The Disturbing Dogma of Social Media Marketing.

The sun revolves around the earth.

The world is flat.

Cigarettes aren’t bad for you.

And we all need to be spending more on social media marketing.

Last month, Duke University released the results of its CMO Survey, spreading the good word that “social media spending as a percentage of marketing budgets will more than double over the next five years.”

Survey director Christine Moorman was evidently delighted about the trend, saying, “Companies are searching for novel ways to interact with their customers that will drive the growth of their companies. Unfortunately, marketers are behind the curve with their current levels of social media expenditure, given the amount of time customers spend engaged with one another and with companies online. The good news is that marketers are seeing the imperative to rectify this through increased investment in social media marketing in the upcoming years.”

Did you see it? The dogmatic leap? The unspoken assumption? I’ll run it again: “[M]arketers are behind the curve… given the amount of time customers spend engaged with one another and with companies online.”

Yes, customers spend lots of time engaged with one another online. But that doesn’t mean it’s an effective place for marketers to be. That’s the dogma: that, because social is hot and trendy and where the cool kids are, it’s the best place to spend your marketing dollar.

It’s not. Not yet, anyway.

In the provocatively titled “Can We Please Stop Hyping Social As The Marketing Messiah?” Nathan Safran replaces assumptions with data. During the 2012 holiday season, for example, 34% of retail website visits came from search. 40% were direct. 2% — yes, a mere two percent — were from social.

Another study Safran cites has 15% of respondents always or often turning to social for shopping or product research, while 97% say they always or often turn to search. Search is obviously not the only possible marketing channel out there, but at least if your dogma is that “search is best,” you’ve got some stats supporting you.

Quoting a series of tweets about a different article, Safran says, “People use social media to, well, socialize. People use search engines when they want to find something.”

We all know time spent on social media is increasing. We all know social media is becoming more integrated into our lives. And, certainly, marketers should be paying close attention and actively exploring what this means for their brands. But it would be a mistake to shift a significant percentage of budget to social based on assumptions.

What should we be doing instead? We should be open to possibility. We should be thinking about the way people behave on the many channels accessible to them, and why they might respond more often and more enthusiastically on some platforms than on others. We should be looking at our demographics, at the facts, and at our results, and adjusting our strategy and tactics accordingly.

When I was CMO of a virtual world for kids, TV was always the highest-converting channel. But search gave us more granular control and was a key complement. We looked at our demographics, at the facts, and at our results, and adjusted our strategy and tactics accordingly.

It’s easy to jump on the social bandwagon, and there are lots of unaware executives demanding greater presence on and investment in social without a true understanding of what it will cost and what can be gained. So be careful. Be awake. Make decisions based on information, not dogma. You might have to hold your ground against a few of the converted — but they’ll thank you in the long run.

By Kaila Colbin
Kaila Colbin is a serial entrepreneur who is fascinated by all things Web and human.
Courtesy of MediaPost

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