Social media isn't a website.
Recently, in preparing for a panel discussion at Mansfield Tanick & Cohen’s 2011 Women Entrepreneurs Conference, our moderator, Jeff O’Brien, posed a great question that has continued to percolate in my mind ever since…
“Is social media properly classified as “web marketing” or is it something else?”
What a great question. And it’s one that I’m itchin to weigh in on because it speaks to a larger issue I have with social media being automatically lumped into the “web” category.
My opinion is that, no, social media marketing is NOT web marketing for a number of reasons — the most obvious of which is that social media isn’t always accessed via the web (a small, but important distinction explored further in the cover story, “The Web is Dead” in a 2010 issue of Wired Magazine).
For example, the last couple of weeks I was sick and injured and pretty much worked exclusively off of my iPad. During that time, all of the information I accessed was pulled into my iPad through apps, feeds and API’s. (That is, it came from the Internet, but not from the web). So it follows then, that the marketing I was exposed to during this time was digital marketing or interactive marketing, but it wasn’t WEB marketing.
I know you’re probably thinking, “digital, interactive, web…whatever Jen…it’s all online. No one knows the difference.”
And to some extent, you’re right. To laypeople, the distinction is probably meaningless.
But for marketers, I think this intermingling of terms creates a slippery slope in which we treat all things online the same, when in reality they function differently.
Social media isn’t a bunch of little websites. It’s a dynamic communications platform.
And yet the tendency is still for interactive marketers (heck, most marketers in general) to use website terms to label it and a website schema to understand it.
Basically, social media is a square peg that a lot of marketers want to jam into the web hole.
(Yeah…I know that sounds dirty.)
Social media is a different…um…hole.
Social media is not just a set of digital properties to which you can simply extend your existing web protocols. Instead, it’s a gateway to interconnected communities of people who’ll likely interact with your company differently than they would if they’d visited your website.
You should interact differently, too. For example…
- Content behaves differently in social media than it does on a website. For one thing, it’s not simply a series of static messages, but an exchange of messages, ideas and opinions that continually shifts in form and tone. Simply extending your overall content strategy to your social channels assumes that you’re still very much in control of your messaging and its behavior, when the reality is that you’re not. In fact, your ability to shut up and listen to other people’s “content” will be just as critical to your company’s success as your ability to talk and share your own.
- If you and I are having a conversation, there is no “user.” (Please, I beg of you. Stop using the word “users” in reference to social media. It sounds condescending.) I don’t care if you’re talking about a brand communicating with its social audiences. Brands can’t type. The marketing experience still just boils down to two people having a conversation via their computer – one who is a community member with a problem and the other, your brand representative, who is offering a solution on behalf of your company. (Notice who came first in that equation?)
- Your company doesn’t “own” your social properties like it does your website. Instead, social media creates a unique situation where you are lending your brand to private companies like Facebook, who are, in return, letting you set up your tent on their campground. The information you store there is communal property, and isn’t guaranteed to stay where you left it. In this context, search becomes not just about making it easier for people to find you, but also making it easier for you to find yourself as your content moves, shifts and is shared.
- Page hits and click-throughs are great metrics to measure, but analytics in social media makes things quite a bit messier. Now you need to not only track from where people came and where they are going next, but also their perceptions, behaviors and influence during their travels. It’s less like following a pin ball as it gets whacked around inside the machine and more like tagging a very angry shark and trying to keep up with it while it swims away.
Two great tastes that taste great together.
I’m not suggesting that you treat your social as some sort of strange and exotic brand beast that requires special care and feeding. But I do think people should recognize it as something other than your website’s “little sister.”
Nor am I suggesting that all interactive marketers are clueless when it comes to social media. But I do think that mastery of the one does not automatically extend to mastery of the other.
Ultimately, I think the end goal for all companies should be the seamless integration of site and social. (And email and advertising and all the other online and offline tools with which you conduct your marketing.)
And how exactly does a company pull that off?
Now THAT’S an even better panel discussion question…
Since you’re making a semantic case in how we use words like web and marketing and social media, we ought to also define marketing versus public relations. Social media is a means to an end in my opinion- it’s a tool. Marketing is trying to get someone to do something. PR is trying to get someone to feel or think a certain way. A bit messy in the distinction? Absolutely, but I do think marketing and PR are different things with different agendas and therefore make social media messy because they co-exist there.
Awesome post though. Details matter!
Great point. This is a mushy gray area as well. I like how you differentiate the two. It’s harder to draw the distinction in the social space, but I agree that they require different strategies.
Thanks for reading the post and sharing your thoughts.
while smarter people than I are capable of debating this point, I think it’s typical of many “industry” specific debates, it doesn’t really matter to the people outside and in the case of communications, it’s those people that all of this communicating is trying to persuade.
now I’ve got to get back to work motivating others to help pay my kids’ tuition. : )
PS: Don’t say it Jen I know what you are thinking : )
Oh Albert. What fun is life if you can’t go around stirring the pot and asking juicy questions? 🙂
agreed – you can be completely social without having any home base. You can be a social nomad.