Did you miss Social Week? Heaven forbid. It was a whole week dedicated to people talking to each other. Or maybe the name Social Media Week was already taken and Social Week touched on the same theme.
Whatever the purpose, I wound up taking part in a panel discussion hosted by the Direct Marketing Association, and it was one of the more thought-provoking sessions I’ve joined. Part of that’s to the credit of moderator David Dowd from Buddy Media, and the rest goes to the expert and candid panel.
Instead of rehashing the questions that Dowd brought up, there were a bunch of others that the panelists dove into that are at least as pressing. Here are some highlights, along with my best attempts at answers:
Does “social media” need a better name, especially in a marketing context?
Appssavvy CEO Chris Cunningham said “social media” is too broad a phrase, especially from a marketing context. He’s absolutely right that a marketer focused on managing a digital-centric community needs far different skills, tools, and tactics than one buying display media through social properties. But this isn’t a unique challenge for social. “Search” encompasses search engine optimization and paid search advertising. Buying TV now doesn’t just mean broadcast and cable, but also includes product placement and other forms of sponsorship. “Mobile” and “digital” are extremely broad catch-all phrases tying together vastly different disciplines. They still have their purpose ,though.
Chris didn’t bring up the other refrain: that social media is increasingly part of everything these days. It is true that TV, print, events, and other forms of media are becoming increasingly social, in the social media sense. Yet just as a digital marketing agency isn’t going to be the best agency for planning 30-second spots, social media is a discipline in its own right. Chris is spot-on that there are myriad sub-disciplines, including community management, social strategy, customer insights, influencer marketing, media planning and buying, creative, Web development, and others. I still like the balance that the term “social media” strikes; if anything, it’s good enough shorthand to lead to the right kinds of conversations with marketers. It’s going to stick around, but challenges from people like Chris can only help to enhance our understanding of what social media is.
Are budgets smaller for earned media than paid media?
This also came up from the vendor side. And really, it depends on how you track spending. It’s relatively easy to add up ad spending for Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, AppsSavvy, and the other major players to come up with a sense of where those dollars are going. It’s much harder to track the services side, just as search spending numbers don’t tend to include SEO. If you review the abridged list of social media disciplines above, you’ll see media’s only a part of it, even if an incredibly significant part. It’s like an iceberg where it’s unclear whether what’s visible (media) is the better part of it, or just a small protuberance.
What’s the primary role of social media monitoring?
When discussing the importance of listening, the panel got too focused on crisis management. That’s really the cost of doing business. Altimeter Group’s Charlene Li has compared it to fire insurance: do marketers ever ask for the return on investment on their insurance policies?  This shouldn’t be entirely defensive, though. There is a massive opportunity, one getting bigger by the day, to develop listening and monitoring programs to create actionable insights that can unearth marketing ideas, product improvement suggestions, and new business opportunities. Be proactive with it and it will take a much more central role.
Do only passion brands play well in social?
Hardly. It’s not about passion brands — though of course such brands have an advantage. I’ve worked with brands that span tax preparation, disinfectant, and pest control, along with globally recognized icons like Coca-Cola and Oreo. The best of them have a lot in common: dedicated, intellectually curious marketing professionals setting clear goals with a focus on using social media to create a value exchange between their brands and their target audiences.
These four questions hardly capture the whole discussion, but it’s a start. If you ever have the opportunity, be sure to seek out David Dowd, Chris Cunningham, and fellow panelists Dave Mihalovic, David Weiner, Chris Bowler and William Martino for their answers to these questions and any others you have.