Social media is advertising
I’m getting tired of people thinking that web 2.0 tools like Twitter, blogs, Facebook, are magic things that will get people more customers by their very nature.
Someone I follow on Twitter posted a link to an article called “Social Media versus Advertising“. Since I think social media is advertising, I figured I’d check it out to see the argument. The argument talks about a plumber who is trying to grow her* business and it goes something like this:
Advertising is costly, takes a lot of time and effort, and doesn’t get results.
Social media is less costly and something you don’t work at. It’s like playing basketball in the gym, you get word of mouth when you’re not focused on the business.
I’m being deliberately glib here to make a point, but really, this is the argument. The author of the article finishes the paragraph that talks about how social media will magically increase your business with this line:
“Over time these word of mouth clients will be the best leads for your business.”
That, dear reader, isn’t a tenet of social networking. Or even advertising. That’s marketing 101. A good product or service will get you word of mouth. A bad one will also get you word of mouth. The last line I quoted above is only possible if the plumber delivers a good service.
But you already knew that. You already new that marketing a good product is way better than marketing a bad one. You also knew that the plumbing business, and other service orientated businesses are built on doing a good job. Social media won’t help a plumber who does a crappy job. In fact, social media will hurt them even more since people have the ability to use Yelp to complain about crappy jobs. Remember the Chiropractor who sued a customer because of a bad review on Yelp? In the era of social media, a business can’t hide from the bad stuff anymore.
So when people promise word of mouth through social media, they conveniently ignore this.
But they ignore something else as well. And that is, social media can be about awareness (which is advertising). People can say it’s always about conversations all they want, but it doesn’t make it true. If a business sets up a social media presence, they didn’t do it for fun. And it isn’t easy (or less time consuming than traditional awareness advertising).
Conversations on social media will most likely turn to the thing that business is interested in (which isn’t the worst thing in the world). So while this is a new form of advertising, it still has all the basic rules of advertising. And in those conversations, finding the right balance between telling people about your offerings and still engaging in conversations is the same balancing act a plumber might do while playing basketball. They might wait for the conversation to turn to plumbing, but they still might push the conversation in that direction by talking about a funny anecdote that happened while in the act of plumbing.
David Ogilvy, a famous ad guy said: “What really decides consumers to buy or not to buy is the content of your advertising, not its form.”
Still, this form of advertising works better when it’s part of a bigger effort. IE, other communications talk about the social media communications. An ad in the local yellow pages can say “follow me on Twitter”. A business card can talk about the Facebook Page. The print ad in the local paper can talk about of them. PR opportunities can also leverage them.
The point is, SOCIAL MEDIA isn’t special.
It’s different. But then, PR is different from a billboard. Radio is different from TV which is different from a brochure. Advertising tools are different, and their differences make them good tools to accomplish certain goals.
But when consultants walk around saying this isn’t advertising, then they do a disservice to the person they are consulting. If your friendly neighborhood social media peep says they will guarantee word of mouth through conversations, then run. Because they are full of hooey.
Your product or service will get that. Or, in the case of well-known brands, the brand equity that has been built over years will guarantee it.
Now, I should say, I think that if you happen to be a plumber, then your digital presence locally can really be an asset to your business. I did a whole presentation on it. But if the company is larger than Fran the Plumber, then consider social media as part of an overall communications strategy.
Don’t make it the only one.
End of rant.
*the author never says the plumber is a guy who goes and plays basketball after work, so I took some licence.