It’s time for marketing and social media to get a divorce

Having social be a part of the marketing department seemed like a great idea at first. It hasn’t gone so well.

Do a mental exercise with me:

What if social media were no longer a part of your marketing department?

Put down your pitchforks and let me explain.

I’m a student of marketing communications. My MBA focused on it, and I’ve worked in marketing and PR departments on the client side and on the agency side.

Years ago, when it became clear that social media was disrupting everything we knew about how to talk to people, marketers like me were among the first saying it was time to change the way we thought about communications. The power dynamic was shifting back to the customer, and we had to adapt. Marketers became the champions of launching social accounts.

But here’s the thing about power: it doesn’t shift easily.

Social got stuck.

As it became part of the marketing mix, CMOs became obsessed with metrics. How did social stack up with traditional tactics like advertising? What was the ROI of a Facebook page? Why should companies be spending money on this thing? Agencies and brand managers scrambled to find answers.

I’ve already complained plenty about what came next: a mad scramble for mass without relevance, numbers without context. A broken industry with businesses isolating the very customers with which they had wanted to connect.

People have pointed to many different reasons for how we got to here, but most still focus on addressing the output problem. “Content strategy” is a good thing on its own, but it only gets you so far when the pieces of true social integration aren’t in place. It’s like a new coat of paint on a house that’s burning down.

If “markets are conversations,” like Cluetrain Manifesto proclaimed, is the right approach to engagement really having some of our most natural channels for conversation under a mass media umbrella?

Marketing metrics are all about reaching the most amount of people with the least amount of money. How does real community building fit into that?

The truth is that marketing and social media have always had a troubled marriage.

So back to that mental exercise. If your social media team could no longer sit with your marketing department, what would the implications be?

Would you be free to build close relationships with existing customers, instead of trying to reach masses of new customers who aren’t that into you? Would that change how you approached customer service?

Would your social team be free to help build employee advocacy programs? (Or did you forget that your employees are already talking about you?)

Who would your social media team report in to, if not the CMO? Here’s a wild idea: would reporting directly into the CEO change how much social is a priority?

Some enterprise organizations are already taking steps toward deeper social integration, and startups have been building it into their companies for years now. I believe that those that continue to see social as a marketing function only are at best never going to realize its full potential, and at worst are going to be disrupted by those doing it better.

It’s not that social media and marketing can’t be friends. Of course the marketing department should work closely with those managing social, whether that be in a “Center of Excellence” model or through some other organizational framework.

But it’s time for social media teams to stop being forced to see people in communities as nails for marketing’s hammers.

Do you agree?

Photo credit: hundrednorth

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