What Is Social Media Marketing? 5 Things Social Media Marketing Is NOT

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What is Social Media Marketing?

That’s a stupid question, you say. Of course, I know what social media marketing is.  It’s marketing on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok.

But, you’d be WRONG!

Social networks are simply CHANNELS for marketing your brand. Sure, they look different on the surface, but underneath, they’re just channels like TV or radio. Try pushing messages like the ones you put on these traditional channels on social networks, however, and you find out just how different these social channels are from traditional channels when it comes to strategy and consumer responses.

what is social media
Image courtesy of Pixabay

So, maybe the best way to answer the question: What is social media marketing? is to determine what it is NOT.

1. Social media marketing (SMM) is NOT advertising

If you’re sending traditional advertising through social networks, you’re probably doing yourself a lot of harm. Users find such disruptive advertising in social networks offensive and, as social networks evolved, user pushback on the increase of advertising content on the platforms grows as does government pushback. Not only are such efforts a waste of time, they can damage your reputation or leave you open to ridicule that can spread like wildfire through social networks. Experts recommend using an 80/20 rule when posting content such that 20% (or less) of the content you post contains promotions for your brand.

2. SMM is NOT About YOU

No one really cares about you, except maybe your mother. So, quit talking about yourself on social networks. Instead, think like an entertainer or newscaster. Look at the success of influencers on platforms like TikTok, where providing entertainment is the defining factor in success. Think like a coach or teacher. People are on social networks for what they GET out of them, not what they put in so focus on providing value not promotion. This is the single biggest challenge I face in consulting with clients. They don’t believe me and want to talk about themselves and their products to the exclusion of everything else. Big mistake.

2. SMM is NOT technology.

Sure, social networks are online, so a certain element of technology is important. You need to understand how various social networks work, especially how sharing occurs on the network, but most of the really technical stuff is simple compared with understanding marketing on the platforms. Understanding consumer behavior and developing a cogent strategy based on this understanding is what creates success on social platforms, NOT technology.

A number of strategic factors come into play that far outweighs the tech aspects of SMM. For instance, SEO or search engine optimization algorithms impact your digital success so consistency between your social posts and the landing pages that are targets for those posts impacts the overall success of your online marketing campaigns. And, that’s just one example of how SMM is more than technology. You’ll find lots more on the pages of this website by searching this category.

3. SMM is NOT just kids.

Consumers from all generations use social media marketing — as a matter of fact, the fastest growing group on Facebook are baby boomers and the most influential sharers are middle-aged women.

integrating social media
Image courtesy of Marketing Charts

Social media is also not just for white folks — or just US. Social networks are very diverse; consisting of both genders, folks all over the world, and from various ethnic groups, as you can see in the graphic above.

4. SMM is NOT one size fits all.

While it’s tempting to just send the same content over all your social properties and for every company to use the same social networks, it’s not that simple.

For instance, images and videos are shared more frequently on Facebook, while links are shared more on Twitter. Pinterest works really well for clothing and accessories but may be a terrible fit for an insurance or security broker.

Think about your target audience.  Where do they spend their time? What are they looking for?

That’s where developing market personas can really help you build a social strategy for reaching your various target markets. In addition to providing insights into the biggest pain points and personality of each target market, a persona provides information on which social platforms each market uses frequently.

5. Just get out there and do it

Social media isn’t a place to just post stuff and hope something good happens. I heard an exec from a major corporation speak at the Facebook Marketing Conference say the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard — and I’ve heard some stupid things over the years. He said

Just turn your social media over to some young employee.  I don’t understand that stuff.

Well, that’s crazy. Does he think every 20-something is born knowing how to do SMM? Having just taught a class of 50 20-somethings at a prestigious university, I can tell you they are at least as clueless as the exec. And, worse, they think they know how to do SMM because they use Facebook and Twitter with their friends.

It’s vastly different to manage a brand on social platforms than to share your graduation pictures or put together a flash mob. Not only is communication different in managing a brand on social platforms, but your objectives are different. And, hopefully, your actions are more strategic — requiring structured planning rather than a whimsical notion.

For instance, consistency is key to success in all digital platforms so social ones are no exception. Below are some suggestions for being more consistent on social platforms.

content consistency
Image courtesy of Inquivix

What is SMM?

While SMM is different things to different people, for organizational success with sSMM some social media elements are critical. So, what IS SMM?

1. SMM is community.

First and foremost, social media marketing is community. So, building your SMM strategy requires you to build something that looks more like a friendship than a commercial relationship. In our study on commercial relationships, we found common elements of a commercial “friendship” were: self-disclosure, trust, reciprocity, empathy, and collaboration. Notice, these elements look entirely different from those associated with success in traditional advertising.

Let your hair down and be a REAL person on social platforms. Don’t automate posts using AI to do your creation for you and don’t only share content about the organization. Share something about yourself. For instance, a friend of mine runs social media for a chain of quick-service restaurants. She talks on their social platform the way she would talk to a friend sharing things like an upcoming surgery or inviting them to share their ideas for a new brand logo.

2. SMM is about creating value.

Traditional advertising is about creating awareness, interest, desire, and action (AIDA). Done right, traditional advertising also creates positive sentiment about the brand.

SMM is about creating value for consumers. But, how do you create value beyond solving customer problems with your products? Relieve their pain in other ways. For instance, you can share discounts and deals that reduce the cost of your products. But, you can go beyond this simple marketing device to create even greater value. Delta listens to Tweets from customers and provides customer service to displaced passengers. Best Buy funnels installation queries to idle employees. Dove creates a campaign to help women feel good about themselves even if they don’t look like a supermodel.

Increasingly consumers from around the globe want to support companies that share their values, so talk about your efforts to support the community on your social platforms.

corporate social responsibility
Image courtesy of Customer Insight Group

The key here is knowing your customers and listening to them — something entirely different from traditional media.

3. SMM is testing and tweaking.

SMM is a whole lot more than just fooling around on Facebook or Twitter. Successful social media strategies rely heavily on analytics, research, testing, and algorithms, elements that were nearly impossible with traditional media because it lacks the feedback loop that helps you glean insights from your marketing campaigns so you can improve them. Sure, creating great content is IMPORTANT, but there’s so much more involved in creating great content — it’s not like journalism where the ENTIRE focus is on good investigation and writing.

This is the hard side of SMM — researching topics using trending topics or hashtags, competitors, and target markets; A/B testing various copy options; monitoring analytics like Google Analytics to see how your market responds to your content; and understanding algorithms that determine whether anyone can FIND your content.

The hard side of social media marketing is REALLY the heart and soul of SMM.

4. SMM is more about listening and less about TALKING.

Listening and responding to folks on social platforms, especially influencers, is MUCH more important than talking. And, if someone mentions something negative about the brand — let them. Don’t try to shut them up or drown them out. Admit your mistakes and share steps you’ve taken to correct them and your critics will become your FANS.

Not only does listening help you address complaints in a fast and open manner, you learn about how your target market thinks, what’s important to them, and how they feel about your brand relative to your competition. This helps you identify opportunities to expand your product offerings to meet unmet needs, position your brand favorably, and who influences the attitudes of members of your target market.

5. SMM is about giving, not selling.

  • Reward folks for positive mentions of your brand and they’ll likely do it again.
  • Make it easy for folks to share your content.
  • Thank them for sharing your content.
  • “Like” content created by others, even if it doesn’t directly address your brand.
  • Pay it forward.
    • Give people something just for listening.
    • Don’t always require you get something before you’re willing to give something.
    • So, create great content and give it away for free — and that doesn’t mean visitors should be bombarded with demands to join your mailing list or buy affiliate products when they come to read your content. I find it particularly annoying when website owners embed affiliate links or ads in the middle of their content — and I won’t share it or return to read other posts.
  • Give generously to worthwhile causes. A great example is the way Facebook recently partnered with organ donation to make it easy for users to sign up as organ donors.

What’s in the future of social networks?

My best guess is that social networks will continue long into the future. It may not be the holy trinity (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) that survive, but newer social networks, like Pinterest and TikTok (despite concerted government efforts to restrict access), or some social network that hasn’t even appeared on the horizon yet, but I think social networks are here to stay.

content marketing

Much of this certainty comes from a book written by Robert Putnam called “Bowling Alone”. In the book, Putnam makes a strong case for the importance of community or deep, repetitious social interactions. He traces the history of human interaction in the US over the last half-century or so. He argues that, as each type of community dwindles, a new form of community arises to take its place — PTA meetings gave way to phone chains then group chats and book clubs morph into online forums. Of course, he wrote before the first social network was conceived, but you can easily see the importance of community coming through in these platforms.

I also don’t see the current leaders — Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn surviving forever. Twitter under Elon Musk seems to face the most immediate pressure to survive.  Likely, one or more of them will go the way of MySpace, where users will stop interacting for no apparent reason. Sure, you can point to issues that might give rise to this mass exodus (like Facebook’s constant tinkering with its user interface or LinkedIn’s lack of engagement as it grew), but likely we’ll never know the true cause of their decline. Nor will we, in hindsight, see the tipping point heralding the decline. We’ll just wake up one morning and no one is saying much of anything on their wall, stream, …

Part of the pressure behind the likely demise of these social networks is their persistent struggles with monetizing their platforms. You can’t make users pay for the experience and paid advertising isn’t showing the kind of ROI the social media platforms want. Meanwhile, the pressure from investors to show a larger profit is driving companies into uncharted territory in search of profits such as Meta (Facebook’s parent company) investing big on the Metaverse. Unfortunately, most of these efforts failed to deliver, at least they haven’t so far.

Maybe charging firms for their fan pages will provide needed revenue since this is where firms really see their payoff. Personally, I’d hate to see this change because I think it prices small businesses out of the market, which is a big benefit of social media as it democratizes speech in today’s iteration.

How does the future of social networks impact your business?

Well, certainly I’m not advocating you eliminate your SMM efforts. I think social networks will stay fundamentally the same over the foreseeable future, as you can see from the cost of reach on digital platforms compared with traditional media in the graphic below.

return on social advertisingConclusion

Just don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Spread your SMM efforts across multiple social networks. I’d also seriously consider adding a blog to your website or, if you already have one, expanding it. While Google continuously tinkers with SEO (Search Engine Optimization), blogs are here to stay and setting one up has never been easier. In the long run, a blog that provides valuable content that’s updated frequently is your BEST and most stable digital marketing tool. Sharing your blog content on your social platforms is a great way to have your blog do double duty. That’s why almost 90% of firms in a recent study by Awareness plan to increase their blogging efforts.

I would also increase my sensing efforts. Step up your exploration of new social networks and begin experimenting in these venues. Learn where your customers are and how people respond on these alternate social networks. Likely, the future of social networking will involve more specialized social networks and groups on these networks than mass posting. Look at recent changes in traditional media where mass-market products, like newspapers and broadcast TV are giving way to more specialized programming, such as specialized magazines and cable TV. I expect similar changes in social networks with specialized networks designed for certain demographic groups and catering to special interests.

I would take the effort spent on traditional media and focus on online posts and expend it on understanding how consumers behave in online social settings. Invest in a little original research — and I can name a few very competent researchers who could provide such insights. Hire a skilled consultant to analyze data from your existing online efforts to improve your understanding of how YOUR customers interact with you. The days of hiring some 20-something assuming they KNOW social networks and hoping (praying) for the best are gone. You need analytical folks driving your social media strategy, not some clever copywriter churning out drivel.

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