Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Is there a downside to Social Media?

I am not going to be going out on a limb when I say that most people know all about Facebook and Twitter at this point. One thing is definitely certain- marketers know what it is. Social marketing is all the rage within marketing circles; it doesn’t take a genius to know this but if you read the blogs or talk to people you will quickly discover their excitement in this area.

I pulled this entry from a Rochester New York based advertising agency Dixon Schwabl’s blog, posted June 20th 2009.

“As social media continues to grow at a pace faster than you can blink an eye, more and more companies are trying to weigh the pros and cons of venturing into this unknown territory, while at the same time trying to understand just exactly what social media can do for their business. The benefits of social media are many, so if your company is teetering on the fence and considering taking the dive, here are a few of my favorite reasons to get the conversation started.

Increases visibility: There is no arguing that social media forms draw millions of subscribers. By participating, your company is creating another platform for which to increase brand awareness, be recognized and talked about.

Search Engine Optimization: Social media drives more traffic to your site/links, enhancing your company’s online presents and increasing traffic results.

Flexibility: Social media comes in many forms. If you don’t have success with one approach, try another, and best of yet, all it usually costs you is time!
It can work alongside traditional advertising methods: As with any campaign, an integrated approach will yield a higher ROI compared to a silo approach. Use social media to add another medium into the marketing mix. It will provide a new platform for which to reach potential customers.

It’s here and now: Recent technology has created a whole new world for which companies have the ability to tap into. The Internet is as social and active a place as any, and although it might diverge in the years to come, it’s not expected to disappear anytime soon. Your competitors are likely creating a web presence, so not participating and growing with technology may mean a risk to your company if your competition reaches your consumer first.”


Later I even saw a Dixon Schwabl brochure that went as far as to say companies should switch to new media to reach their audience. They compared a boring, obsolete traditional campaign to a new a supposedly effective one in 2009. They recommend replacing traditional newspaper ads with banner ads on newspaper websites, billboards with email blasts, and television ads with online video ads… You get the picture.

They make a lot of great points about the advantages of social media, but I don’t share the same free-wheeling enthusiasm for social media as many other agencies seem to have. I do believe there is a downside to this, which I know, is an ironic thing to say on a blog.

Well, my main objection to the social media craze is that it’s so new and unproven that how any agency can really make claims about the results of social media. The number of eyeballs that your message reaches is often dependent upon people sending it to their friends. Also unproven is the formal for creating good social media. Take a viral video for instance. Who wrote the rule book for creating a good one? Perhaps that Britney Spears crying guy- his/hers (?) was a blockbuster. Chances are that your agency doesn’t know the formula exactly. The fact is that some videos catch fire, and some don’t.

We’ve already seen some brands like Dominos take major punches because of outside attacks via social media. Anyone can say anything true or untrue and it can spread like wildfire. However, I think some brands need to be careful about using social media themselves because of disconnect that could result in cheapening a brand.

Some classic brands come to mind. Do you think an older, iconic brand like Rolex would advertise on Facebook and send out email blasts? In there case, I think advertising in the Wall Street Journal and a written newsletter to buyers is more appropriate. Although they incur costs, these mediums are just more appropriate for that type of brand. What about a medical professional sending out Twitter updates? I think I speak for many when I say I don’t want my doctor “tweeting.”

Furthermore, because social media is so easy to use, a lot of brands jump in with both feet without thinking first. Are you sending a mixed message that conflict with other brand messages? Do you test your messages before you throw them up on Youtube (talking to you Motrin), like you would with a television commercial.

Finally, as everyone rushes into the social media party, the room is going to get very crowded. There is more clutter on the net everyday, which makes it a lot harder to stand out. As this clutter piles up, the user gets annoyed and tolerance gets shorter. They won’t be looking at those 25 twitter updates and 15 newsletters that are waiting in their inbox.

I liken the social media craze to a classic college kegger. At first it’s fun and exciting (I know, freshmen), they’re few house rules obeyed and the next morning you may wake up wondering if there were more productive uses of your time and resources.

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