There has been much conflicting news about social media marketing (SMM) recently. A news item in The Australian advised marketers to slow their efforts to adopt social media marketing for their companies. Similarly, an article in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal warned small business owners not to get "caught up in the social media whirlwind".
On the other hand, industry research by leading firms like Aberdeen and Forester show companies rushing into SMM and finding it very effective in reaching several of their marketing goals.
So who is right? Let's look at both sides of the argument to see.
The SMM Naysayers
The main point of the Australian article can be summarized as follows. The big social media sites – like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn – were not designed as marketing tools. As such, there is no reason to rush into using these sites until there is a qualifying marketing reason to be there. The writer believes that after the buzz dies down, the really effective marketing tools will come to the surface.
The article also argues that many companies that have tried SMM are using their old marketing mindset in a completely new and different medium, and that a better approach would be to "do something that is based on an insight into that new media."
In the Commercial Appeal article, writer Jim Blasingame states that some business owners falsely believe that connecting online will "cause sales dollars to roll in". He claims that social media use steels time from "effective" marketing practices ie those that result directly in sales. The Australian article also makes reference to the sales aspect of marketing, noting that a big challenge is "moving people from exposure to a brand message to in-store activation."
The Counter Argument in Favor of SMM
Any social media marketing company will tell you that a new marketing approach always requires some caution. You can not jump headlong into a new strategy without some planning. The Australian article is right on this point – a lack of planning and understanding this new medium has been the downfall of some businesses.
But on the idea that these sites are not designed for marketing, I beg to differ. Would the writer say the same thing about a local business association or Chamber of Commerce meeting? Not likely. The main reason for attending such meetings is to boost the profile of one's business and meet others who might need the services a company has to offer.
This last point brings us to the discussion of marketing goals. Both articles cited above talk about sales being the ultimate goal of marketing, which is true. But ask a social media marketing company what their goals are for their clients and they'll talk about increasing brand profile and awareness, improving Google rankings, and drawing more website traffic. The immediate goal of SMM is not a direct increase in sales, but an increase in awareness of a company which will, in turn, bump up conversion rates.
Perhaps it is not SMM itself that is a problem, but these writers' understanding of it. SMM is not intended to boost sales like an expensive paid ad. It is intended to enhance reputations and build a strong marketing presence for a company. And on that score, it is succeeding. According to recent research, social media marketing companies are experiencing an upswing in business, despite the economic downturn, and their clients- or at least 80-90% of them, according to MarketingSherpa – are very pleased with the results.