of the PC business."
You're not a publisher. Brands aren't publishers. Brands are advertisers. Publishers are publishers. For instance, Coca-Cola has 55 million Facebook fans and does a great job providing them with a stream of content. But, if PageLever's research is to be believed, Coke will be lucky to reach 6% of those fans with its status updates. If it wants to reach the other 94% or so, then it has to pay. Now I ask you: What sort of publisher has to pay money to another media company to reach its own readers? In another example, IBM claims some 32,000 individual blogs and a wealth of other professional-grade content. Yet one does not simply go to IBM.com and expect to see editorial content. No matter how good it is, the reader will always suspect the goal is not truth-seeking, but the promotion of IBM. That's fine, but it's really advertising, not publishing.
The secret to good social media marketing: Make good products and offer good services. If you can't trick people into "Liking" your brand, maybe you can try to make them actually, you know, like your brand. How? Under-promise and over-deliver. Make products and offer services that are really, really good. That's not to say you should completely forsake social media marketing communication. Every once in a while if you have something interesting to say, then by all means use Twitter or Facebook to say it. But stop posting cute pictures of puppies to win cheap Likes.
And if you're ever at a loss, ask yourself: What would Jerry do?
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