Social Media Experts Dead? Social blossoms

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I must admit I'm a little exhausted by all the talk of social media gurus. One day they're heroes another they're the scum of the earth. They're either going to save your brand from eternal irrelevance or they're Twitter freaks in search of attention.  Both characterizations are wrong.

I've always felt that social media is a monumental consumer phenomena (after all guess where the talk about social media gurus is happening - on the social media sites!) but its impact on organizations is still being understood. I've come to believe that social media is even more important to companies than I earlier thought. But hiring a social media guru is not always the answer.

Enter Social Influence Marketing. At Razorfish, we define social influence marketing as employing social media and social influencers to achieve the marketing and business objectives of an organization. The definition is important because it places equal emphasis on the social influencers as it does on social media itself. It is fundamentally about recognizing that peers are influencing one another about brands and products more than any traditional form of marketing. Why does this matter? Because to harness social influence marketing you don't necessarily need social media gurus, you need to embrace the philosophies of social influence marketing throughout your company. You need to think about how you're marketing to your customer's social influencers as well.

Social Influence Marketing works when all your digital touch points are studied through the lens of social influence. Whether its your e-commerce website, your customer support efforts, your media buying, the public relations components, product innovation, the partner extranets - all of it must be looked at through the lens of social influence. The social media gurus that don't do this are the ones that probably provide less value. A holistic digital perspective accounting for how social influence works in the context of a business and an industry is what matters.

I don't think the backlash against the social media gurus is a bad thing. It'll force higher standards and will result in the more strategic thinkers getting the attention that they deserve. However, I believe in the long run social influence marketing is what matters much more than social media gurus per se. Whether a company hires gurus or chooses to push all its employees into the realm of social influence marketing (just as was done with digital a decade earlier), will probably determine how much it will gain from this consumer phenomena. 

Here at Razorfish, our goal is to make it a part of every employee's job and those philosophies come to bear when we talk to clients. Social cannot be pigeonholed just as you cannot pigeon hole digital anymore. As you mull over this, take a look at Phil Johnson's "Will Twitter disrupt or enhance your business" piece in Ad Age. It touches upon some similar themes.

Follow me on Twitter (@shivsingh) for more insights on digital strategy and social media.

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Hey Shiv

I think you're being slightly disingenuous with your comments. Your whole business is structured around a legacy business model - it's hard for you to make money without deploying designers, action-scripters and developers (for example) on projects, meaning you'll continue to suggest 'solutions' that involve using them.

I think new companies such as ourselves formed specifically for the task of helping brands talk to these influencers are much better placed to deal with the new reality marketers are faced with, and who are free to propose the right solutions, even if they involve talking to people where they already are having conversations rather than building something for its own sake...

Shiv Singh Author Profile Page said:

Robin, thank you for your perspective. I do disagree with you however. Firstly, I don't think an agency model is necessarily a legacy one - its adapted and evolved quite a bit in the last decade and digital agencies specifically are more nimble than ever. I cannot speak for the traditional agencies as I don't work for one. It would be one thing if we only suggested solutions that required lots of billable hours just for the sake of it, but that's not the case. Frankly speaking any marketing effort that ignores the other forms of marketing (digital or not) and their place the marketing mix is a naive one. And that's where I feel sometimes a few of the social media experts maybe getting ahead of themselves.

My agency wouldn't be in business if we couldn't prove the value of everything we do and recommend. Our clients aren't that simplistic either. They wouldn't have us help them solve their business problems if they saw us simply recommending solutions that supported one business model. The proof is in the pudding. And most importantly, just one part of our business has to do with building - because we advise clients on all things digital, we can recommend the right strategies and tactics for a particular scenario whether it involves building or not.

a former agency worker said:

Robin, what are you going to do when it's not all about social media in a handful of years? You are banking your entire business model on social media. It's not going anywhere, but it's not going to be anyone's focus in a couple years. It will be commonplace and assumed.

You're effectively doing the same thing as banking your entire business on AJAX or Flash animation. It's something interesting that is changing the web, but it's also not always the solution... what happens if your client thinks they want a social media solution (they all think they do) and it turns out that's not what they need?

Hi Shiv!

I think the key influence in today's market is 'recession' - which, as we all know, impacts business be creating a 'demand vacuum'. I think doing away with certain levels and going back in time to the basics are the obvious steps for any company. Result: The social parent of the marketing takes the hit as the focus shifts on the commercial parent. It's survival, after all.
I am not a marketing guy, but triggered by your article I thought I must share my opinion too.

Kulpreet Yadav

Karthik S said:

Shiv, its interesting to see that Razorfish is doing exactly what many other outfits (shameless plug without name, ahead...including ours!) that host these so-called social media gurus are doing - holistic consulting that takes into account overall objectives of a brand - marketing or otherwise (customer support, PR, innovation etc.).

But we did get yet another jargon to play around with/ jeer at - social influence marketing. Aah, the world will be a terrible place without jargons!

This is like Blackwater's idea to improve public perception: change the name and hope people dont notice you anymore.

None of what you're calling 'social influence' is substantively different than a well-run social media campaign. It's just that there are so many "social media" snake oil salesmen out there that they've tarnished the concept for those of us who actually do want to create memorable, measurable and authentic relationships.

Shiv Singh Author Profile Page said:

Thank you for the thoughts. Regarding the term social influence marketing, this isn't something new. We've been talking about it for over a year and had a section on Social Influence Marketing in our annual Digital Outlook Report ( It was also discussed in a couple of Forrester reports and is founded in academic research from the likes of Marc Granovetter, Barry Wellman, Duncan Watts and BJ Fogg. I discussed some of this research in an article for Adweek last fall.

Its worth noting that Social Influence Marketing extends beyond an advertising campaign and to activities on a website, through search and broader digital strategy too. Social media is fundamentally user generated content on social platforms only. Social influence can actually take place even without social media.

Peter I. Author Profile Page said:

I think a lot of this is being driven by some myths about social media that are very recession-friendly. The first, and biggest, is the myth of "viral" and social distribution. Brands see "viral" and assume that this means free impressions in unpaid media. Perfect! Unfortunately, if you look at the recent TubeMogul data, social networks and send-to-a-friend channels are generally very poor ways to distribute content. To harness the power of social media, you need people in place to broker the relationships with key influencers and also work on enabling WOM to cover the other 20% of social behavior. This isn't something that brands have traditionally done well through their agencies and internal marketing groups. A social media guru, to use your words, can come in with an understanding of the ethics of this segment and help a brand engage influencers and provide a level of brand access that goes well beyond what you get from agencies that ultimately make their money in paid media. This isn't just about Facebook apps and building micro social networks, it's about establishing and retaining relationships beyond the scope of campaign-based marketing. That is where a social media guru can provide unique value to a CMO.

Mary Walker Author Profile Page said:

>>>its impact on organizations is still being understood>>even more important to companies than I earlier thought>>embrace the philosophies of social influence marketing throughout your company>>works when all your digital touch points are studied through the lens of social influence>>social cannot be pigeonholed just as you cannot pigeonhole digital<<<

That's the key concept IMO. Businesses adapting to "the internet" went through similar adoption issues to today's social media:

- early head-scratching around "who in the company owns looking at this internet thing"
- then a few early on-the-ground pilot projects occurred
- Marketing built the first corporate website
- then Customer Care had to get a formal email support process going (tied into to the corp website and into existing phone support processes)
- Sales had to figure out how to tie online comms (emails, leads, etc.) into its sales process
- over time, more fundamental issues arise about the internet possibly changing the core business model
- etc.

I would expect to see social media to go through a similar multi-phase, multi-year adoption pattern.

One of my professors used to say that good communication strategies should start off "media neutral" and I absolutely agree.
Social media experts should thus be able to advice companies in choosing the right tool for a specific objective.
The question is who is in charge of the big picture?
That's an old question, but the players are changing. While some brands might stick with a lead agency doing tv commercials for many it will be inevitable to implement social influence marketing as their core.
Shiv I see the point you're making, but probably a lot of agencies are trying to sell what they are able to offer (classic agencies->tv, pr agencies->pr, social media agencies->you know...) It might even be a good thing for a brand, but maybe not the best;-) It's in the nature of the agency model and not many are in the position that they can decline a client. However the offered solution should at least be good!
The diversity of available media channels and platforms led not least to the emergence of pure strategy agencies...

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