Francois Gossieaux has a post up today that kind of confuses me. I think the point Francois is trying to make is that marketers shouldn’t view social media as just another marketing tactic, but instead should understand that the entire game of marketing is being changed by social media. While I agree with the general sentiment, I think it’s merely an outcome of something larger, a fundamental truth that is even more important for marketers to understand.
The game of marketing hasn’t changed. Neither have the rules. What’s changed is the way marketers have learned to play it. I’ve talked about this before as the exploding of the marketing Bubble.
Marketing has always been about creating relationships with customers to sell things, and customers have always compared notes with others to try and minimize the risk of buying things. Word-of-mouth was not invented by the internet, it goes back thousands of years. What changed was the evolution of technology that enabled mass communication.
For a couple of centuries, the cost of leveraging mass communication–print, radio, television–was prohibitively expensive. It was mainly businesses who could afford to use the communication tools, which they used to assymetrically flood their market with messages designed to influence customers. The concept of building meaningful relationships with customers gave way to a mercenary sales funnel that looked at customers as targetable commodities to push through a mass production cycle. Marketing focused less on relationships with customers, and more on relationships with power brokers. PR is not about relationships with customers, but about relationships with reporters. Advertising is about relationships with media brokers and their channels. Most marketing organizations today don’t even manage customer support!
But as the technology continued to evolve, mass communication became cheaper and more accessible to everyday consumers–an ironic development, given that the companies who held all the power continued to build their profits by creating new markets for the very tools that would undermine their hold on power (computers, software, high-speed connections, etc.) Once the critical mass in technology and social media adoption was reached, the bubble started to burst. Suddenly consumers can compare brand experiences and shopping preferences in ways that compete effectively with the existing paradigm of one-way controlled messages.
The point is, social media is not a fundamentally new concept. The technology that has enabled it to scale and compete with mainstream media is new, and the scaling itself is a new socio-economic power that no one really yet understands. But the idea that consumers, and employees, and partners and competitors would compare notes about your products and your business is as old as business itself. We’ve just grown up in a bubble where most companies were able to whitewash reality with carefully controlled messages, and to leverage that huge advantage to produce customers without building meaningful relationships.
So now the bubble’s burst. For those marketers who learned to play the game by building relationships with influencers rather than customers, it’s going to be a long, hard road ahead. But for those marketers who knew all along that customer relationships are paramount–and there are many of them out there–this isn’t so much a strategic challenge as a tactical one. And in that regard, I also disagree with Francois. Francois says that, unlike email, for example, Social Media is not a new channel. Well, no. Social Media is a collection of new channels. Twitter is a new channel. Facebook is a new channel. YouTube is a new channel. And these channels are an order of magnitude more potent than email ever was, because the interactions among participants massively multiply the power of the channel.
One final nit. Francois takes issue with monitoring social media. Monitoring is indeed a buzz trend that many marketers are seizing as if it were a life preserver, and it’s true: Monitoring is not an end in of itself. Knowing what people are saying is not a prescription for what to do about it, any more than just listening to the other side of an argument constitutes a resolution. But if you don’t listen, you don’t even know what the argument is about. And if you don’t monitor social media, you won’t even know what your market is talking about. To me, just like social media is a democratizing of communication, social media monitoring is a democratization of listening. The only people who should be really afraid of monitoring are the market research and polling firms, because for better or worse, I think they’re the ones who have the most (control) to lose.