There was a study that was reported on recently with the bold headline “Social Media Fails to Manifest as a Marketing Medium“.  The article covers the results of a study done by consumer research firm, Knowledge Networks.  Their press release summarizes the results with the equally bold title “INTERNET USERS TURN TO SOCIAL MEDIA TO SEEK ONE ANOTHER, NOT BRANDS OR PRODUCTS” (the use of caps is theirs).  The findings were, according to them “surprising” and included the following insight:

…when Knowledge Networks asked users whether they regularly turn to (social media) sites when trying to make a purchase decision, the highest percentages among nine categories were 4%, for travel and banks/financial services. Responses for clothes/shoes, restaurants, mobile phone services and five other categories ranged from 1% to 3%…

Almost two thirds (63%) of social media users agree that ads are a “fair price to pay” for use of these sites and features; but a much smaller proportion (16%) say they are more likely to buy from advertising brands. “Staying connected” – to friends and family, as well as meeting new people – is by far what is “most liked” (54%) about participating in social media.

To summarize – this study showed that when I want to buy a new car or a cell phone I don’t go to Flickr or Last.fm or YouTube or Twitter to find out which brand I should buy.  According to this study, consumers “surprisingly” don’t go on Facebook and browse the ads to make purchase decisions. (Note the list of sites included in the study notably leaves out those specifically devoted to reviewing or talking about products/services such as Amazon, Chowhound, Edmunds, Epinions or the like)

Vintage TVs buy stuff now

I grew up in Business to Business marketing where we smirked at the “spray and pray” marketing we saw over on the Business to Consumer side.  We weren’t trying to sell to just anyone.  We had target markets and more specifically, target companies within those markets we wanted to sell to.  Our marketing was about establishing relationships inside those accounts in order to be in a position to someday, when the opportunity arose, sell something. Sure, if we had enough budget we did some traditional advertising but it was more about awareness (so that the CIO, when you finally did meet her, had at least heard of your company) than generating leads.  Big ticket sales were about relationships not jingles or impulse buying behavior.

Building relationships when you are target account selling is fairly easy to do because you can easily identify the folks you want to talk to and each sales person is working a relatively small number of relationships at any one given time.  At the corporate level you can have Customer Advisory Councils and user councils to help extend those relationships beyond the sales rep.

Historically for business to consumer markets, building a relationship directly with customers was difficult if not impossible to do.  How could you ever reach all those people in a way where they could talk back to you?  Before social media relationship marketing really wasn’t something that Business to Consumers marketers did.  The tools in their kit bag were about broadcasting a message out, often as broadly as possible, to consumers while they were doing something else (watching TV, listening to the radio, driving, etc.).

Now we’ve got social media that allows both BtoC and BtoB marketers to engage in a dialog with individual customers and users to give them a much deeper, more nuanced understanding of the products and services being offered and in turn gain a deeper understanding of what customers like and dislike about the offerings.  As a “marketing medium” social media has more in common with a user group than it does with a “channel” like television or print.  It isn’t “just another channel” as I’ve frequently heard it referred to by marketers just getting started with social media.

Saying “Social Media Fails to Manifest as a Marketing Medium” is like saying talking to people fails to manifest as a marketing medium.  Trying to force fit social media into becoming a marketing channel similar to non-interactive, one-way channels like TV or print misses the point of why social media is interesting and important to marketers.

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