Today, it seems that many companies think social media platforms are best used to broadcast commercials for their company or brand. The idea that social media can be used to sell! sell! sell! 24/7 is all over the place. While many consumer brands have figured out how to use social media for their businesses, the problem is still prevalent in B2B marketing. But how did the problem even start? More importantly, what can you do to help change that thinking in your company? Hopefully, this will give you some rationale behind the mentality and at least one way to overcome it.
I believe that the issue is caused by the term itself. Social media. Sure, the “social” part is dead on, but it’s the word “media” that has caused trouble for marketers. Of course it’s not exactly wrong to call it media. After all, the goal is to describe a medium so, it has to be media. But the word “media” carries all kinds of meaning in the B2B marketing world, where companies are struggling most to figure out what social media actually is and how they can use it. In marketing, “media” usually refers to an outlet where you pay to get your message out to your customers (TV, magazines, radio, etc.). I know some of you are thinking, “What about earned media?” I’m glad you asked.
First of all, earned media isn’t free. There are costs to get the message into the hands of those who can spread the word and, more importantly, the marketer almost always controls the message. And this is the real problem. Marketers, no matter what media they are used to paying for, are accustomed to control over their messages.
Until social media came along, that had never really been an issue. Now the mentality of, “I’m paying for media, so I get to control the content” still persists, even though it just doesn’t apply. Social media completely changes the model for marketing communications and it’s causing a great deal of confusion. Marketers are now being asked to pay to create outlets for others to broadcast uncontrollable messages about their company or brand. That can be terrifying for anyone responsible for their company or brand identity. So, how can we fix it?
I’m not so delusional as to think I can get people to stop using the term social media. Actually, the term is still useful as a technical descriptor of certain online applications. However, I think that for those who run into pressure to use social media outlets like they’re TV or radio spots, perhaps changing the term will help. Maybe a term like “community engagement strategy” is more appropriate. It doesn’t carry any inherent meaning, so you’re not limited by preconceived notions, but it’s still descriptive enough to be easy to understand the basic idea right away. This will give you the freedom to define what is appropriate for your needs before others jump to conclusions about what your “social media” campaign is actually trying to accomplish.