Don’t Leave the MARKETING Out: Social Media IS Marketing

effective marketing channels

At its heart, Social Media is all about MARKETING. Sure, there’s some technology involved, but without marketing, social media won’t provide the ROI (Return on Investment) necessary to justify its existence. Social media MARKETING works, because consumers value community.  With less time and more demands, we join social networks to recreate the community once enjoyed in face-to-face interactions, which the pandemic accelerated. Robert Putnam wrote about this in his book, Bowling Alone and I’ve mentioned community many times on this blog. Shopping is also inherently a social activity, so integrating marketing aspects with social networks seems a natural extension. IF DONE RIGHT!

advertising is dead
Image courtesy of Kevin’s blog

That’s the headline from a recent HBR (HARVARD BUSINESS Review) article — Marketing is Dead!. Huh? Have the bean counters at HBR finally LOST their marbles? Marketing? Dead? Do they propose transitioning from capitalism to a command economy, such as the one rejected by the former Soviet Union and even China finds untenable? Because, without marketing, there is no consumer choice and, without consumer choice, there’s only room for a single firm in each industry — a monopoly.

Maybe HBR was simply trying to create engagement by generating controversy — which they did. Nearly 200 readers commented on what a stupid statement this was — Marketing is Dead. Plus, even the article didn’t support the notion that marketing is dead — merely that it’s transitioned to new ways of using marketing and those changes mean you must rethink your marketing strategy not just make a few modifications.

By the same token, we can’t ignore the concepts of marketing that have been around for decades just because marketing tactics have moved online. In fact, success in digital marketing requires that you employ the same marketing concepts that worked well in traditional media.

Social media is MARKETING

The role of traditional media marketing

I really think social media is the world of the future. Businesses that ignore the power of individual influence on consumer behavior are naive. I  think firms should move more aggressively into social media and contribute more resources to social media. And, data shows that more businesses are doing just that because, as you can see below, digital marketing offers a more effective tool for marketing your brand that traditional media such as radio and TV. But, the rationale behind the success of digital marketing relies on better application of marketing concepts such as segmentation and positioning, social influence (especially reviews and recommendations), and business intelligence.

effective marketing channels
Image courtesy of Digital Marketing Community

Combining social and traditional media

Yesterday, I saw an update from a friend who checked in at a theater to see a movie. Now, unless I’m seeing a movie with friends, it takes more than a casual statement that you’re watching a movie to motivate me. In this case, I’d already seen several commercials for the new movie and thought it sounded interesting. The endorsement from my Facebook friend, added to the previews and ads for the movie, acted to reinforce each other, especially because I share a lot of common attitudes with my friend.  Working together, my motivation to see the movie is greater.

As more firms take shortcuts by compensating consumers for favorable endorsements or posting fake reviews, social media users become jaded and distrust their friends’ opinions. A recent research study by Robert Kozinets found both anger and distrust generated when bloggers were compensated for their product reviews by as little as free products. That’s why companies like Amazon scrupulously scour reviews looking for fakes or posts from friends and relatives so users will trust the reviews. I once had a review removed just because I exchanged emails with a relative stranger about their book.

I experienced this firsthand when a Facebook friend, who is also a dear personal friend, began sharing his love for a particular furniture brand. He went on for days about how superior the brand was, innovative, and stylish …I began to get a little suspicious since he’s never gotten so enthusiastic about a brand before. After investigating, I discovered his partner recently accepted a sales position with the firm. Now, I’m much less likely to consider his opinion when making brand choices. I don’t check out pages he “Likes” or follow links he posts. Heck, I don’t even “Like” his posts anymore. He’s lost all credibility with me.  (Surprisingly, this guy also writes and consults on social media marketing — yet another lesson in being careful when selecting your social media marketing firm). This likely explains why organic social media reach declined precipitously, along with changes to the algorithm that result in fewer friends even seeing your post (currently about 5.5% on Facebook)

Is marketing dead or just transformed in social media?

What support did the author of the HBR article offer for his thesis that Marketing IS Dead? That a recent study showed CEOs are tired of spending money and not knowing what they’re getting in return. Are you kidding me? It sounds like these companies need to find NEW CEO’s because these ones are living in the Dark Ages. Of course, the author says that marketing is dead because firms spend their marketing budget on traditional media rather than new media — primarily social media.

Two problems, at least, come from the notion that marketing is dead. First, marketing is much more than advertising. Second, you can measure ROI, if you know what you’re doing. Let’s take these problems in order.

Marketing is much more than advertising

There’s this mistaken idea that marketing is just advertising and sales. In fact, advertising and sales are but a single element of marketing and there are 3 others — product, pricing, and place (distribution). It also ignores the fact that marketing is a strategic discipline requiring long-term planning to effectively sell a firm’s products.

Copyright: stuartphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

Marketing focuses on understanding the consumer, how they think, how they process information, what problems they face, and how they make decisions. Without this information, the firm is flying blind and won’t optimize its sales. I’ve sat in on many high-level meetings where brand managers or marketing execs put together a strategy without the first idea of who their consumers were, what they wanted, or how they thought. They want to jump right into an advertising campaign with this celebrity endorser, this tagline, this amount of media spend. Ridiculous.

Since understanding the consumer is key to marketing, social media is marketing when used to develop a better understanding of customers and prospects. It’s like being invited into the living rooms of millions (or billions) of users to hear them discuss

  • problems they face, which offers suggestions for new products
  • dissatisfaction with your product, which offers insights to help you improve your performance
  • questions or concerns about your brand so you can offer customer support for consumers who might have just written off your brand or, worse, shared negative sentiments with others
  • features they love about your products, which offers insights on how to position your brand in a way that appeals to these consumers
  • their lifestyles and attitudes, which similarly help you build better ads as well as help you target your ads better

Segmentation, targeting, and positioning

One of the most important elements of marketing is understanding that consumers aren’t a monolithic group but are composed of segments that differ in significant ways from each other. Even in traditional marketing, we used the concept of segmentation to market more effectively to groups of consumers by positioning products in ways that appeal to specific segments. In traditional marketing, it was expensive or impossible to learn much about individual groups of consumers so our positioning was based mainly on demographics like age, gender, and race, or geographic variables.

With social media, we know a whole lot more about prospective buyers. We know where they hang out (see the graphic below on age differences across various social platforms), what’s important to them, how they make purchase decisions, and much more that helps us better position our products to appeal to a group. We can create ads that target specific consumer segments (our target market) and can even make different offers to each segment.

demographics across social media
Image courtesy of IWD

It’s this ability to target consumers with advertising on social media that accounts for the relative success of social media in delivering superior ROI.

Assessing ROI

It’s nonsense to say you can’t measure ROI in marketing and digital marketing makes it much easier to track your campaigns to the returns from each specific tactic involved in the campaign. For instance, I can tag links on social media campaigns to follow clicks to that link through the website to determine the conversion rate for that specific post. Sure, it’s a little harder and a little less direct than assessing the ROI of your stock portfolio or your product sales, but it’s possible if you collect the right data. By right data, I mean data that translates into sales. Below are some data metrics you should collect on clicks to your website from social media campaigns, email marketing, and other digital advertising.

event tracking
Image courtesy of Matthew Woodward

Collecting information on “Likes” is useless, because Likes don’t translate into sales. On the other hand, engagement DOES translate into sales because engagement amplifies your message. The more people know about your brand, the more likely they are to buy it, especially when their social network endorses the brand. Sentiment also translates into sales because satisfied customers are more likely to buy than dissatisfied customers.

Part of what makes calculating ROI in marketing difficult is that the information isn’t all INTERNAL like it is for other ROI assessments within the firm. To calculate ROI in marketing, you also have to track things like engagement, sentiment, and other external metrics related to consumers, which means using tagging and event tracking. And, these numbers are a little squishy because you’re working with human emotions, not instrument readings that don’t vary with mood. Just because the numbers are squishy doesn’t make them any less REAL.

Marketing models help marketers know what data to capture and how it likely impacts sales, which is another reason why social media is marketing. One of these is the Hierarchy of Effects.

Integrating marketing into your social media


Branding is an important aspect of marketing that should figure prominently in social media campaigns. And, you need to do MORE than just create a cool graphic and logo, then use that consistently across your social media (and traditional media). Branding is MUCH more than just consistently using an image and other branding elements, although this constant image is important.

Effective branding requires creating a hologram representing the benefits, value, and personality representing your brand. Look at the E*Trade baby, for example. Not only is the baby an attractive image capable of garnering attention, but the baby also represents the major value customers find in the brand — its ease of use. Compare that with the Gecko representing Geico and you find an interesting image, but one that doesn’t have much meaning for the target audience. Below you can see the brand archetypes and brands that reflect each personality.

crafting great brands

In creating the new logo for our new website, which markets digital policies such as Social Media Policy and Cybersecurity, we evoked the image of the blind, deaf, mute monkey — see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil using a single, modernized version of this well-known image:

Another important element of branding is sharing your mission and values so they match that of your target market. Data show that consumers want brands to take a stand on important issues and demonstrate their support for causes important to the consumers, with up to 66% using these values as part of the decision-making process.

Creating value

The single biggest element leading to conversion from your social media campaign is creating something visitors can use. And, make it intuitive. All things being equal, I prefer clean layouts and try to keep the clutter down when creating usability. Not only do consumers understand the value represented by your brand, but they can also easily and quickly buy your brand to generate higher conversion. Usability is also a ranking factor in search, so creating usability also puts more consumers at the top of your funnel not just helping them flow through more efficiently.

To make your website and social media more user-friendly, you need a different setup for different purposes. For a B2B customer, often information is important so your campaigns should offer lots of info and clean navigation to get other information. For a B2C site, likely you’re more concerned with providing some entertainment value in terms of interesting graphics and interactive elements that encourage visitors to engage with the campaign.

super bowl ad

That holds true when you move to Facebook or LinkedIn — Twitter is kind of its own animal. You want to make it easy for visitors to find and engage with you. This involves things like your settings — to allow visitors to comment or post on your timeline. It also means carefully using the Highlight Post and Pin to Top options on Facebook so visitors can quickly and easily find elements such as your FREE ebook, discounts, coupons, contests, etc.

Ask for the sale

Social media IS marketing, so you should always ask for the sale when visitors connect with you or visit your website. Of course, this is social media so you don’t want to beat them over the head with pushy sales tactics. Current thinking is to provide value in 80% of your content with promotion consisting of 20% or less. Of course, that 80% should still focus on building your brand image, such as sharing your staff doing a beach cleanup, focusing on consumers using your products, such as sharing images of customers wearing your t-shirt, or other elements that support your brand. You can still include a link to your website without being overly promotional.


Social media is marketing so effective use of social media means you must understand core marketing concepts, like segmentation, positioning, market research, and sales of you hope to optimize your social media performance. Hiring the kid across the street simply because he uses social media a lot won’t result in a positive return unless the kid has some understanding of marketing concepts. Good luck as you move forward with social media marketing.

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