The Role of Social Media and Content in Marketing: Conversation is King

The role of marketing is to put buyers together with sellers. In the ideal, theoretical scenario marketing is not required to grow a business. A buyer expresses a need and is immediately matched with the right seller ready to fulfill the need. Or a seller presents an offering to a buyer right at the moment the buyer could benefit from having it. However, theoretical scenarios are just that – theory. We don’t live in an ideal world. Our world is full of friction: buyer and seller decision-making is not always rational. There is an imperfect flow of information, artificial barriers, like regulations, exist and so much more, and thus the necessity of the marketing function.

As marketers, it is our job to cut through the noise – the friction – and create and help put the offerings of those we represent in o the minds, hearts, and hands of buyers.  Over the course of the last 150 years, marketers have employed countless strategies and tactics to fulfill the mandate of marketing.

Many of the oldest marketing frameworks are still alive and well today such as AIDA. First envisioned by Elias St. Elmo Lewis in 1889, AIDA is an acronym for helping marketers guide people through what is commonly referred to as the purchase funnel stages:

  • Awareness (A), the stage people become aware of a sellers offering
  • Interest (I), the stage people form an interest in the sellers offering
  • Desire (D), the stage people begin to desire the offering
  • Action (A), the stage people take action in order to acquire the offering

 Over the last quarter century, the AIDA mobile has matured and three new stages have been added:

  • Adoption (A), the stage a buyer begins to use and adopt the offering
  • Loyalty (L), the stage a buyer forms a sense of commitment to a seller and will continue to buy from the seller in when reasonable alternatives are available.
  • Advocacy (A), the stage a buyer begins to advocate (positively or negatively) about a sellers offerings.

There is much to say about every one of the stages above. In fact every book, presentation, study and conversation of marketing in one way or another can relate to one of these stages and/or the fundamental goal of marketing – putting the buyer and seller together as efficiently as possible.

To achieve the goal of connecting buyers and sellers, marketers spend a lot of money, roughly $390.3 billion in media services a year in the United States alone (Advertising Age, 2014).  Marketers are looking to engage the consumer through TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, Internet, and out-of-home, as well as through marketing services like direct mail, telemarketing, sales promotion, public relations events, and directories. Marketing spending has not always been efficient.

We’ve known for years – decades in fact – that marketing spending is not perfectly efficient, that it does not always hit the mark. John Wanamaker (1838-1920) may have said it best in the early days 20th-century marketing, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” 

Since this famous quote, markets have strived to make marketing more measurable and efficient.  They have turned to new media like TV in the Mad Men era or Internet and social media in today’s Math Men era, in order to reduce the friction and engage consumers directly. One of the great benefits of digital media, like the Internet and social media, is that it is measurable.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen the rise of social media used by marketers. When it first came to pass social media was heralded an efficient means for marketers to cut through the clutter and connect with buyers. In fact, according to eMarketer, marketers will spend as much as $10.6 billion by 2019, and that is just the money for buying the media and does not include content development. This is a lot of money, and according to a recent Fast Company article, it may be going to waste.

Chris Gayomali recently reports on a Forrester study titled “Social Relationships Strategies that Work,” and noted that a marketer’s Twitter and Facebook advertising reaches just 2% of their followers and leads to a paltry 0.07% engagement rate.  So, John Wannamaker was wrong. If he was advertising on social media today, 50% of his advertising was not wasted, rather 98% of it was and less than 0.07% actually generated any type of action let alone the desired action. This, frankly, is simply not adequate. Marketers need to do better.

One way to do better is to take a step back and reflect on the role of social media. Consumers and marketers alike are like tenant farmers when it comes to social media.  Social media is not the marketers or the buyer’s asset.  The landowner –  Facebook, Twitter, produces and owns the land. The farmer – the consumer and marketer – nurture and till the land with content, and marketers pay for it all and then some through their advertising dollars in the hopes to reach a buyer.

My comments here are not to slam social media. It has its time and place within the media mix and I fully support marketers investing in it but in the right way. Social media took off because it was a means for people to connect and engage each other through content that people cared about.  Remember, “Content is not king. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about” (Cory Doctorow).  Marketers should remember this.  Placing an ad and interjecting it into the conversation stream is fine, but this interrupts the flow of the conversation and so it is not surprising that people are not responding.

Social media works when the consumer is doing the talking, not the marketer. When it comes to social media marketers would be best served by developing interesting stories and content geared toward stimulating conversations, conversations that people want to have around and about the marketer’s purpose, thoughts and positions on things that matter to the people or are simply entertaining. This is what it means to “earn” media. If you’re simply paying for an ad this turns social media into any other form of paid media.

To prosper going forward, marketers should focus on building out their owned media assets and create content that people care about.  They can then use all the media channels at hand, including social media, to invite people to participate in the conversation.

Managing Partner at Identity Praxis, Inc. | Website

Michael Becker is an intentionally recognized identity & personal information management solutions strategic advisor, speaker, entrepreneur, and academic. He advises companies on personal information economy business strategy, product development, business development, and sales & marketing strategies. He also represents them at leading trade groups, including the Mobile Ecosystem Forum. Michael is an advisor to Assurant, Predii, Privowny, and Phoji. He is the co-author of Mobile Marketing for Dummies and a number of other books and articles related to mobile marketing, identity, and personal information management. He is on the faculty of marketing of the Association of National Advertisers and National University. A serial entrepreneur, Michael founded Identity Praxis, co-founded mCordis and The Connected Marketer Institute, was a founding member of the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), and was on the MMA board of directors for ten years and was MMA’s North American Managing Director for three years. In 2004, Michael co-founded iLoop Mobile, a leading messaging solutions provider. In 2014, Michael was awarded the 2014 Marketing EDGE Edward Mayer Education Leadership Award for his commitment to marketing education.

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