Social Media : An end in itself?

A while ago, I remember conversations with marketing managers about SEO which revolved around the idea of needing to do some SEO without any real understanding being shown about why it was necessary, or what the long term benefits would be.  SEO was a dark art, and was also something that gained a lot of interest – probably because it was the cool bit of digital marketing.

Times move on of course, and now search engine optimisation is an accepted part of the marketing mix.  Not every business wants to admit that they do it, or who does it for them, but it is widely practised, even at the highest levels of business, and is becoming a major consideration of any website redesign process.  Get the foundations right and the walls won’t fall down.  You rarely see commercial websites built in Flash these days, and that’s a good thing.

There were problems with SEO v.1.  It was rarely user centric, often involved a high degree of client risk, and was often unaccountable.  You paid your money and took your choice.  A lot of SEO was bad SEO, but arguably it got results.  Bad SEO still goes on, but the difference is that it now goes on for clients who are aware of the risk, and can take responsibility for their actions.

The biggest problem with SEO v.1 was that it was carried out as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end.

They say that the study of the past prepares us for the future, and that’s true.  By understanding mistakes that we make, we can avoid repeating them.  However it seems that in the case of online marketing’s latest poster child, many people have failed to recognise fundamental mistakes that they made with SEO (and PPC, Display advertising, affiliate marketing, and email for that matter).

I’ve been in a lot of meetings over the past couple of years where marketing managers have talked about the need to do “Social Media” without any real guide about what they want to achieve from it – it has become an end in itself.

The end result of campaigns without a cohesive goal, or a decent brief of what needs to be done is always going to be failure.  Twitter accounts and Facebook pages with a focus of getting as many followers as possible without regard for whether those followers will ever become customers.  Twitter feeds that simply promote the same product over and over again.  Blogs that are never updated, lack branding, or provide nothing that makes customers want to engage with them.

The key error that seems to be made in setting up a social media campaign is a lack of initial understanding.  Too little time is set aside for researching the market, finding out what people are saying, and learning about a brand, and too much emphasis is given to getting things going.

By definition, a social media marketing campaign is about a particular social group.  Couple this with the fact that the work relates to a specific industry, and the position of a single brand within that industry, and it is clear that the goals and processes of a campaign should always be bespoke to that client.

Time spent in establishing goals, understanding the voice of the business you are working with, and the interests of the audience you want to talk to will always result in a campaign that delivers greater success to the client and is more user centric and effective than a campaign in which success  is predicated purely on achieving goals that represent the means to the end – follower numbers – than the end in itself – increased sales or engagement.