Using Social Media Is Not the Same as Using Social Media

Yes, you read it right. No typo here. Just because some marketers employ social media tools such as blogs or online social networks (OSNs) does not mean they capitalize on the potential power of social media.

In general, social media are earned media where marketers participate in ongoing, many-to-many conversations (dialogues), engage consumers for their insights, and earn their interest and trust with which to build relationships and brand loyalty. These conversations can be initiated by either marketers or consumers. They cannot be treated as another marketing channel owned and controlled by marketers (an earlier post “Markets are conversations“). By contrast, traditional media are usually paid media (e.g., TV and radio commercials, magazine ads, and paid key word search) or owned media (e.g., corporate websites) with which marketers can broadcast (in a one-to-many fashion) their well crafted monologues (a.k.a. advertisements). Consumers have very few, if any, opportunities to interact or contribute their own messages.

Putting an advertisement on a popular blog or Facebook does not amount to using social media. It simply treats these social media as “media” – a channel of marketing communication paid for by marketers; there is nothing “social” about it. Likewise, maintaining a corporate blog or creating a product page on Facebook does not by itself amount to capitalizing on the power of social media if the company simply uses these media to continue publishing its product information, brochures or press releases. In such case, it treats these media simply as owned media (it does not own Facebook of course, only its Facebook product page). It only use these media as social media when a corporate blog or Facebook product page is designed to support social interactions – engaging consumers in a meaningful conversation and letting them bring more friends into it, allowing them to share their consumption experience and contribute content, and/or crowdsourcing product design ideas.

Here is my key takeaway. What distinguishes between social media and traditional media is not the technology or means of communication (e.g., analog vs. digital, or Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0 era software applications, or whatsoever). Rather, it is the marketing mindset that shapes the information flows (many-to-many vs. one-to-many), underlies the relationship between the senders and receivers of the messages (dialogues vs. monologues) and defines the nature of the media used (e.g., paid and owned media vs. earned media). In other words, it is not which media they are but how they are used that determines whether a marketer is using social media.

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