Social media, so be it

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The debate on the worth of social media to brands and business is raging on MarketingWeek.co.uk thanks to our columnist Mark Ritson’s inflammatory piece outlining the seven dumbest sins of the discipline in this week’s magazine. I thought I’d add my two pence worth on the merits of social media despite its unproven impact on ROI.

One of Ritson’s gripes with brands’ use of social media lies with the inability to directly measure the direct impact to a business’s bottom line. This is a given, but one that I don’t feel is entirely relevant.

Ritson disagrees that there is a valid reason for a business to have a channel of communication with consumers that isn’t directly about selling, but about generating conversations or creating a community – otherwise known as brand building.

While it would be foolish for any organisation to put all their marketing weight (and budget) into an unproven channel that doesn’t directly boost sales and profit for the business, I think he misses the point that almost any marketer worth their salt will tell you.

You have to be where your customers are. Like it or not, if that is on social networks, then that is where your brand must be.

There is, obviously, still a lot to learn about how brands can use social media to the benefit of both the brand and the business. In part this is because of the relative youth of social networks like Twitter, Facebook and even more so Google+ compared to tried and tested traditional marketing disciplines such as print and outdoor media.

But let’s not forget that back in the early days of TV advertising, it too was untested and its ROI unknown.

The other aspect of social media that makes its use so enigmatic is the speed at which it is continuously changing.

Print, outdoor, TV and radio have remained largely unchanged in their entire history, If Cadbury wants to buy a page advertisement in a national newspaper today the process is largely the same as it was decades ago.

In its seven years since launching as a network exclusively available to students at US universities, with no advertising, no news feed and certainly no fan pages, Facebook is unrecognisable.

It adds new features and functionalities almost daily and so even those brands well versed in how to use it effectively for their needs six months ago, are facing a completely different set of conditions today.

Facebook has launched a number of initiatives to help businesses figure out how to use the platform, the latest of which is Facebook for Business, a dedicated site aimed at small businesses offering tips on how to use the platform, create pages and ads.

So while yes, there is a risk of being overzealous in the celebration of social media as a revolution in brand marketing, strong businesses are built out of innovation and trying new things. Some of these new ideas will inevitably fail but the real failure is in a brand that doesn’t move with the times.

You can read Mark Ritson’s full column here and Mark Choueke’s response here.

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