14th April 2011

Absurd Social Networking

Hundreds of AssNabs (Absurd Strategic Social Networking Articles and Blogs 1) have been published. These articles typically lead off by asking: “Is Social Media a fad?” “Has it gone too far?” “Have we wasted money?”

Their answer is universally the same: that people have wasted money and that social media and social networking are just additional tools in the marketing tool box. Part of the marketing mix. That they are not a substitute for an integrated multi-channel strategy. And that geriatric media still has its place.

Well, whoopee. I apologize for the bluntness, but AssNabs constitutes, quite simply, an enormous media clump of misleading nonsense. Whoever said or believed they were a complete substitute at this early stage in the evolution of a revolutionary technology? Except the snake oil salesmen selling ‘magic pills’, who always appear when new technologies arrive, and who always do a lot of damage during the short time they’re around (most sellers of Pay Per Click ads are one egregious example – time they vanished!).

The AssNab is your classic ‘straw man’ argument. Putting up a proposition or argument that is patently ridiculous, so the author can knock it down and use it to justify their position. Silly but great for creating yet another media article or blog post to get you column inches or a better Google ranking.

But before we look at the absurd analysis in all the AssNabs, let’s first revisit what social networking and social media do that is powerful. What can they achieve?

Consumers now pick and choose the messages they receive

Well firstly, they put the consumer in charge – they empower people to pick and choose the messages they receive. And provide channels for people to share their passion for their favorite brands, or maybe attack a brand that messes them about.

Social networking, integrated with social media, clearly foretells the end of mass marketing as we know it – the imminent demise of traditional advertising, both print and broadcast.

Clearly it has not delivered all of the above yet, but we are now talking no more than 10 years before people are empowered, before the world has changed completely. In the meantime, let’s look at the straw man argument of the AssNabs.

[1] Slightly rude, but it’s a nice way to show how damaging AssNabs can be: – that they can turn around and bite you on the bum if you believe the rubbish they spout.

What do these hundreds of articles say? Something like: “people selling the social media message preach that advertising no longer works and that we should stop it now. Stop spending money on media advertising altogether. You should spend your whole budget on social media or online ads.”

Did anyone really say this apart from those few snake oil salesmen? No, they didn’t. The article is just creating a false dilemma. All this, or all that.

A classic false dilemma that I recall from my history days was the one that Hitler gave to the German people back in the early 1930s when the country was in chaos. That to fix Germany in these chaotic times, it was either us (the Nazis), or it’s the communists. This totally ignored that they were many other more moderate choices in between.

So, what’s the classic false dilemma in these articles: It’s either traditional marketing or social media – nothing in between. Absolute rubbish. The answer lies in the middle, with the weight shifting month by month to online.

Clearly, many people took a wait and see approach and are still waiting. Others have started to use it as part of a bigger strategic plan, and integrating it into their traditional marketing. And clearly, anyone who put all their marketing eggs into the social media and internet basket lost money. It was simply not ready to deliver results. However, it is now.

What do the AssNabs usually go on to say: “Social media has not replaced advertising (well, duh). And that it now coexists peacefully with traditional media, it’s just another channel”.

Absolute rubbish. It is not coexisting and it is anything but peaceful! Social networking, not social media, is waiting to take over and will. The analogy would be saying people can co-exist peacefully with a virulent cancer- you can for a while. The claims in AssNabs partly sound plausible because they confuse and mix up two very different technologies – social media and social networking. Clearly, social media is currently coexisting with mass media because it is just another media channel.

Hence, the All Spice man on a white horse campaign. A brilliant use of the new channel which provides the ability to reach people and for people to interact. But it’s not social networking, it’s social media! For an article on this amazingly successful ad and why it is not relevant to business … To see how and why they are different and why social networking is having the most impact on the world …..

AssNabs continue their strategic journey with: “You can’t build a successful multi-channel marketing plan with a Twitter feed alone”. (Well, duh!). So has social networking lived up to the hype? No it hasn’t, but it has a role to play.

Sorry, it has more than just a role. It is currently the star of the play. And when over 80% of the world is on the networks, it will then be the star of its own one-man play (to continue their theatre analogy!). Companies and businesses need to have a clear understanding of the major role social networking is about to play. To understand the likely end-game with this particular new technology. That it’s power is driven by the power of the herd instinct, our need to belong. By ignoring the forces at play, these types of articles just increase the fog surrounding business people when they think of this new technology.

Then the AssNabs take their strategy-free discussion to yet another level of absurdity: “Social media is of course social, it’s not commercial. So it works well with social causes and political movements. But it is not a commercial or marketing channel and you cannot sell through social media.”

There are some big assumptions underlying this statement. Firstly, the implication that selling must interrupt and so is of necessity annoying. Those of us who used permission marketing in the late 90’s and until recently knew that it didn’t need to be. The idea was ‘to become an invited guest, not a pest’. This technique is still valid, it is just being overtaken by the technology of social networking.

With social networking, as with all modern marketing, it is all about positioning and engaging. It is not about jamming your message down our throats.

Done well and with a clear strategy, social networking can be very, very commercial.

To illustrate, think of the politician who works in their local community, attends the opening of every door, and is always helping. Versus one who comes in 3 months before the election and blasts the electorate with ads. Whose support is longer lasting? Who spends less? Then add a whole new technology that puts her many and fervent supporters into a Tribe using Facebook. You have a politician who will be around for a while.

Every business has the power to do this. You can, and we do, sell on social networks.

But back to the second point the AssNabs make about social networking not being commercial. That social media (and they nearly always say media, not networks) is social and it does best when it does good, when built around a cause. Agreed, it is always easy to get people to rally to a cause to help people or to better the world. The harder part, the day-to-day grind, is finding ways to assemble a tribe of people for more boring and challenging tasks. Such as helping them to manage their business or be better at their profession– not nearly as exciting as raising money for tsunami relief. But just as meaningful and powerful for business and commerce.

AssNabs also ignore any business to business marketing, probably because they believe it is not commercial. Those of us who work in this field day in and day out know that the most powerful uses of these new technologies are precisely in the B2Bworld. Why? Because the social networking platforms are all about building relationships over time. And it’s in B2B suppliers of all kinds where relationships are a major driver of profits, probably their main driver. There are no better technologies for building better relationships than the professional customer networks that are forming on LinkedIn and Facebook.

The AssNabs assume that a business has to approach B2B relationship building in a certain way: Getting your staff to do bulk re-tweeting, article sharing and link creation. Taking the techniques of sell and tell onto the new media platforms.

Well, if this is your approach, who would want to form relationships with you? Who would want to be a part of your tribe when you are just spamming them and it’s all about you?

Social networking for business is not about being aggressive or telling and selling. It is all about selling in a way that will grow your tribe. That it will build relationships and grow value over time.

The wonderful AssNabs usually finish with: “You need for you to measure return of investment very carefully. Social media is free, but it comes with a big time cost – your time and your employees”.

Well, first of all, effective social media isn’t free, as it clearly doesn’t get done on its own (though some people seem to try to do it using robots, both software and human ones. Not a good look). And it needs to be done by relatively senior and professional people, so it’s not cheap. Because it is time costly, and often the time is spent doing multiple tasks with potentially multiple benefits, it is extremely hard to measure return of investment.

For example, how do you measure the return of investment on having a coffee with a former client? Or with an old school friend who could and might buy your services one day. Or of attending an industry conference?

What is the ROI of a community that wants to stay in touch with your business?

But the bigger question, and the way more powerful one, is what’s the return of investment on a tribe? It’s almost impossible to measure the profits you’ll make on a tribe that you have assembled – the benefit is the development of a community that is engaged and happy to stay in touch with you and your business.

With online advertising it’s easier, as the ads have a cost and you can track conversions very easily. But is still hard if you use the advertisements to grow your tribe or to grow engagement, which of course is what they should mainly be used for (with clearance sales being a notable exception).

Of course, you do need to attempt to measure ROI. You do need to have some measures. Business is used to seeing hard figures for ROI for their advertising or marketing spend. It is easy to say what a brochure cost, or a magazine advertisement. But at least quantify the time costs. And be aware of the longer term benefits, they will dwarf the quarterly sales improvements.

Many marketers and business owners will remain mystified by social media marketing if AssNabs continue to get published. Social media and social networking are not just about NFPs and causes. They are not simply about providing entertainment or worse, messages selling your business.

The new networks are about engaging and building professional customer networks, networks of people that want to stay engaged with you and your business. That’s marketing in the new era.

Learn more about Social Media with Lead Generation here.

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About James Eastland

Creating Customer Communities for companies selling B2B is my passion—shortening their sales cycle and building market leadership. My role sets the direction and vision of Lead Creation, tapping into the online experience of our large team of young professionals to implement cost effective strategies for B2B businesses.

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