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06/01/2010 Social Media or Marketing: Do Labels Help or Hurt?

I read John Jansch article "Why Social Media Doesn't Matter" on his Duct Tape blog last week with great interest. John's point, to me at least, seemed to be that by labeling this type of customer engagement as "social media," we gave marketing departments another reason to marginalize it. It was just another marketing "thing" that they could check off of their list and relegate to the "done" box.

John's right on, of course. Too many marketers read the deluge of articles and blogs, and attend conferences and seminars on why they need to include social media in their marketing mix. By giving it a label we can pay lip service to it at best, and ignore it at worst.

I agree that social media should be a core competency, a new way of doing business and that the label, social media, matters much less than companies and organizations acting in new ways. But I don't agree we're ready to jettison the term social media just yet.

I think Mark Earls is right: We have to change behaviors in order to change minds.

There are a few great marketing people and groups out there, revolutionizing the way they work, with a focus on customer needs and behavior. Then there are the majority of marketers, both late and early. Most of them aren't ready to change behavior or they way they think. Many still go about doing business as usual, focusing mainly on broadcast print and TV campaigns, and trying to dabble in social media without shifting resources or focus to it.

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That's why the label social media makes sense. It's why the label digital still makes sense. As long as we're trying to connect to digital customers through analog marketing departments, we need to focus on changing behavior, not minds. Social media, digital, social CRM, or mobile may be the way of the future but we need to frame our actions through specific behaviors we can test, adapt and succeed with, in order to change peoples minds.

This argument makes me think of an old international relations book, a classic, by Graham Allison of Harvard. His book "The Essence of Decision" on the Cuban missile crisis tried to analyze the events of October 1962 through a few different models. These included the Rational Actor model, the Organizational Process model, and the Governmental Politics model.

If you think about it, the rational actor, or hero, would break through the marketing clutter and change direction toward a new way, the social media way. There are heroes like that, including Tony Hsieh of Zappos.

Some marketing departments, though, are thoroughly caught in their own organizational processes. Doing something new happens very, very slowly and cautiously.

Or the focus of the company and marketing is a result off in fighting over budget control, an analogy to the government politics model. If the person who believes in social media wins the budget, then the company usually goes in that direction, but does so without integrating the other groups, a crucial element in success.

So what does this have to do with social media? It shows, simply, that organizational beliefs and patterns end up deciding how well a brand embraces social media. More importantly it shows how great a challenge rational actors face within their own organizations.

Labels are important. While the label social media implies a much greater shift in the way we think about marketing to people, it's a useful one for now, in that it gives us a chance to change peoples' behaviors, both inside and outside of an organization.  When we do that, we finally have a chance to change the way people think about marketing. When we introduce social media initiatives, and do them right, it gives the organization and the people in it a chance to see that the behavior works, that it's important, and that it's worth reassessing how you market to your product and services to people.

Sometimes, that process is a lot slower than we wish it to be.


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