Social Media: A Marketing Education, Strategy and Potential Pitfall

by Lee Hopkins on August 21, 2012

in marketing

social media

The power of social media is undeniable in today’s market, where every executive seeks to harness the power of sites like Facebook and Twitter in order to engage with current and potential customers. But there are no guarantees with social media, as a recent post indicates. Therefore, companies need to understand the right way to utilize social media, writes Samantha Porter.

Social Media: A Marketing Education, Strategy and Potential Pitfall

In marketing today, social media provides a more immediate line of communication between consumer and company than ever before. Businesses that use social media effectively can experience vast growth while coming to a better understanding of what their customer base expects from their company. However, as quickly as social media can connect companies to new customers, it can just as efficiently alienate a customer base and spread bad publicity. 

Social media trends can change rapidly, and even companies with proven track records for successful marketing often stumble. For instance, in early 2012, McDonald’s launched a campaign wherein they asked users to share memories of McDonald’s while using the hashtag “#McDStories”. While McDonald’s marketers clearly expected nostalgic memories from long-standing customers, they failed to note the unfiltered nature of the Internet, and the vitriol poured on the company from disgruntled former employees, customers who had suffered food poisoning and even those who attribute their experiences with diabetes to frequent McDonald’s visits with their families. 

While the McDonald’s blunder came off as naïve, a Volkswagen Facebook campaign came across as pointedly callous. Only months after a Greenpeace UK campaign against Volkswagen’s opposition to environmental laws in Europe, Volkswagen updated their company’s Facebook page by asking “Do you have any resolutions and what would you like to see us do more of this year?” The post indicated to the protesters that Volkswagen either wasn’t listening, didn’t care, or both, and their lack of response to a myriad of Facebook comments condemning the company only made matters worse.

“Social marketing experts will tell you that marketing has to become more conversational, more relationship oriented,” says Nilofer Merchant, a founder of Rubicon and lecturer at Stanford. “While most companies have now learned how to say hello and how to apologize, I would argue that few have accepted the fact that power has shifted.” Companies that have for decades relied on metrics from television and newspaper ads must now confront an unfamiliar paradigm.

Merchant suggests that marketing firms that accept their new position in the evolving company-customer relationship will have the best opportunity for positive growth. She believes the companies most likely to succeed are those that can put aside ego and prestige in order to open up a more honest dialogue with their customer base. “Vulnerability begets trust,” says Merchant, “and though they are difficult to forge, such robust relationships are more likely to endure the ups and downs the market inevitably deals any organization.” 

Like any new opportunity, the potential for social media to enhance the relationship between a brand and its consumers can have a dark side if marketers don’t understand proper use and cultural expectations of the technology. Marketers who view social media as simply another venue to bombard customers with ads can easily come across as crass and unfeeling in the dialogue-driven online culture. Yet, for companies that use social media as an opportunity to get a better sense of customer expectations and to open an honest dialogue, markets can grow exponentially. 

Samantha Porter writes extensively about social media and frequently contributes to an online marketing resource that discusses the field, including which marketing certifications are essential for your career.

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