Social media wars – let battle begin…

September 14th, 2009 by Jon Clements

Update: an insightful take on the future of social media for marketing, c/o Sydney, Australia’s Ganador Management Solutions.

Social media versus traditional marketing communications? Gentlemen, please choose your weapons.

It’s always good to see some healthy debate about one theory or another – in any field; but it’s such a long time since I’ve seen a blog post comment so overflowing with vitriol that I thought it was worth a closer look (see comment 2 in the link).

The thrust of the comment – made by a Jacob Wright in response to the Econsultancy post and the preceding video film all about social media – is summed up by the phrase he plunders from Jerry Maguire:  “Show us the money”. In short, where’s your cast iron proof that social media marketing works? And he’s got a point. Amid all this wonderful engagement stuff, is anyone spending one more euro, yen, buck or pound on anything thanks to social media?

But, unfortunately, there’s a priggishness that creeps into his argument that suggests social media advocates are merely Johnny-come-latelies who haven’t got the grey matter to grasp traditional marketing, and should do so before they herald its successor. Now, before traditional marketing advocates/social marketing haters rubbish the new kid in town, they have to admit one thing: that for every great piece of marketing activity undertaken, there’s a great big dud consigned to the marketing dustbin of history. That’s life, and all the “straw men” that go with it.

Mr Wright demands engagement with “WHAT MAKES PEOPLE BUY STUFF” (I wish people wouldn’t shout in type; I fear for their blood pressure). OK, so let’s engage ME.

I’m a reluctant shopper, full stop; a shopper of necessity, ie., when the trousers are ready to split. So, in theory, I’m looking for the fastest route to making a purchase; one which barely engages the part of the brain labelled “shopping”. So, when I needed a way of carrying money abroad last holiday, what did I do?

1. Launched Google.

2. Found news sites recommending travel credit cards (the most prominent being a Santander card and a Thomas Cook cash passport).

3. Sought online reviews where I’d get punters’ views.

4. Found nothing on Santander (already I’m worried) and a few discussions about the Thomas Cook card, with mixed reviews.

5. Picked up a leaflet and went for the latter, as it felt like the least terrifying option, despite the mixed messages I was getting online.

It’s risky treating oneself as a case study, but for someone disinterested in buying stuff, I certainly spent time circumnavigating the traditional marketing communications effort to get at the truth before making up my mind. So, Thomas Cook won my business because I trusted real people’s views more than I trust it as a commercial entity. However, if Thomas Cook had been engaging in the same forums and clarifying some of the conflicting experiences of its cash passport users, how many other cautious customers could they harness?

So, while the Jacob Wrights get hernias about metrics (and they count, don’t get me wrong) the customer is out there making purchasing choices with the help of social media.

Olivier Blanchard seems to get the balance right with his insight into proving that social works by looking at its effect on “transactional prescursors” – a lofty phrase for the stuff you do before you buy, I think – and so being able to measure and track its true value in marketing terms.

But also, as The Guardian just revealed, the BBC has a team of reporters dedicated to trawling the social web looking for stories. And if your organisation is engaging in those places, who’s to say these online networking natives aren’t going to find something valuable and NEWSWORTHY (now I’m shouting) in what you’re doing.

Just as the talkies didn’t kill cinema and TV didn’t kill radio, it’s far fetched to think that social media marketing will deal a killer blow to the establishment.

Put your weapons away, gentlemen; there’s room for everyone.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

6 Responses to “Social media wars – let battle begin…”

  1. Mark Pack Says:

    Based on my experience last week – and – the BBC is doing a pretty good job trawling blogs for stories to pick up on – and doing it in a good way, i.e. finding unreported or under-reported issues, not just ripping off other people’s work.

  2. Jon Says:

    Thanks for sharing that. Good to see that the BBC’s approach is broadening the possibilities of news reporting.

  3. Jacob Wright Says:

    The problem, my dear Mr Clements, is that it’s not about whether or not social media influenced your decision. It’s about whether a brand spending money on social media can influence decisions cost-effectively. These are two different matters entirely.

    Before our species had the delightful idea of connecting two computers together so they could talk, there was, amazingly, still communication in the world. And people used to talk about all sorts of things, including products. And, incredibly, when surveyed, people back in this sepia-tinged era called the 1980s would usually say that they trusted the opinions of their friends and acquaintances far more than those manipulative TV commercials.

    So why, we might all ask, were there such things as TV commercials still existing in our world in 1990? Surely all the companies should have invested in an army of nice friendly people to get on the phone and call all those potential customers, make friends with them, and then recommend they buy Ariston cookers.

    There are three reasons:

    1) Survey results don’t mean shit, because people don’t understand their own thought processes. Evidence proved that advertising drove sales, even though people claimed it didn’t influence them, that’s why it survived.

    2) It’s really expensive to have one-to-one conversations with people. And will continue to be until a computer passes the Turing test. It’s much cheaper to shout one-way messages at them, particularly because that seems to work rather well at influencing their decisions.

    3) People don’t like companies pretending to be their friend in order to sell them stuff. Normally, we call this spam.

    But, wait, you cry, it’s a whole new world out there. In social media all those things are suddenly cost effective.

    Perhaps, in which case Mr Blanchard’s analyses (which by the way, staggeringly, are exactly the same kind of analyses people use to look at the effectiveness of TV advertising. Funny that.) would go a long way to proving social media as a channel. Unfortunately the slideshare you link to, while presenting a coherent methodology, doesn’t include any actual data.

    So we begin again.

    Now Mr Clements, while it is no doubt terribly satisfying for you to imagine me as some sort of corpulent 80s relic wedged in an Aston Martin and plotting million-pound TV production budgets while lunching at the Ivy, I’m afraid you would be wrong. In fact I spend a good deal of time selling new-media advertising solutions to clients. My frustration is not at “Johnny-come-latelies” it’s at the laziness and sense of entitlement (and flagrant self-promotion) that is rife in nearly all discussions of marketing online.

    Any muppet can understand social media. It’s not really very complicated. What is complicated, on the other hand, is understanding human consumer psychology and how to influence it. It’s tediously obvious to me that being able to do marketing effectively in 2009 and beyond must include an understanding of BOTH consumer psychology AND the modern media landscape.

    Which is why I enjoy letting rip with a bit of bile when I see the standard oppositional arguments being trotted out. The ‘traditional marketer’ if he even exists already has a Facebook account. It’s about time the ‘social media experts’ reciprocated by reading a few case studies.

  4. Jon Clements Says:

    Dear Mr Wright
    Thank you for your comprehensive response.
    In response to your numbered points:

    1. I don’t dispute advertising still has a place, but that place is not unassailable. I defer to analysts, Forrester, on this:

    2. Where it may be cheaper not to have one-to-one conversations, does that mean it’s something to be dismissed? Isn’t the investment in having one-to-one conversations with customers worth it in terms of what companies can learn, how they can improve what they do and how they could potentially create advocates for their products, on or offline? It’s not a replacement, but a complement, to the established techniques.

    3. Companies pretending to be people’s friends? If that’s what you think companies are trying to do in social media, then it’s clearly more complicated than you think it is. It’s about listening, solving problems, demonstrating knowledge and expertise, etc, with a commercial imperative underpinning it.

    I respect your points about consumer psychology, but would you not cede that consumer psychology is subject to change and, therefore, necessitating approaches that evolve with it?

    By the way, if you leave the Aston outside the Ivy again, we’ll have it clamped.

  5. Karl Havard Says:


    Get a room please!

    The arguments breakdown as your trying to “pigeon hole” types of communications and engagement. There are no boundaries. People are people and when they want to research/buy something they will do it in the way they feel comfortable. They’ll be influenced by all types of marketing and opinion (from brand and consumer)…they will then make their decision based upon the option they trust the most. The psychology behind why people trust one product/brand/organisation over another is the interesting bit. Understanding how this breaks down allows the more savvy “multi-channel” business to implement a more compelling and persuasive approach.


  6. Jon Clements Says:

    Thanks for that.
    I agree and think the point you make about multi-channel businesses is right. There may be degrees to which elements of the marketing mix work (and not all elements will work for every business), but nothing should be dismissed without investigation.

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