Should You Drink the Social Kool-Aid?

3/28/11

Social media may be fomenting revolution in autocratic states, but is it really revolutionizing marketing? I understand the skepticism; I work in an industry famous for hyperbole. But you can’t deny the decline of traditional media. Americans spend an average of 11 hours a month on Facebook while print and broadcast consumption are in free fall. Still, I’m skeptical about the hype. So I asked three of Seattle’s top social experts to justify their screed.

Why Seattle?

Seattle is a social media marketing hub, incubating pioneers of the social consulting industry. Ant’s Eye View, Banyan Branch, Nology Media, Spring Creek Group and Social3i are the leading pure social media shops in Seattle. Asked why it’s happening here, the founders say it’s the presence of Microsoft, social innovator Starbucks, ecommerce giant Amazon social media marketing tools vendor Visible Technologies, and a tech savvy marketing community. It probably helps that Seattle is home to thousands of humanities graduates who have turned their literary chops and typing speed into jobs.

How is this different than the direct mail craze of the 1980s or the permission marketing trend of the 1990s?

“At the core of social media, the same tenets of Permission Marketing apply. Build trust and deliver value,” says Andy Boyer, Social3i co-founder. Leigh Fatzinger, Nology Media founder agrees: “I think it’s an evolution. A lot of the rules are the same as other forms of marketing.” But all agreed on one major difference: Transparency. “Customers can communicate directly with their brands and with each other,” explains Clay McDaniel, Spring Creek Group founder. “This is a scary proposition for a lot of companies.”

Is it worth the trouble?

“At some point you need to get a return,” explains Boyer. “A few years ago, it was ok just to go for “Likes” or “Fans” on your Facebook Page. But Oreo is spending real money on that social media presence. Now they have to include an offer that sells more cookies.” He sees the industry shifting from pure awareness to including commerce. In the 1990s, e-commerce promised frictionless transactions. Social media can take it a step further. “The holy grail is to get the consumer to create the call to action to friends in his network,” says Boyer. There are plenty of small, innovative examples of this happening every day. Can it scale to a Coca-Cola or a General Motors? This is the billion dollar question.

When will the marketing backlash take place?

“It’s already happening,” says Fatzinger. “I had a friend last week who said she can’t stand the marketing messages. She’s leaving Facebook.” The next wave in social media involves … Next Page »

Paul Owen is the founder and CEO of Owen Media, a high tech public relations and marketing firm in Seattle. He doesn't represent any of the firms mentioned in this post. Follow @

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