Why (Some) Digital Marketers Don’t Get Social Media

Dear Readers,

When covering interactive marketing in the United States, it’s easy to get swept up in what’s happening in New York and Silicon Valley. A visit last week to Boston let me escape the bubble and hear what’s on the minds of marketers based in this vibrant digital marketing hub. Here are some random observations from those conversations.

A Social Media Marketing Paradox

Because social networks are built on digital platforms, the theory goes digital marketers should be better prepared than those from traditional marketing disciplines to navigate social channels.

This is an assumption I had previously accepted as an undisputed fact – until I met up with Michael Nicholas, Isobar’s U.S. chief strategy officer and a digital marketer since the 1990s. At the risk of upsetting others in the interactive community, he shared this observation: some digital marketers are having a tough time understanding and approaching social channels.

“Traditional marketers immediately understood the power of word of mouth and how it could affect marketing metrics,” he observed. In contrast, digital marketers “have built their portfolio based on clicking to outcomes, whether it’s search or performance, banner ads, or even site side,” he said.

Another View: Brand vs. Direct

I ran this assessment by Harry Gold, CEO of Overdrive Interactive, a Boston-based digital marketing shop.

“Well I agree and I don’t – I am not sure the difference is between traditional and digital – rather brand and direct,” he wrote in a follow-up email interview.

He continued: “Digital so strongly leans towards direct because of its nature and built-in response potential; it is less reliant on WOM [word of mouth] lift and awareness metrics. However in no way do digital marketers ignore the power of WOM – we simply label it differently – we call it viral.”

Like word of mouth, viral is hard to measure. But Gold wants to change that.

During my visit with Gold last week, he zeroed in on SocialEye, a tool his agency developed. It is a content management system for publishing, moderating, and tracking content on Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and YouTube and assessing the results and estimated value of those conversations.

“In digital and social, we can still measure ROI from viral and buzz via online actions if there are actions to measure,” he said. “Furthermore we very much focus on consideration phase marketing by utilizing retargeting, email, and marketing automation.”

Getting Educated: Tomorrow’s Marketing Leaders

Twenty or so Emerson College graduate students gather from 6 to 9:45 p.m. each Wednesday in a campus building at the edge of Boston Common for “Interactive and E-communications,” a class led by Robert Graham, a marketer, adjunct professor, and ClickZ Experts contributor. These students are a diverse group, coming from Turkey, Taiwan, China, India, South Korea, Canada, and Russia.

During the class that I attended as a guest last week, Graham delved into mobile marketing and communications. He asked his students, “How many of you own smartphones? How many own dumb phones?” Most have phones that include a camera, GPS, and other interactive features, though at least five or so admit their dumb phones only permit them to make and receive voice phone calls. One international student said her phone is dumber than most: because her phone cannot make calls in the United States, it serves as her alarm clock instead.

This provides a reality check about so-called digital natives who’ve grown up on computers and the Internet – not everyone is plunking down $199 for an iPhone plus another $75 a month for data, voice, and text plans.

Graham also emphasizes that people have a personal connection with their mobile phone – and that relationship should not be abused by marketers. Not convinced? Let someone hold onto your phone for more than a minute – and see how long before you get anxious about letting go of your communications lifeline.

What’s more, Graham discusses the short history of “mobile” devices and reminds students that the first so-called portable computers didn’t live up to their names, like the Apple’s 16-pound Mac Portable in the late 1980s.

By knowing about the past, all marketers – not just students – will be able to improve on what they do in the future.

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