What’s the most critical strength of social media? Freedom! Pick any reasonable book on social media marketing and you will find in them that freedom to communicate and bond with your consumers is the core benefit of social media. Marketers are no more bound by the one-way mode of communication. They can reach their consumers freely without bounds, seek their opinions, engage in conversations, and provide the offering (product or service) while earning brand loyalty and profits.
Now let’s come back to reality! Social medium is not turning out to be the marketing utopia in which many would like to live. When I read Tara Hunt‘s amazing book, The Whuffie Factor, I realized that there will be soon a bunch of great writers and content creators who will hold the power to influence people’s minds. Their reputation will be built over the period and the reputed bloggers (or social media celebrities) will be able to promote products with a much higher success rate. This model is now well established. However, where is the freedom that was promised to the marketers by this social media revolution? Marketers have been using celebrities such as NBA players for a long time to endorse their products and reach these players’ huge fan bases. Now they have a choice of using these micro celebrities (bloggers, etc.) and target smaller consumer segments. However, the marketer is still not directly talking to the consumer. For example, look at the technology blogs such as TechCrunch, Gizmodo, or Engadget. They review and rate consumer electronics products all the time. But does that help a marketer to reach the consumer “directly”? Similarly, you can extend this example to any type of blogs and you will see that there is a layer in between the marketer and the consumer.
Talk about Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. I don’t have ready statistics here (it’s late Friday night folks!) but my guess is that most businesses that have a Facebook page don’t handle it themselves. Social media efforts are outsourced, similar to the advertising campaigns and marketing research. But note that both advertising and marketing research require skill sets that are cheaper to get from specialized agencies rather than developing in-house (marketing strategy students, this is an explanation from transaction cost theory). On the other hand social media, which enable two-way communication, should be handled in-house in order to exploit this benefit. Imagine a firm communicating with its consumers via social media marketing agency. I will be surprised if such an agency doesn’t add noise to the communication. However, social media experts are now available dime a dozen. You get to see more blog posts about how to choose social media consultants than how to engage consumers using social media.
I find this model a sort of cheating. This is nothing but the old model of celebrity endorsements and/or advertising agency. And this also means that marketers are still not liberated by social media. But we shall wait!