Is social media too much to learn?

Picture 2

During  a recent 4As webinar on social media, I asked the nearly 300 participants a simple question. What is your typical clients’ view of social media? There were three choices and subjects couldn’t weight them, they had to pick one.

The greatest word of mouth opportunity ever.

A new way to get closer to customers and prospects.

Oh Sh%&, one more thing to learn.

Believe it or not 66 percent of the audience chose  “Oh sh%& one more thing to learn.”

Only 31 percent reported that their clients considered social a way to get closer to their communities. And an astonishingly low three percent described their clients as marketers who recognize the word-of-mouth potential inherent in platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

True, social media is not the easiest thing for marketers to figure out. They need a clear understanding of how their customers interact with each other and their content. Are they spectators, critics, or even creators? Until they know it’s pretty hard to decide how the brand should engage.

They’ve got to learn at least something about the platforms, what they can do with the APIs, and how to create content in places that are as much about participation as about sitting back and watching.

And they need more than a basic knowledge of both off–the-shelf and custom metrics to measure everything from reach to sentiment to actual results.

Picture 3Finally, there’s the commitment. Social media is not a fling, it’s a long term relationship.

But there are only two ways to interpret a reaction like “Oh SH&%, one more thing to learn.” For agencies — advertising, PR, inbound marketing — it’s a reminder to do an even better job of teaching clients what they need to know. And it’s an invitation to make sure you know enough yourself to do it for them. After all, once all marketers realize that the benefits of the other two options far outweigh the burden of learning, they’ll expect you to have it figured out.

What are your thoughts? Does this quick poll represent your clients or your brand?

Artwork/painting: James W. Johnson

Keith Perske
Keith Perske

I’m not surprised. This is a natural reaction to the cumulative tidal wave of info about Social Media/Networking. A year ago this wasn’t even on the radar. Now it’s the cover story of mainstream mags. People know that they don’t know a lot about it and don’t even know the boundaries of all there is to know. They naturally express this as; ‘It’s too hard”. But it will sink in over time, as all new technologies do. In fact SM is taking the same vector into our lives and work as did the cell phone, black berry and laptop. It’s coming from outside the enterprise in rather than from the company’s central IT group. For that reason alone I believe it has serious legs. SM will fundimentally change the WHERE of work and likely the HOW. But it’s new and undisciplined like a child so it needs to guided and civilized to be useful in business. But it WILL be a business tool as workers are distributed physically. Trust me.

Laurence Smink
Laurence Smink

In my neck of the woods (Western Canada) Twitter doesn't have very high adoption rates. In my hometown of a million folks, only 6000 some users were active on Twitter last month.

You could put flyers on the windshields of cars at the local mall and get better reach. That would cost about the same and take the same amount of time, without the learning curve.

So I'm telling my local clients to keep their eye on Twitter, use it for kicks, react when their name comes up, but not to expect too much.

Obviously there are other social media with much bigger reach and we are working with our clients to integrate those into their marketing process. We're helping our clients understand those channels, how to use them and how to streamline the process.

My point is that not only is this stuff new, there's a whole lot of hype surrounding it that isn't always justified. I see your results as perfectly understandable Edward.
.-= Laurence Smink´s last blog ..Redemption for evil, greedy banks? =-.

Sarah Montague
Sarah Montague

Hi Edward,

Wish I could have attended your talk. I'm not surprised by your findings. I've talked to two prospects recently that had formed social media task force groups to try to figure out what they need to do. For some marketers it does seem daunting. I think we'll see greater adoption at larger CPG,fashion,Health Beauty,Food brands and with the small businesses that get the role social media plays in inbound marketing. I think there will be a whole group of businesses in that middle range that will take much longer to incorporate it if at all.


I'm not completely surprised by the results of your survey. I know a LOT of businesses here that haven't taken the plunge into social media...and even those that do only put their foot in the water, realize it's a little cold, and then go back to whatever they were doing before. They just don't get that the water feels warmer if they stay for a bit and engage in an activity.

I've tried to get businesses more interested on this very topic, and hope we can all convey the importance of at least considering social media as a tool. It doesn't fall entirely on deaf ears...there are some people out there who will definitely lead the pack.

Thanks for the insight as usual Edward!
.-= Mariano´s last blog ..The Web and You Presents: Small Business, Big Voices =-.

Ben Kunz
Ben Kunz

For marketers not living in the ad-world cool-hunting bubble, this is all very new. The average CMO changes jobs every 24 months, and social media is barely 2 years old ... so we're only 1 job cycle in. The CMO in her latest role has barely had time to find the bathroom and push one budget through, so no wonder she ... with the broader world she has to manage of sales forces and product development and pricing strategy, has given little attention to the latest wrinkle buried inside the marcom unit.

There are exceptions. B2B clients seem quickest to embrace social media. Our agency now works with several, including Cessna Aircraft and 3Com up in your neck of the woods. These guys are all over social media ... because in B2B dynamics of big-ticket items with long sales cycles, personal relationships are everything. B2B companies were first aboard the CRM bandwagon, too, so they get that any new communication platform that builds relationships is a good thing.

Are they hipper or smarter? Or does social media lend itself best to big bets, where a smaller number of personal relationships can lead to huge gains? If so, maybe that's why ad agencies are all over this, too. We don't bring in 10,000 clients a year -- we bring in a handful, and if we're lucky, they're big ticket items. So we love social media because at heart we're B2B sales teams, courting the small few that lead to big results.

Food for thought. Maybe social media works best when it's only a few social successes we need to attain.


God, didn't the Zappos guy say it right: a social media plan for an ad campaign is like a facial muscle plan for a smile campaign. (Or something, I paraphrase.)


I say without irony that I did _not_ expect that one. I always thought that the whole deal with social media was that finally here's a platform where idea truly CAN be king. It's disheartening to see that people think like this.

I'm seeing a lot of this in graduate school too. Some of my professors are amazing in their current knowledge. (And my favorite one gave you props the other day cause you're his pal!) Others treat emerging media like they're alien languages. My favorite example is when we had to discuss the scansion of our twitter posts because really, that's the point of twitter, right? That's what Iranians are trying to do when they send text messages about their government, it's to achieve iambic hexameter in 140 characters. Dramatic example I know, exchange that for shoe sales on Newbury Street or something.

The icing was how that entire course's twitter assignment is to sign up for a twitter account and make ONE post. ONE. 2% of our total grade! (Oh man I'm not using my real name for this.)

Could be worse though. Before I decided to go to school for advertising I was working at a fairly high level for a third world branch of one of the really big worldwide agencies. Setting up a website for the agency was the lowest priority, and my art director (beautiful girl too talented to work with me) and I had to fight to do it. We had one of the biggest cellphone brands and everything for that would be relegated to the most junior guys. The website was a splash-page with jpegs of the print ads. I bought a domain to set up an agency blog and after I left, nobody updated it. Whenever I tried to suggest an online extension, the clients pooh-poohed because of too much transparency and the agency pooh-poohed because it was too much trouble. This in spite of the fact that we had probably the greatest CD in town, who also tried his best! Hell, I remember home-recording radio ads to get clients to invest in radio instead of just using the TV soundtracks!!!!! IN 2008!!!!!! AAAAAHHHH!!!!

I mean, you can just BUY the technology, you can PAY people to do the scripting or flash or ruby for you. ALL YOU NEED IS A GOOD IDEA. Isn't this the most liberating thought?

I'll tell you another thing. I've always admired Mullen's work, and sure, you do great work, but so do a lot of other agencies. I returned to America around the time the "See turtles" campaign and the Legal Seafoods fresh fish campaigns were first out. I loved 'em both equally. But I took the time to websearch both agencies and the reason why I love Mullen so much more now is because of your blog. The agency that did Legal Seafoods? I don't even remember their name.

Me I'm just some broke student, but what about others? Who might have a shoestore brand with a 7 million dollar budget?


Not surprised by the graph - there is a fair amount of scepticism around social media in the tradtional advertising camps, and the technology is advancing at a rate which is diffictult to keep up with.

Mark Harmel
Mark Harmel

It reminds me of my wife's diabetes patients. Some can treat their disease with a lifestyle change, but most need to take pills or shots. (The lifestyle part is still useful.)

Social media is a lifestyle change. You have to care about and connect with your customers, instead of taking a pill by hiring someone to make an ad.
.-= Mark Harmel´s last blog twitter led me to Lemonade =-.

Deborah Lewis
Deborah Lewis

I'm amazed over 30% think it's an opportunity. Almost every business I know thinks it's plain scary or too much to learn. I think partly it's generational too