Will Social Media Kill the Marketing Industry? Spoiler Alert: No

ArmedTwitterI 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!


  1. Karlos

    Any marketer or business owner should share the sentiment of this posts ideas and conclusion. Social media is certainly undermines traditional industries. For example, a recent marketing position I stepped into with a local big box gym, had disastrous reviews on both the brand and management, but the worst part is there was zero follow up from any employee on the site. Before showing up on the first day I tried emailing the director of marketing just to gain a bit of depth into the industry, but the hierarchical structure forbid even a reply. Contrasting organizational structure to the current state of the internet, largely perceived as being “flat”, profoundly contradicts this structure and causes a sort of cognitive dissonance. If the world is shifting to this flat structure, will everyone become an entrepreneur or somewhat held responsible for their fair share of work (http://pinterest.com/pin/500955158521615041/). Some of the greatest challenges of a marketer is that some of the most effective “work” on earth is tremendiously difficult to quantify or monetize on, and what is “fair” after all, think of reasons we have progressive tax in the first place. The tectonic shifts in the marketing industry will depend largely on a plethora of factors. A few obvious factors involve: demographic, distribution of wealth. More minute factors are how many people are afforded the opportunity to use social media, and the users capacity/willingness to understand the vast growing opportunities to leverage it. The tools available today and those projected to come in the near future for both social media and web 3.0 provide so many creative, effective avenues to communicate value of products/service. A few promising avenues that seems to have caught the eyes of many is the integration of this information (or suggestive data) into creative design, development (infographics, interactive dashboards, charts, etc). The quote from a popular author “the future is already here, it’s just not well distributed” might be highly useful to fully digest, even the most tech savvy, before paralleling with certain traditional buinsess strategies or organizational modeling. Nevertheless, here’s a respectful tip of the hat to the SumSeattle group for providing what seems to be a creative, insightful, one stop shop marketing service.

  2. eric

    Social Media is not killing the Marketing Industry, in many instances, it works with the integration of other marketing strategies. That said, it leverages your marketing techniques but never kills it.

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