Thursday, 18 March 2010

Brian Says "Social Marketing" IS PR, But Requires a "Soft Sell" Approach? NOT!

In a comment to my post yesterday, Brian had this to say about so-called "Social Marketing":
"Brian B. Carter, MS, LAc said... 
Nice. I agree with all but #2.  Social marketing might be PR but it's a super-granular soft-sell, so I'm not sure how many PR people have the skills and inclination to do it well."
Let me say upfront that I think everyone in the business has FAR too much invested in "Social Marketing" today to be truly objective about it (with the exception of a few very clever CMO's). On top of that, it is still 'early days' (which speaks to my point!) and everyone is still trying to figure out what works and what doesn't.

Yes, Brian, "Social Marketing" is "soft sell," not unlike how undercover 'brand ambassadors' have to "soft sell" in sneaking up on their 'marks' in bars or on the street. It's "soft sell" not unlike how telemarketers have to use their opening lines when they phone you during your dinner hour. Think about that.

Yes, I was being provocative in my post, but people do not want advertising efforts inside their social conversations. MY point is, and always has been, that as soon as you start mixing things up, you are avoiding the truth. You cannot agree that "Social Marketing" is PR, then say it is "soft sell".

PR is "earned media" and always has been: an effort to get people talking about your brand through word of mouth by simply providing interesting or informative information about the product, that is to say: very low media investment that leads to very high ROI in terms of brand exposure and increased top of mind awareness. PR is literally "public relations", engaging/interacting (relating) with potential consumers in public. Building a relationship between them and your brand without actually purchasing media space.

Today's use of the term "social media" is confused. Buying banner ads on Facebook is NOT what we are talking about -- that is straightforward advertising, as purchasing AdWords also is. The distinction I make is between the desired outcome: potential consumers talking about your brand in their social conversations, and the efforts we're making. When you make the distinction between PR and advertising (two essential, but very different marketing tools), you change the approach you use, you change the way you create your message.

Most marketers today are doing exactly what you said, they are trying to figure out how to use a "soft sell" approach in "social media". No can do. So-called "Social Marketing," in it's fundamental form, is a PR platform, as time will finally prove to everyone. ANYTHING labeled "social" is a PR platform, NOT an advertising platform.

Because of the speed with which technology adapts today, we all make the collective mistake of misunderstanding the subtle distinction between PR and advertising media. Why? Because we're egotistical and want, desperately, to be recognized (famous) for being 'the first in,' and we want to be social, doing whatever is the latest, the coolest, the most popular. We want to be accepted.

The reality is that MOST of the people on Facebook and Twitter, the active people, are ALL 'early adopters.' They are all experimenting, fiddling around, open to trying new things, open to you trying to throw ads into their faces in an inappropriate medium -- a practice they'll eventually protest and demand regulations to block, not unlike email spam.

An ideal example is the telephone. If the phone was invented today, marketers would be doing everything they could to play ads to us in the middle of our conversations. Think about that. Of COURSE they would! Marketers would lobby to make the telephone an ad-supported medium. "Hi, Mom, it's -- COKE IS IT! -- me. What are you -- JUST DO IT! NIKE -- doing today?" We'd have to rely on legislators to get so ticked off with the practice that they outlaw it, or for average folks to get so bothered by our "soft sell" advertising efforts that they reject the new service.

Aggressive, highly intelligent, get-rich-quick, lacking-in-empathy marketers have always existed (snake oil salesmen being one example from the past), and what they generally do, like they have with email spam and telemarketing, is push so far past what is appropriate in any given new medium that their efforts 'kill the golden goose'. It's still early days for 'social media,' Brian, and anything labeled 'social' is not "soft sell" appropriate.

Together, the most insightful amongst us just might be able to save this golden goose, but given our past history (think of the two whalers in the 1800's walking up to the last two Dodo birds and, licking their lips, whacking them over the heads), I suspect we'll ruin it.

But this is just one cynic's opinion!

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