Should You Drink the Social Kool-Aid?


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 filters to stop the deluge. Think about the flood of junk mail you received before you had a spam filter. “In the last two years there was a lot of investment in tools to help companies broadcast their messages out to as many people as they can,” explains Boyer. “Now the focus is to develop tools to allow people to filter the messages.” McDaniel is optimistic. “You’ll see tools that produce greater relevance and less volume.”

What brands are using social media marketing most effectively?

Everyone agrees that Old Spice found social gold with its campaign. It brought young men to the brand and sales are way up. Is it sustainable? Stay tuned. Beyond the Old Spice jackpot, each social pro has his favorite:

Boyer: “Dell is one of the original innovators using crowdsourcing well. The Dell Idea Storm, launched a few years ago, lets people upload their own ideas for what Dell should be doing next and allows everyone to vote. Products, services, everything.”

Fatzinger: “The Amazon Kindle team spends a lot of time crafting their content. They have a serious internal dialogue about what the content means and when it should be posted. They’re not a client of ours. The content always seems interesting, arrives at the right time and is something I’m comfortable sharing with my friends.”

McDaniel: “Best Buy’s Twelpforce is great. They created a single Twitter account that all floor employees can respond to. Now they have a knowledgeable social media team of thousands responding to inquiries in real time.”

What’s the secret to social?

“You still need great marketing strategy,” Boyer says. “Companies that carpet bomb their customers will fail. Those that manage a conversation with relevance, insight and timing will grow.”

Fatzinger is more emphatic: “The rules are the same as other forms of marketing. A lot of social media groups are focused on the technology. We’re spending so much time on tab applications and curation tools, but we’re forgetting that the way to connect with an audience is to create commonalities that cause us to interact. The ones who have won in marketing are the ones who can tell a great story that connects with their audience.”

The groundswell effect, the open communication and the transparency of social media promise rising consumer empowerment. Some companies see opportunity, others see threats to their marketing hegemony. Rumors of a marketing revolution may be overstated, but a consumer revolt is coming for brands that don’t elevate their game. The marketing world has changed for sure. I’ll save the rest of the hyperbole for my Facebook page, where it belongs.

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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One response to “Should You Drink the Social Kool-Aid?”

  1. timo says:

    CMOs should demand mobile social media engines must deliver a communications platform that blends with people’s real-life activities, respect their privacy, enhance shared experiences, + improve current capabilities, with no distractions, delays, check-ins or triple click-throughs.

    For the first mobile brand marketing engine designed with these objectives, check out Social Messaging(TM) from PoKos