The social media myth – some words of doubt on the ultimate power of social media marketing

The social media myth – some words of doubt on the ultimate power of social media marketing

To a man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail.” – said Abraham Maslow. It is called the ‘law of the instrument’ which states the natural human tendency to be over-dependent on their narrow skill-sets and resources. It does not matter – unfortunately – how well-skilled, educated we are, we may become the victim of this human bias…

On one of the popular professional social media platforms, in a usual workday morning, a quote came to our face that I could not just pass by. I did not feel like writing a comment, but as it has been on the agenda internally in our offices since then, we decided to have a word on it. At least a short and simple one.

The quote was said to be from a client communication, an email or so, and the essence was that they thank for the advice, but they are up to collecting engagements rather than likes. The reaction from the service provider followed, stating that social media presence is compulsory for all enterprises, with minor exceptions. And this was the point when decided to speak out sooner than later on this topic.

Of course, we do not see the whole context, and we do not see the metacommunication. Writings do not preserve irony, either. Nonetheless, what might make us concerned is the hard statement and the context in which the whole “conversation” was exposed.

We are not marketing experts, though we work with them in projects from time to time. Consequently, this whole post is written from an advisory perspective, where clients bring in their experience (good and bad) in the form of generalisations, overenthusiasm or frustrated comments and refusal.

For the avoidance of doubt, we are not against social media marketing, we acknowledge the relevance and use it where we find it useful. What we are strongly against is to make such hard and simplified statements as it is a must, something compulsory, and shed a negative light on clients, just because they have a different approach, to push certain solutions without careful consideration and develop false hope in clients regarding their company’s future performance.

Our intention is to make our prospective clients consider decisions carefully, from their own perspective, be conscious and rational when making choices and be brave to ask questions, ask for help, when necessary. Instead of being blown away by novelties, extravagancy, temporarily fancy ideas and “universal” or “catch-all” solutions. 

There is no one single truth. We have the underlying approach that we should be sensitive and good listeners. We have to explore not only the environment, the circumstances, but also our prospective client, including the people (their character) operating it. Success, good performance, outstanding results may be achieved in very different ways. It depends on the product or service characteristics, the targeted markets and customers, etc., such as the personality of the producer, provider, trader, whoever is relevant. However we describe it, everything is the question of proportions. Beyond the essence of the product or service, what really matters: target setting, timing, and also credibility. Let us see a bit more in details.

Meaningful product or service. We can have the best, the trendiest, well-established marketing strategy if the product or service to be provided is outdated, unnecessary, etc. Important to note that there is nothing to do with uniqueness, at least in our opinion, here. We can see new natural water suppliers emerging and building market share, and also outstanding ideas with enormous engineering expertise behind them, vanishing in the haze – most probably – because of bad timing or immaturity of the prospective customer side – as some examples.

The bottom line is that there has to be something, which has a potential to find its place in the respective market segment.

Target setting. For analytical purposes, we draw lines between certain steps, although, we know that it is theoretical in the majority of the cases. Product or service ideas may be popping up when seeing a niche, non-articulated, hidden demand, forgotten customer segment, etc. where one may have an impression on the behaviour of the potential target markets, right at the beginning. Depending on the volume and fundamental characteristics of that envisioned target group, such as their market environment, being the largest context, one may invest less or more into this part of the job.

It is also important to highlight that business development and marketing and communication expertise are two distinct ones, however, it rarely happens that these experts work independently without close interactions and iterations.

Pointing. Once the main target group is defined, the next question is: how to reach them? Not only technically, but mentally, emotionally, etc. depending on the essence of the product or service and the market environment. As an example: new icy refreshments may be introduced successfully during a heatwave in the summer, and a ski accessories related marketing campaign may be advisable in the winter.

Unfortunately, it is not always so obvious, and – some cases – being weird, astonishing, etc. may also pay out. There are cases where irony, humour have their place, and there are others where do not. One may act along different strategies when selling consumer goods, where pricing and availability are key and when selling luxury services connected to which exclusivity, “hard-to-get” characteristics are valuable.

The bottom line is that one must be careful and conscious when working on such projects. Once the target group is identified, studied thoroughly, one must accurately explore when, where and how to find and approach it…

… and this is where our concerns are the greatest. Let us see some examples – again – for illustration. One can be a person who is active on social media, to start with something relatively easy. Checks websites of producers and merchants before buying e.g clothes, household appliances or travel services, and also reads reviews from others. Most probably concludes purchases online, too. Everything seems perfect to rely on social media advertising in such a case. But what about security appliances, healthcare related issues, funerals, wedding arrangements, not to mention the nasty part of one’s self which one would like to keep hidden to an extent? Would look for the respective providers in the social media? And would like to find them there?

Well, we do not expect yes or no answers here. Honestly. Most probably, they may begin with: ‘it depends”. Because it really does. Social media can be helpful in connection with one product or service and relatively valueless with another. It may also be helpful in one period of a campaign and detrimental in another. It can be used for more cases related to an age group than related to another. May be a relevant means to provide visibility and first impressions – e.g. in relation to the so-called “people businesses” – but less of a value when it comes to building or maintaining business relationships with the actual clients. It is not a black-or-white question. At least not in our opinion.

Timing. Timing – in business development – is key, and so is in the marketing strategy, although with a bit of a different meaning. Timing may refer to the part of the general circumstances, like when to consider a market mature enough to enter into with a product. It might be immature to enter into a country with mobile app-based transport fee collection where the mobile phone penetration is 1% (to be extreme). Timing may also refer to cyclicity and seasonality, as we touched upon the latter in the context of ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ products.

Timing – and now we leave the business development domain – may also have a relevance when certain platforms are chosen. There are statistics when social media platforms show the highest visitor frequency, when huge road-side ads get through with the messages on them, when TV commercials have the highest impact and also which magazines, etc. are sold which part of the year. All available with further specification according to age, income, etc. of the customers.

Do not forget that we are living in a fast developing (or at least changing) world, meaning that data is reliable only on the short term. Habits are changing, fashions are coming and going, people are moving around the world, etc.

Credible shot. Ideally, you have the right product, have your marketing plan that identifies the prospective customer base and the best available techniques to approach them, timetable, etc. There is nothing more left, than to shoot. Shoot, in the sense of getting visible, providing information, delivering the message – as per your decided marketing plan. There are different kinds, to grab attention, to maintain it, to refresh earlier memories, etc. We are not going to go into the details. Simply assume to have an adequate one. Adequate in the point in time and under the circumstances it was elaborated. Getting complicated, is not it?

We intend to highlight it only in the context of credibility. One can repeat the same message with the best timing in the most relevant media, if that is not credible somehow…

Probably, this is the most subjective element. Not only because of the scarcity of reliable statistical data (due to the lack of proper methodology to measure), but also because of the continuous changes experienced, stemming from external factors. External in the sense of being out of one’s competence.

From the perspective of the results, some marketing actions may not only stay ineffective, but there might be a high risk of becoming explicitly detrimental. Imagine a cruising vacation ad right after a “breaking news” slot reporting a recent catastrophe where a cruiser has been involved, or wealth management services commercial with a ‘noble businessman’ explaining the benefits, parallel to which having a nation-wide scandal around a pension fund bankruptcy in which reputable managers have been involved… Just not to go too far.

Social media seems to be an easy going and useful instrument, but – in our opinion – mostly until something unexpected happens and gets out of one’s control. Its positive characteristics are almost the same as the negative ones: quick, easy to approach a sizeable audience, information spreads quickly, cannot erase from history, etc…

It is almost sure that it shall not be an exclusive instrument, so one should find the right proportion of different channels. The right ones at the right time, with the right content alongside the right strategy. Sounds easy, does not it?

Customer satisfaction. This is the bottom line of businesses. Who is a producer, merchant or service provider in one sense, is a client in another sense. It is devastating to participate in introductory meetings where our prospective client excludes certain things (like online marketing, per se) at the very beginning, when approaching us with a request for proposal for sales development… It is not the client’s fault, I guess. Simply has a (hopefully only one) bad experience, and it is a human reaction. Unfortunately, it means that we would have a more difficult start, to bring back the client to a neutral position, to become open to consider all the relevant options to proceed with the development of the business.

We wish we lived in a world where we, advisers could put down that ‘hammer’ sometimes, take a walk, look around, talk to others with significantly different mindset, experience and routine, to remind ourselves of our own human limitations. Even if it is impossible to be perfect, efforts to overcome these limitations may be appreciated. 

We get what we give, according to the saying. So is this the case when clients are confronted with hard, simplified statements. 

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