Where social media and conventional marketing meet

I’ve seen a lot of posts out there on the Web discussing the marketing implications of social media and how companies can utilize tools like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube to their advantage. The general consensus seems to be that while social media and marketing strategies can at times overlap, there is a line dividing the two.

According to Chris Brogan, author of Trust Agents:
“Marketing is a discipline with lots of emphasis on channel thinking, on campaigns, on message shaping, on control and covering all the bases. Social media is a set of tools that permit regular people access to potential audiences of shared interest.”

Both of these are important part of a company’s public image strategy, and each plays an important role. Brogan stresses that marketing is used primarily to influence consumers, whereas social media provides a forum for consumers to give and receive feedback.

But what about that middle area where the two overlap? While it’s easy to define some things as either social media or conventional marketing, there seems to be a gray area as well. With that said, what is acceptable marketing for social media platforms?

Much like social media provides a platform for people to find one another, it also provides a platform for marketers to find consumers. Of course, most people don’t join Twitter to be sold to, but if company’s social media specialists are effective, they understand this. It has been demonstrated that people will follow corporations if it proves to be beneficial. That is, if the company provides significant value, whether it be through improved customer service or online only specials, people will pay attention.

A good example is @pizzahut. Utilizing Twitter to their full advantage, Pizza Hut uses its corporate account to inform more than 21,000 followers of specials and promotions, as well as directly address customer dissatisfaction. Business sense says that a redressing of grievances is good for placating unhappy customers. Plus letting followers know about specials is an effective nudge towards some of them opting for pizza tonight.

Another good example is Chipotle. With a Facebook following of more than 500,000 followers, the burrito chain has mastered the art of marketing using social channels. They allow fans to post to their wall, start discussions and share their experiences. While it’s not marketing in the conventional sense, I dare you to read that page and not crave a Chipotle burrito.  It’s extremely subtle, yet incredibly effective. Constantly updated, with rapid feedback from the company, this is how other companies should approach social media.

In summation, all marketing is a conversation. Whereas traditional marketing is a one-way conversation, social media is a round-table discussion with potentially millions of participants. As such, it’s oftentimes necessary to completely rethink marketing strategies when utilizing these platforms. On the other hand, there is definitely something to be said for conventional strategies. Each has their place, but that’s not to say they can’t overlap. The best strategy: keep an open mind. Keep an eye on what other companies are doing, and note their successes and failures.  And above all, don’t be afraid to experiment. This entire approach to marketing is so new, not even the so-called experts know how things will shape up. All any of us can do is offer our best guess.

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