In recent years a great deal of attention has been given to social media within the marketing industry, but the lessons of social media have not all been absorbed yet. Fundamentally, the reason for this is that the two main communicators in the industry - watchers and salespeople - have been focusing on communicating the mechanisms of social media rather than the spirit.
There's good reason for this, since most decision makers inside the marketing industry - not to mention client decision makers - have been learning as they go during social media's meteoric rise to prominence. The mechanisms have been important on that steep learning curve: success has depended upon knowing how to manage effective campaigns and being able to communicate to clients why a social media component belongs in their marketing portfolio.
But the marketing industry has much more to learn about social media. Running an effective campaign isn't just about managing blogs, creating a facebook presence, building links, or tweeting out one-sentence press releases. It's also about getting intimate with a marketplace.
For example, a home care agency can use social media effectively to ensure that it has a strong presence online, that its site ranks high on major search engine results, and that it has a built-in mechanism for cultivating positive feedback and driving it back to potential clients. This is important because most people look to the Internet for information first when a potential need arises. Marketers who use social media methodology effectively can infuse their presence into a potential client's decision making.
However, the social media opportunity can turn into a liability when the whole communication cycle with the client (including delivery of a product or service) doesn't match the expectations that are built in the first marketing contact. Traditional advertising is different; it is one step removed and viewers understand it as advertising. A Web presence - especially a highly informative one or one embedded into a social network - is perceived differently by the market.
In addition, social media is just as effective at destroying a reputation as it is at creating one. Take, for example, the now-infamous video of rats in a KFC that went viral five years ago and has now garnered millions of views. Critical social media posts, ranging from brand-bashing social network groups and negative consumer reviews on sites like Yelp and AngiesList to negative tweets and revelatory online videos are perceived by the market as informational. Statistics show that consumers are more likely to believe a critical review than a positive advertising message.
So while the home care agency will certainly get the most bang for its marketing buck by understanding and effectively using the mechanisms of social media marketing, its brand can also be damaged severely by an unhappy consumer's ability to use those same mechanisms against it.
What marketers are beginning to learn is that intimacy with the marketplace is a two-way street. It's not just about teaching the market about a brand; it's also about learning from the market to ensure that the brand delivers what it promises.