Social media marketing gurus and other mythical creatures

  • Social media marketing is too new and fast-changing a field to have engendered any real ‘gurus’
  • Marketing campaigns that do not lead to actual business or image perception outcomes are today’s snake oil

Social media marketing gurus and other mythical creaturesABOUT a year ago, a friend working at the regional headquarters of a tech multinational emailed me, saying his company was in desperate need and asking me if I could recommend a “social media marketing guru.”
My immediate response was that anybody calling himself (or herself) a “social media marketing guru” was already part snake oil salesman, and not the kind of person a credible company like his should engage.
It may have been harsh, but I think the field is too new and in such flux that anybody who figures he has mastered it is probably just spewing out bovine fecal matter. You do have people with a bit of experience, a dash of expertise, some knowledge, and perhaps a couple of great ideas too, but a “guru”? Go on, pull the other one.
I gave my friend some names, pointed him to some online articles from people whom I felt knew a bit about what they were talking about, but with the caution that if anybody from my recommended list didn’t admit he or she was learning something new every day, that person was probably someone not worth considering.
I was reminded of that email exchange last week after something popped up on my Facebook timeline – a company was pleading for Likes. “Like our FB page and you stand to win” something or the other. It’s the same in-bred hillbilly cousin of the “RT this” useless nugget of information and you can win something or the other.
Really? Is that all we have learned about social media marketing in the last few years?
I ask because in the short time I was in the industry, I faced many marketing agencies claiming to be social media savvy whose proposed campaigns seemed to revolve around driving traffic to a Facebook page with loads of freebies and contests, but with no idea of how to transform that into a community of third-party advocates. Or how to retain those followers by engaging them in conversation or with content that would be of relevance to them. That's the three Cs of social media marketing, to my mind: Community, Conversation and Content.
There was a small handful who did get it, who knew that social media marketing meant creating communities, engaging them and transforming that effort into actual business outcomes, or at the very least, driving a change in image or perception.
Social media marketing gurus and other mythical creaturesMy method of separating the wheat from the chaff was very simple. They would tell me that they had this great idea for a Facebook page, and I would ask, “And then?” They would go on about how they were going to attract X number of followers, and I would ask again, “And then?”
Just a series of “And thens,” interspersed with a “How?” and “Why?” once in a while, until they could reach a point that would justify why the company I worked for would want to spend so  much money on a social media campaign. I called it the Chinese Food Mind Games test.
If you look at the Wikipedia definition, you get this: “Social media marketing refers to the process of gaining website traffic or attention through social media sites.” The same definition pops up in other places as well.
That’s the trouble, perhaps. Gaining website traffic is not marketing, it’s just the first (and easiest) step – it’s the “attention” part that really matters. What do you do with that traffic? How do you transform those followers into third-party advocates? How do you keep them interested, and invested, in your company?

If an agency can't answer these questions, then they're just talking about promoting a contest and are not really proposing a social media marketing campaign.

Not that this is easy. Even offline marketing campaigns have so many intangibles that are hard to measure, though analytical tools keep getting better, including those designed for social media. It's never going to be an exact science, and is indeed more akin to alchemy. Pop in the ingredients, and hope for the best.

Just witness how many companies have tried to replicate the success of the Old Spice Man campaign. I know of a few here in Malaysia who tried the same with their social media marketing campaigns that faltered badly and did not take off at all. As the 'Man' himself, Isaiah Mustafa, said, when asked what the secret formula was:  "It just works."

Sure, it's alchemy .... but you still need to get those ingredients and their proportions right

So the next time a marketing maven justifies his expensive campaign idea with a lot of useless KPIs (key performance indicators) like the number of followers and RTs, with no idea of how to take it to the next step where actual marketing is involved, play the Chinese Food Mind Games. Force some actual business KPIs into the discussion. That’s what you’re paying them for, after all.
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