Social media marketing is an unavoidable buzzword in today’s business world, similar to the buzz around SEO a decade ago. I remember when SEO had similar buzzworthy clout. I remember when Blogging was at the tips of the tongues of forward-thinking marketers. It seems that every few years a new trend emerges and early adopters have the most to gain, however in the end things settle into a steady state that all businesses eventually adapt to. Social media is that new channel. Knowing where we are in the life cycle of social media, will help you to devise a strategy that makes sense, and produces results.
First, let’s use a wide brush to paint the picture of modern social media. First, I’ll assure you that social media is larger than Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or any other social network. The definition of social media can’t be relegated to just the management of profiles and pages. I’ll go so far as to say that all media is social. It is my go-to quote and something that I truly believe. Logic supports my thoughts on this stance. However, is social media a trend?
Let’s compare social media to the marketing trends of the past 15 years.
Blogging came into its own around 2002. With the advent of Blogger, WordPress and other blogging utilities and networks, it was the bandwagon that everyone jumped on. A great way to create and publish content, Blogging created a buzz that was unavoidable. It seemed that everyone became a blogging expert overnight. However, the scream of the crowd died to a dull roar as people realized this was not a panacea for any marketing program. Tons of useless content, was not helpful for business or personal matters. In the end, successful bloggers focused on quality and attracting an audience.
Though we use email each and every day, it was quite trendy to exploit email marketing to gain an edge. Before 2001 or so, email spam was prolific. You couldn’t open your inbox without a flood of junk. It made us scared to share our email address with anyone. Unscrupulous marketers scrubbed forums, websites and even stole lists to create their spam lists. These lists were jockeyed around and traded, sold and otherwise shared globally. It was at a point where perhaps 90% or more of some people’s email was spam. Fortunately, Spamhaus and other protectors of the public came to the rescue and began to root out spammers. Email providers installed heavy filters to keep spam from hitting inboxes. Today, most of us are fortunate to find little, if any spam hit our inboxes. The trend of email marketing came and went quickly, and today it has also settled into the permanent landscape of marketing, mostly as a retention tool than as a new customer acquisition tool.
Through about 2003, there were few ways that were more effective for a business to gain key strategic advantages than through SEO. Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving how well a website positions in the organic search results of search engines. Early on, algorithms couldn’t keep up with the tricks, and processes spammers were using to illegitimately position pages. Often this was done to garner traffic for terms that weren’t relevant to a page. Often these pages were loaded with “spider food”, which was content meant to please search engine spiders, which had little if any value to the end user. The trend of SEO has died. Today, little can be done to illegitimately position a page in search. This has saved countless clicks and enormous amounts of wasted time and frustration.
Perhaps you’ve visited a website or a blog and have clicked on an ad for a product at Amazon, Zappos or another major online retailer. There’s a chance that the company didn’t pay for the ad space that you engaged. It may have been an affiliate marketer. These days, most affiliate marketers are completely legit and generate or buy traffic that is then further monetized by applying the ads of a sponsor. When you click and buy through that ad, the affiliate is compensated. Nothing you don’t already know, right? Well, turn back the clock ten or so years and you’ll remember that affiliate ads were everywhere. In fact, the proliferation of spammy marketing techniques drove much of the traffic that drove affiliate marketing. Times have changed. Strict anti-spam measures on all digital marketing channels have made it more difficult for outlaw affiliate marketers to wrangle free traffic. Today, affiliate marketing favors high quality visitors, arriving from relevant sources.
So, the common theme among these trends has been easy manipulation. Each formerly spammy channel has worked out its kinks to become a common fixture of the business marketing spectrum. Social media, while no stranger to spam has generally been less prone to the ill effects of unscrupulous marketers, looking for an unfair advantage. In fact, that’s one of the best aspects of social is that it really only works when there is an underlying benefit for someone to connect with someone else. Going back to an earlier point where I mentioned that all media is social, provides an extra measure of security. Consider that even a press release is social media. A legitimate press release provides the sponsor of the information a credible, almost instantly viral means of communication. As businesses realize the social impact of everything they do and say within the public forum, the quality of information will continue to increase.
Properly executed social media strategies have no benefit unless they are legitimate and provide a public value. Social media won’t follow the same pattern as previous marketing trends, in fact the breadth and importance of social media will continue to increase in importance. I implore other business leaders to think ahead and plan to incorporate a social business strategy into all public facing communications. I encourage all companies to establish rigid social media policies that also empower people to advocate your brand and support your image. Social media isn’t a trend.