Is Social Media Good for Marketing?

tmatulis    March 8, 2015

Bridge to nowhere

Posted on March 8, 2015 by:  Tmatulis

Organization Name: Jeep

Thought Leaders: Seth Godin, Brian Solis, Clayton Christensen, Ouke Arts

Name of contact: N/A

Web References: varied (below)

The question might seem a little silly.  The answer appears clear given what we read and hear.  As is usually the case, there is more to the story.

If you are a smart and successful marketer most likely several factors play in your favor, and they almost certainly reflect unique features of your situation and needs.  Keeping those factors front and center is critical to staying successful.  On the other hand, in the face of change we will often observe a healthy and sometimes uncomfortable tension between old and new.  Social Media represents a new paradigm that is arguably changing the landscape.  But like those who forget history and suffer because of this, ignoring core fundamentals and skipping key lessons is a recipe for disappointing outcomes.  Allow me to make my contribution to this curious situation in this week’s post.

Marketing is a social science that aims to address complex challenges.  I fear this slightly enigmatic definition may raise more issues, questions and perhaps arguments than it settles.  Some may object believing their practices in marketing are rooted in methodologies that are derived from data, are repeatable, and filled with metrics.  No doubt this is a fair point of view.   The definition I offer however is based on the simple facts that marketing depends on the reaction of people, individually and as groups, and it aims to operate on an inherently complex domain.  So while the social part is easy to get, the complex part deserves an additional point of explanation.  Experience should teach us that some things in life are unpredictable, what worked well today suddenly fails tomorrow for no apparent reason.  Well there is a reason, we just don’t understand it, and we are challenged by complexity.

The drivers that we believe create the conditions for marketing success should not be over-simplified, at least if one wants to be effective, sincere and candid, for there are far too many complex situations and combinations to consider.  Business-to-business, business-to –consumer, peer-to-peer, not-for-profit, charitable, sharing economy, the list of distinctive categories is long, and the needs and conditions vary.  Having said all this no doubt certain concepts are almost universal – clarity of message, targeting, measurement, conversion, branding, call-to-action.  They are obvious, but then misunderstood, overlooked, poorly executed.

Seth Godin has enjoyed more than his requisite 15 minutes of fame as a luminary marketer.  I found a neat Ted Talk he did in 2003 (remember Facebook launched in 2004, MySpace in 2003).  He says a lot about the old Marketing standards and how the emerging paradigm would be different.  With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight it is interesting to see how he saw the world unfolding just at the time when a tsunami was coming over the horizon, and what he could not have seen coming.  It is 17 minutes long.  Enjoy!

My key takeaway from Godin’s contribution is simple, what we do and where we go with marketing and social media is best based on what we know and effectively understand today, then tomorrow, and then the day after, as we experience and experiment.


While  Brian Solis’ Conversation Prism is a staggering illustration of the social media environment and the range of solutions, it is not, nor ever should be, a point of departure for a marketing strategy.

Questions that Need to be Considered

For me two critical questions emerge from what Godin and Solis offer through their respective contributions, –

  1. What does Social Media do well?  In general?  In the area of Marketing?
  2. What can Social Media do better for me?  What does it replace in my marketing mix?

I can’t wait to explore the first question.  Question 2 speaks to individual circumstances and needs.  Consider it homework.


Something that can inform us on how to consider social media is Clayton Christensen‘s pioneering work beginning with his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, in which he explores the concepts of Disruptive Technologies and Disruptive Innovation.  These terms have become part of everyday language, unfortunately losing much of their meaning in the process.  Christensen recognized that technologies are rarely disruptive if only because they don’t survive in isolation from a range of environmental influences.  His key conclusion is also sometimes overlooked, that technology triggers disruption when it emerges within an innovative business model.  For Christensen disruptive innovation puts new, ‘huge’ value into the hands of consumers for whom the benefit was previously unattainable – $20,000 mini-frame computers were not disruptive, nor are $50,000 per dose miracle drugs.  I will let Professor Christensen provide a much better explanation than I can.

So there is little doubt that Social Media looks like a disruptive innovation, right?   It allows more people to do more things, many things that were nearly impossible just a few years ago.  But is this the whole story?  Who can say?  The real answer is likely rooted in your personal situation, opinion and your value system.  What is the value of 1000’s of individuals collaborating in a political uprising organized and triggered in a matter days?  The following video provides a nuanced view.

How valuable is the result of millions of hours collectively ‘wasted’ on-line sharing photos and ‘likes’ on Facebook?  Time magazine recently offered up a tool to estimate how much time someone spent on Facebook.  I have a Facebook account, no profile and 6 friends, and the app showed I spent 17 minutes a day on Facebook.  2% of my waking time does not sound like much, but I really thought I never used it.  When I think of accessing LinkedIn, Yelp, TravelAdvisor, Youtube, as a digital immigrant I am shocked to realize that I may be spending 20% of my available time interacting with Social Media.  Click on the following figure and do your own estimate and see whether it changes your perspective of time wasted online.


So what does social media do better than anything else available for the purposes of marketing?  The question feels a bit academic for the ‘cat is out of the bag’ and never plans on going back in. I cannot imagine the resurgence of broadcast TV, magazines, department stores as major components of my everyday life.  Nevertheless here are a few thoughts in response.

Interactions and Collaboration

Perhaps the most important impact of Social Media is the frequency and nature of contact by and within  communities.  The town square, water cooler, bar scene, shopping mall, library, public meeting, are in the process of migrating to virtual, ‘new and improved’ versions that provides marketing opportunities never before possible.

Take brand communities as an example.  Defined as “specialized, none-geographically bound communities, based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand.” (Muniz and O’Guinn (2001, p. 412)), localized versions have existed for as long as branding has influenced consumers.


Think of the famous Jeep brand as an example of the many communities of near fanatic car enthusiasts spread around the world.  No matter where someone lives they can engage  in communities spanning almost any interest.  When the brand actually has resonance, social media can deliver impressive metrics, as shown by the following.

Business Model Innovation

Jeep is a decidedly ‘old world’ example, particularly given changes in the perceptions and realities of owning personal automobiles as indicated by the emerge notion of ‘Peak Car’.

10 Business Models

If we consider Ouke Arts’ 2010 piece on emerging business models, fully 8 out of the 10 identify something ‘social media‘ as a key element of the business model.  While these are all new and early stage models, they are operating successfully for some company somewhere, and can be reasonably expected to continue to evolve.  The market appears to be telling us that that a business launched with a model that does not leverage social media may be a lonely one.

Cutting Through the Noise

The Conversation Prism shows us how social media is a complicated space.  Luckily there are reasons to believe that it can deliver benefits not previously available.  Dan Piech of comScore provides a specific example that shows where we came from and may be headed, and what looks to be very different.

Submitted by: Tmatulis – SMBP Student, University of Waterloo.

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