Social marketing doesn’t work?

‘Why social marketing doesn’t work’ said the tweet, offering a link to follow. Of course I had to see what that was all about.

It’s an interesting piece in FT Magazine by Tim Harford, but I think the headline is a bit of an exaggeration. Fair enough—it did what the headline is supposed to do: got my interest and made me have a look. But the article is specifically about the chances of social marketing going viral, and while I have no reason to doubt its claims about how hard that may be, I don’t think it follows that “social marketing doesn’t work”.

Is social marketing only about going viral?

It would follow, if you think that social marketing is all and only about going viral. Clearly if marketing is about reaching as wide an audience as possible and having the desired effect on them, then a campaign that goes viral will do that (as long as it does have the desired effect, and not the opposite effect to that intended). But you can reach new people without going viral. Not as many, not as quickly, not as publicly, maybe; but does that mean there’s no point?

Refusing to engage in social marketing without a guarantee of going viral seems to me like refusing to advertise unless you know that the ad is going to be the award-winning one that everybody talks about for years. Surely we all agree that advertising can deliver a good return on investment even if it doesn’t win awards?

Why repetition in your marketing is important

Let’s also not forget that good marketing uses different methods and media to reinforce your message. Looking at any piece of the mix on its own may underestimate its influence. Don’t ignore the possibility that somebody reached in another way may look for your social networking presence before making a decision about you. If you’re not where people expect you to be, doing the things they expect you to be doing, you may lose out.

Use social marketing to strengthen existing relationships

Finally, even if you never win a new customer through social marketing, what about maintaining relationships with the ones you already have? Or with other targets for marketing activity: partners, for example, or the press? Marketing isn’t just about creating new relationships; it’s as much about strengthening the ones you already have. That’s surely where social networking comes into its own. Especially if that’s how those you’re trying to communicate with want to engage with you.

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