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Social media is advertising

March 5, 2009

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.

They aren’t.

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.

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. March 5, 2009 10:46 am

    All good points. I hope we can continue this conversation:)

  2. March 5, 2009 10:52 am

    I respectfully disagree.

    Awareness, although the main goal of advertising, is not advertising. It is more closely marketing.

    The definition of advertising “Advertising is the nonpersonal communication of information usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature about products, services or ideas by identified sponsors through the various media”

    With this, it is plain to see that Social Media is not advertising. Sponsors on a Social Media page is advertising, sponsored Apps are advertising, but the tool itself is not.

    It is my belief that Social Media is not marketing either, but just a tool for marketing – similar more to a TV program.

    Using it as a tool for marketing is a skill that needs to be developed; Skittles had a large lapse in judgment not to long ago when they decided to put a Twitter feed on their site, but at least their trying.

  3. March 5, 2009 10:58 am

    I’m not sure why Social Media isn’t marketing. i personally think no social media should be started without a goal, especially if we’re talking about someone who is running a business. One can argue that starting a Twitter feed while running a business is a smart idea for that business, but again, I would counter that unless that person has a goal, both in the short term, and in the long term, they are just wasting time on what is ‘the hot thing’.

    I don’t disagree that social media can be like a TV program, but again, the form doesn’t matter, it’s the content. it’s not easy to create a TV show that is entertaining. The guy at Wine library does it, but he does it to sell wine. Yes, he tests wines that he doesn’t sell, and yes, he pans wines that he sells. But I would counter that it’s still part of a marketing plan.

    And I do agree with your final point. We’re making it up as we go a long. But I think that if we determine goals first, we’ll do a better job of making it up as we go a long.

  4. March 5, 2009 12:04 pm

    Social media, is a form of media… which makes it a tool of marketing. TV Programs are created for entertainment/informational purposes – not marketing, commercials were made for marketing.

    In my eyes – Social Media was created (in general) for networking. Marketing and Advertising on Social Networking sites came about as a way to monetize these sites so that they can be kept alive.

    Using these sites as part of a company to enhance a brand is marketing as well; however in order to do it well it must not be to ‘salesy’ or else community members will not incorporate it into their network.

    Blogging in it’s purest form is about the sharing information. Blogging to bring viewers to your site and buy a product is Marketing. Very closely related, but in my mind there is still a difference.

  5. March 5, 2009 9:12 pm

    I think when you begin to say things like: “Blogging in its purest form is about sharing information”, you’re not thinking about the Whole Foods blog, the many blogs of IBM, or the man blogs listed here. http://wiki.beingpeterkim.com.

    My blog is about sharing information and ideas, but I’m not doing this for fun. This blog has goals. I mean, without goals, what’s the point? This is work. Your blog is work. If you have a goal, it makes the work worthwhile.

    And the goal is often marketing one.

    • June 16, 2009 7:00 am

      I rarely do not comment on blogs but yours I had to stop and say Great article!!

  6. March 6, 2009 10:31 am

    I agree, a blog needs goals, and often they are marketing goals – however a goal does not mean that Social Media isn’t a tool of marketing, and not marketing as a whole.

  7. cliqology permalink
    June 10, 2009 10:18 am

    Great Post, and lots of cogent arguments.

    In my opinion, I think that “Social Media” as term is overused. The whole web is rapidly becoming Social, and the uses for these Social Elements run the gambit of creating word of mouth, public relations, and straight up advertising, basically the entire spectrum of marketing. I think that it is wrong to try to classify Social as “the best tool for…”

    …more useful would be to understand the goals of what you want to achieve, and use “Social” as a tactic to reach the goal.

  8. June 10, 2009 2:53 pm

    Thanks. I agree that social media is overused. I’ve long argues that the web isn’t social, the content and people are. Social media is a means to an end. As you say, a tactic.

  9. opencoffeederry permalink
    June 15, 2009 11:39 am

    While I agree with a lot of what you say in your post I do have to disagree with the statement that ‘social media is advertising’.

    Social media is not a magic bullet. Nor is it necessarily better than advertising (i.e. it’s a tool which can be put to effective use, or not). But it’s not advertising.

    Advertising is based on the concept of interrupting consumers as they go about doing something else. The ad in the magazine interrupts you as you read the articles, TV ads interrupts your favorite show and online advertising pokes its nose in as you search for online content. Your only choice is to ignore it or pay attention to it.

    Where social media / social networking differs is that you have the choice as to whether or not you encounter it at all. Consumers must choose to visit the Wholefoods blog, follow the twitterings of Starbucks or be friends with a brand on Facebook.

    That choice requires brands to create content that consumers will choose to engage with.

    I agree wholeheartedly that social media is no magic cure – like advertising, it can be an effective tool in a marketing armory. But it’s not advertising.

    • June 15, 2009 2:39 pm

      Opencoffeederry wrote:

      “Advertising is based on the concept of interrupting consumers as they go about doing something else.”

      I think this is more because it’s the Advertising Model, and not necessarily advertising. I think advertising is saying something relevant to someone at a relevant time. Google made kazillions because they managed to hit both. Advertisers could never hit the second because the model of interrupting was their only manner of talking.

      Now though, we have other options. But we still need to add value (either by offering content, or simply offering free shit).

      And so while I agree that people choose to Fan/follow, marketers can figure out the best way to get them back.

      I’ve long though that social media is a good test of advertising. Brands that are well build get fans/followers just by joining up. However, getting a follower is a lot different from keeping one.

      I work at any advertising agency, so my bias is obvious. But I call it advertising because it’s an extension of the story of the brand. I don’t think social media can launch a brand. I do think it can launch fans into generating more fans.

  10. April 8, 2010 11:05 am

    I feel as though Social media should not be your mail source of advertising but that It can be a very powerful source of advertising that does far more than a normal ad because those people want to read what you have to say and then they want to go to your link or product, where in traditional advertising you are trying to force your listener or viewer to watch what you have to say and force them to come see what you have via a commercial interrupting their show or radio music or a banner that is interrupting their internet surfing ect.

    I wouldn’t under estimate the power of social media. Its free and you can reach thousands and thousands of people in an instant.

    check out http://www.incomeknockout.com for more helpful tips and free traffic generating tools

  11. June 18, 2010 8:06 am

    Some of the biggest brands are turning the marketing matrix on its head by targeting promote at consumers using social media Advertising exclusively.

  12. July 25, 2010 12:27 pm

    Yeph – keep advertising in social media – it sponsors the technology
    I actually start clicking on ads – not that I care about the content – not at all – but it makes money for the networks.

    Advertising is a new, non governmental Tax, advertisers pay into the society. Fortunately social networks are smart enough to make it not intrusive so users won’t bother having some links show up somewhere. And we all klick once in a while to make advertisers worth continue advertising.

    Axel
    http://xeesm.com/AxelS

  13. November 22, 2010 6:26 pm

    Social media still continues to grow in our every day lives and in our business lives. Now like 80% of people use a social media site.

    For the best cat training tips, videos, products and more go to Stop Cat Biting

  14. May 11, 2011 3:46 pm

    Great Article

    At this point, I’m sure arguments can be made for the pros and cons of social marketing.

    Whatever the case, it seems to be growing with the public everday.

    • January 12, 2015 6:27 pm

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