Interactive marketer Adam Kmiec fires this salvo across the social media bow:
“It needs to be said. It has to be said. Someone has to be the person that says the truth. And since we won’t be hearing it from the so called social media experts of the world, I’ll say it: Social Media Is About Money, Not Relationships. There, I said it. You can hate me if you want, or claim I don’t get ‘it,’ but the truth remains the same. Social media is about money.”
Well, I don’t hate you, Adam, but I will say it: you don’t get. Although you can boil anything a business does down to a bottom-line interest in making money, that kind of simplistic reductionism isn’t really very helpful. If you go into a meeting with decisionmakers and attempt to sell them on a social media initiative from a purely bottom-line perspective, you’re not going to get very far. The ROI for social media campaigns isn’t necessarily as easily quantified as traditional marketing approaches on traditional channels. The positive benefits of customer engagement through social media channels – enhanced reputation, consumer-led innovation, lead generation, word-of-mouth recommendations, and yes, relationships – are sometimes intangible, and at the very least may require a timeline for evaluation that extends well beyond that of typical ROI metrics. Yes, these are benefits because they ultimately impact the corporate bottom-line, but in a world where results are measured in terms of quarterly performance, convincing corporate leaders to think in longer terms requires a lot more than a discussion about money. To understand the value of social media in comparison to other media opportunities, the discussion must necessarily veer away from a strictly bottom-line discussion of money and onto the plane of more ethereal advantages, like building relationships by engaging and empowering consumers.
I’d take this a step further by suggesting that your hypothetical conversation with a decisionmaker should probably begin by discussing the ways in which social media has fundamentally altered the marketing and brand image game, such that the old model assumptions of unidirectional communication, message control, and audience passivity no longer apply. Social media is an inevitability, and brands are part of the social media space, whether they like it or not. People are talking about products – those they like and those they hate – and brands can choose to ignore that reality or figure out how to be a part of the conversation. If you really want to make an impression on reticent decisionmakers, I think pushing the conversation in this direction is a much better idea.