Monday, September 13, 2010

Is Social Media Marketing A Crock?

I recently had the pleasure of attending a dinner for startup VPs of Marketing. I had a great time chatting with peers and laughing about the unrealistic demands we all face. "Get me in the Journal and fill the pipeline--but don't spend any money."

The most interesting and worrisome aspect of the evening was the amount of time we spent talking about social media marketing. Almost every VP I talked with wanted advice on how to do social media marketing. (By the way, if you get a chance to invest in HubSpot, do it. It was the one tool everyone agreed you should buy. Dharmesh is going to make a mint.)

Why did they want to do social media marketing? True, curiosity was definitely a factor, but the consensus was simple: "Because of my board."

In boardrooms throughout the Valley (and presumably the world) board members are reading magazines and thinking, "Social media is the hot new thing. And best of all, it's free. Forget the as buys, we're going to Twitter our way to profitability!"

The problem with this picture of course, is that social media isn't free. It consumes the most valuable resource of any startup--the time of its staff. And by asking marketing leaders to focus on social media, boards and investors are undermining the very people they are trying to "help".

This is not to say that traditional marketing is a paragon of efficiency. As a startup tightwad, nothing drives me crazier than free-spending VPs of Marketing. But few real businesses can be built on social media alone.

Social media is a great tool that, in the hands of a talented practitioner, can multiply the effect of your marketing. (There's a reason I like companies like Conversely and VoteJet) But social media is an amplifier. It isn't the story. Marketers still need to tell great stories. And the current craze for social media marketing threatens to confuse the story with the means of telling it. With all due respect to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is not the message.