I was just reading a post written by Margie Clayman, Myth: Marketing consists of just talking to people (or what is social media marketing?). Margie asked her community the question What is marketing? to begin to get at the premise for social media marketing beyond those vague terms of "engagement" and questioning how just "talking to people" (if that's the definition of social media marketing) can actually impact the outcome of selling stuff. This is a great topic! Of course, Margie always comes up with great topics for discussion.
Margie's post had me flashing back to the reactions of many people to social media when it first hit the web waves. I remember people saying that they didn't care if someone just ate a PB&J or that they didn't want to hear what their favorite jeans (brand) thought on a regular basis.
That stuff is still out there but I see a lot of evolution in the way people "talk" to people on social media. Then again, I see a lot of people talking for the sake of talking - mostly to themselves, so who knows?
I think that in order to answer the question, What is social media marketing?, we have to back up a bit to why people go online in the first place. Since I focus on B2B marketing, I'm going to limit my perspective to people interacting online for business reasons.
The Quest for Information
Research shows that pretty much all business people start online with search when they are looking for information. If we start there, then we realize that the next step is a query.
A query is based on a question the person want's answered. How they arrive at the answer depends on what phrases or keywords they type into the search field. But it's also critical to understand that "search" has changed with the availability of social platforms. For example, those of us on Twitter often search by hashtags, such as #contentmarketing or #B2B.
On LinkedIn or Focus.com we may ask questions of a community of people interested in the topic on our minds. That's also become a form of search enabled by social platforms.
Social Media Marketing Benefits from Q&A
As human beings, we learn through asking and answering questions. As business people, we have priorities to address and problems to solve to meet objectives. When faced with a problem, the first thing most of us do is ask, How do I fix that? What are my options? Or even, Why should I fix it? Do I really need to?
Robert Rose wrote a fabulous post on How Asking "Why" Can Get You To The Larger Story over on the CMI blog. I also talk about the role and value of questions in my post on content marketing where I wrote about theory vs. practice. Note that questions are way too valuable to only be applied to one facet of marketing. In my opinion, you can use them for just about anything related to marketing and sales.
Applying human nature to social media marketing, B2B marketers will accomplish their goals if they match up their use social media to answering the questions the people who could buy from them are asking.
This takes social media marketing beyond just "talking to people" to actually providing useful information that helps them solve problems by learning what they need to know to do so successfully.
It's the quality and helpfulness of the "talking" that makes the difference, as well as the intention behind it. Although the end goal of marketing must be to sell stuff, the execution must be about providing value your prospects recognize in order to achieve it — whether that's in social media or takes other forms.
Of course, this is only my perspective. What's yours? What does Social Media Marketing mean to you?