How to thrive in a post-social world

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Marketers and brands have been working really hard over the past five years to make sense of social media marketing. Traditional PR firms have tried to jump on social as the new outreach medium and communications platform. Digital agencies have been salivating over how to define and monetize community management. And less savvy or buzzword-driven marketers have tried to equate social with viral. I'd argue neither social nor viral really exist, especially viral, but that's another article entirely.

What is social media marketing?

Before we discuss what social media marketing is, let's define what it's not.

First, it's not a medium. Defining social media marketing as a medium or even as a channel is the easiest definition, but one that misses the mark the most in many ways. It's also very limiting. Direct mail is a medium. Radio is a medium. Social is big. Social is organic. Social is fluid. Social knows no boundaries.

Others, especially digital agencies, try to define social media marketing as community management. The way most agencies define community management, you could easily mistake it for customer support -- which shouldn't be outsourced in my view, especially to a digital marketing agency.

And, if community management is simply a channel to push marketing messages, or used as a campaign outlet, does community management equal social media marketing in this case? It's a medium or a messenger at best in this scenario.

Direct response marketers and paid media specialists too often view social media marketing as just another property or engine to run or place ads. I think any marketer worth his or her acronyms would argue that ad placement in social media platforms does not define social media marketing.

So just to recap and to expand in an efficient manner, I included a quick list of what social media marketing isn't below:

  • It's not a medium or channel.
  • It's not community management.
  • It's not running Facebook ads or sponsored tweets.
  • It's not posting and/or retweeting press releases or product updates.
  • It's not viral.
  • It's not a campaign.
  • It's not about the number of "likes" or followers you receive.

OK -- so we've defined what it's not, but what is social media marketing?

It's a world view. It's a philosophy. It's a way of life. It's a commitment to conversations -- two-way and multi-way conversations. It's a commitment to transparency. It's not tethered to any site, platform, or medium. It's engaging with customers, employees, vendors, and anyone else who wants to opt-in or opt-out of a conversation with a brand. It's creating liquid content (for those of you who haven't seen Coca-Cola's 2020 content strategy, prepare to be amazed).

And, in 2013, it's completely within the sphere of digital marketing. Social is a sub-segment of digital. It can't be separated. For now...