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4 social media myths that fooled marketers

Dawn DeVirgilio
4 social media myths that fooled marketers Dawn DeVirgilio

There has been a rumble of commentary lately surrounding myths in interactive marketing, specifically as they impact social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. But what is a myth, really?

I remember learning about classic Greek and Roman mythology in junior high social studies. A few recently released movies remind me of those mythological themes: "Troy," "Clash of the Titans," and even "Percy Jackson." Only now they seem cool.

The term "myth" is officially defined two ways: It can refer to a traditional story about the history of a people group (i.e., the ancient gods), or it can mean a popular yet false belief or idea. The latter is how we will be looking at recent pervasive marketing murmurs.

Because interactive social media marketing is by nature global, interpersonal, and electronically broadcasted, the consequences of propagating an erroneous "fact" are huge. If consumers see your email campaigns as the best way for them to buy your products, but your marketing team is convinced of yesterday's headline proclaiming email is dead, you'd better come up with some real data or your sales team will be selling cases of humble pie to survive.

A recent brief based on ExactTarget's Subscribers, Fans, & Followers (SFF) research exposed four of the most prolific (or at least memorable) notions on the subject.

Email is dead
A dose of drama was launched into the web-o-sphere recently surrounding this obituary on email. "Nine reasons why email is dead" is my favorite headline (couldn't the author have made it an even 10?). The ubiquitous Nielsen group, with its NetView blog, unwittingly fueled the fire by citing some downward statistics on email usage. A closer look at the blog revealed, among other things, overlooked data regarding mobile email, which showed a modest increase. In fact, 19 percent of consumers reported using email more between October 2009 and April 2010. Interesting.

Facebook fan monetized
A study by Syncapse and HotSpex tagged the average Facebook fan as being worth $136.38. The study concluded that fans of a product spend more money than non-fans. The SFF research showed that 17 percent of consumers were more likely to buy if they "like" that brand, but that brand loyalty doesn't necessarily translate to ROI.

Twitter's success hinges on celebrities
When a few of Hollywood's hottest dropped off the Twitter wagon, headlines heated up over the supposed nose-dive of the whole Twitter phenomenon. But what looks like a celebrity-influenced decline masks a continued, dramatic growth of the site: Twitter reports 370,000 new user sign-ups per day. Twitter clearly owes much of its initial success to celebrity participation, but there's a new type of celebrity -- the person who makes his or her presence known simply by using the site. That's right, anyone can be a Twitter superstar and fan his or her own fame 140 characters at a time.

Social media makes us anti-social
Some say the social media surge creates a cowardly, anti-social society. Authors Malcolm Gladwell and Mark Schaefer argue that social media gives our culture permission to avoid "real" human interaction, thus suppressing our social skills and stunting our brain growth. But these assumptions, according to SFF data, are wholly false. Increases in Facebook and Twitter usage correlate to increases in face-to-face interactions. According to the data, social people use social media to complement their in-person social connections.

The myths are out there. But great marketing strategies aren't found in shocking headlines. Don't worry about who quits Twitter. It might not be relevant. Ask smart questions that elicit understanding about what consumers are doing across all social media channels.

Here are a few starter questions to fuel your skepticism:

1. Where did the information come from?
What's the source? It is essential to find out where the latest social media rumor started because as great as it is to share ideas, the web is rife with 140-character "particle pundits." The problem arises in the marketing world when the half-pint pundit fails to call a theory a theory. Readers truth-stamp it, retweet it, and "like" it, and it is subsequently propagated without context.
2. Where's the data?
As marketers, it's vital that what we purport is based on valid data in order to keep the rest of the world from the arduous work of mythbusting. The email myth started in the Nielsen NetView blog, and it turns out that the data to support the claim were incomplete at best.

3. Is this idea a product of "shiny object syndrome"?
The natural gravitation toward what's new and exciting can be misleading. It is still unclear as to whether a Facebook fan can be monetized, but if your company is new to social media, $100 per fan looks like a pretty good deal.

A savvy interactive marketer doesn't avoid the rumblings and musings of the social media web. There are millions of people out there, and at least nine of them have brilliant ideas. But you must insist on accurate, valid, and useful data to support those ideas; often that means doing the hard work of research, data collection, and fact-finding.

Dawn DeVirgilio is social product manager at ExactTarget.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Shari Weiss

2010, December 04

Love this article! Well written and researched! The fourth myth particularly resonated with me regarding Social Media's role in limiting "real" interaction/engagement, i.e. keeping us from personally meeting up.

Nothing could be further from the "truth" as I see it. What immediately comes to mind is the superficiality of so many face-to-face conversations where people typically are afraid of revealing much about themselves and their real feelings.

Online, a good number people [who aren't scammers, and other evil-doers] seem to be motivated and enabled to engage honestly and thoughtfully. Then when they do make the opportunity to meetup face-to-face, there is so much to talk about in more depth -- human being to human being.

Commenter: Jeff Cannon

2010, December 03

Great writeup. As with most myths, those closest to the fable have understood this for months if not years. But it's our job to keep everyone in the loop. Just like print and television aren't dead, and wouln't be for a long time - success is a matter of knowing how to blend the media together in a way that works best for the client. And that takes thinking.


Think Cannon