A practical approach to modern marketing.

Why Marketers Shouldn’t Overinvest in Social Media (and, Six Tips To Avoid Getting Burned)

For an online marketing consultant, I’m remarkably conservative when it comes to social media marketing.

It’s not as if I ignore it; it’s just that urging clients to invest large amounts of time in media platforms they don’t own or control raises a few red flags.

Or at least it should. There are plenty of opportunities and just as many potholes; maximizing the former and avoiding the latter should be your goal.

So what should you avoid?

You’re Not The Customer, You’re The Product

Too many marketers have simply handed themselves over to proprietary social media platforms, ceding control to platforms that are trying very, very hard to monetize themselves.

Wordyard’s Scott Rosenberg touches on this when he speaks to the dangers journalists face when indulging an over-reliance on Facebook (to the detriment of their organization’s own website):

Here’s where my uneasiness comes from: Today Facebook is a private company that is almost certainly going to sell stock to the public before long. It will have quarterly earnings reports to make and pressure to deliver to investors. It is run by almost impossibly young people who have never had to deal with any business condition other than hockey-stick-curve growth. For the moment it appears to be trying hard to operate as a neutral and open public platform; its constant tinkering and rethinking of the design and functionality of its services can be maddening, but so far have tended to be driven by a serve-the-user impulse.

That won’t last forever. There are plenty of people waiting to cash in on Facebook’s success, and more in the wings, and they will expect the company to fulfill its inevitable destiny — and “monetize” the hell out of all the relationship-building we’re doing on its pages.

This is the landscape onto which today’s journalists are blithely dancing. I understand why they’re doing it, but I wish the larger companies and institutions would think a little harder about the future.

This is aimed at journalists, but it’s also true for organizations.

What happens when Facebook’s attempts to monetize come into direct conflict with your organization’s aims?

What happens when you invest a sizable portion of your marketing budget (time and money) into Facebook, then watch that investment devalue once Facebook changes the way it operates, or — like prior “must have” social media channels MySpace, Second Life, Friendster, etc — it simply fades from view.

(Those who say it can’t happen lack a basic appreciation of social media history.)

Unlike an email list, you don’t own those 10,000 “Likes” or the platform they’re visiting, so you’re  at the mercy of Facebook (or Twitter, or Bebo, or…).

And all that content sweat equity?

It will be worth very little. (What’s a Second Life avatar worth these days?)

In the end, if you’re not paying for a social media service, then you — and your freely provided content — are the product being sold.

Which forces us to ask a difficult question: is all that social media time and effort enriching your organization, or simply making Facebook richer?

Many of my clients can’t give me an answer to that question.

How Not To Get Burned

As a consultant, I offer my clients a few social media marketing pointers:

  • Transform “uncontrolled” social media assets into something more tangible for your organization (like opt-in email addresses)
  • Drive traffic from social media to your site rather than vice versa (several clients were driving traffic from their site to Facebook — a manifestly bad idea)
  • Whenever possible, leverage content across multiple media channels
  • Automate as much of the work as is possible (new tools make it very simple)
  • Measure social media impacts on revenues (don’t assume that investing time in Facebook automatically pays dividends, especially when considering opportunity costs to other channels like email)
  • Recognize that social media is registering all the signs of a bubble; those who ignore this may wind up on the wet end when it pops

Social media isn’t the devil, nor is it online marketing’s silver bullet.

It can produce for your organization, but don’t believe all the hype — or plow blindly ahead lacking any hint of a return.