I recently read an article on PolicyMic titled “Can Social Media Totally Kill the Marketing Industry?” and it got me thinking about the future of advertising. Apparently, PolicyMic is a “democratic online news platform,” which I have rather pessimistically interpreted to mean PolicyMic is a site where articles are written by people who want to share their opinions, as opposed to by people who actually have authority on the subject matter. This particular post was written by Cole Johnson, who raises an interesting question, but doesn’t really go on to answer it. He seems to imply that social media will undermine traditional marketing efforts and institutions, but never makes an argument as to why. In fact, Cole’s article actually ends up focusing more on the role technology plays in our world and how its use is influenced by age and other factors, but I’d like to discuss the question raised in the title.
Cole seems to suggest that because social media has been used by many companies – both large and small – to effectively market products and services, we’re on the road to the eradication of today’s marketing industry. And while I agree that we’ve seen a tremendous shift in the advertising industry over the last 5 years, I’m quite sure that the industry itself isn’t going anywhere. While the method of delivering advertisements and product information to consumers has changed considerably, there will always be a need for very creative and well-trained individuals who can create the images and copy to convey that information. Unfortunately, many companies have found out the hard way that putting a random employee in charge of the company Twitter account because they’re “good with computers” can be a pretty terrible idea. It’s not enough to sign up for a bunch of social accounts and start Tweeting about your products and services. There’s an art to crafting compelling messages and balancing self-promotion with providing value to your followers through the content you publish. This is the art of marketing.
In my opinion, social media has actually made the role of the marketer even more important. It’s like auto racing. The car is a piece of technology that the vast majority of Americans feel comfortable operating. Cars are part of our culture and driving one is something we often take for granted because we’ve been doing it for so long. So how come we’re not all trying our hand at the NASCAR circuit? We can all drive a car, right? If feeling comfortable with something and knowing how to operate it was the only requirement, then I should be the next Jeff Gordon. Much to my dismay, this will never be the case because a basic understanding and level of comfort with a piece of technology does not mean you are going to be good at using it. The use of social media at the highest level follows suit. Just because some employee signed up for Facebook in 2007, it doesn’t mean he or she is qualified to operate a Fortune 500 company’s Facebook Page. Just like with NASCAR, the creme of digital marketing rises to the top and they are the ones steering multi-million dollar social campaigns.
The stakes are so much higher now that social media has changed the game. If you released an offensive TV commercial in the 80s, you could pull the plug as soon as the calls started coming in and that would pretty much be the end of it. There might be some word-of-mouth damage done, but it would be relatively containable. These days, one errant Facebook post or rash Tweet in the heat of the moment can spell disaster for a brand’s reputation. Screenshots will be taken and the damage will spread like wildfire. Brands have spent months cleaning up 140 character messes made in a matter of seconds. The burden of creating a measurable ROI and not screwing things up in the process falls squarely on the shoulders of the marketing team or agency. And just because social media is at the fingertips of anyone who wants it, that doesn’t mean just anyone can use it to effectively sell goods or market a brand.
So is social media going to kill the marketing industry? In my mind, the definitive answer is “no.” If anything, social media is actually creating more opportunities for boutique firms like ours. As long as there are products and services to be sold, there will be a profession for people who excel at marketing these goods. The medium used to relate the information will definitely change over time, as we’ve seen with the introduction of social media, but the marketing industry is here to stay.
How has social media affected the way you market your business or are marketed to? Let me know in the comments!