Do You Want To Succeed At Social Media Or Social Media Marketing?

Do you want to succeed at social media or social media marketing?  There is a difference—a huge difference.  It’s the difference between using social media tools and adopting social media philosophy; the difference between sparking posts about your marketing and posts about your product or service; and the difference between marketers who focus externally on how the brand is broadcast versus internally on how the brand is realized. 

So do you want to succeed at social media or social media marketing?  The answer is the former, but many marketers focus on the latter.  I’d like to make this difference more real by sharing two examples—the first in the entertainment industry and the second my own experiences in a mall this weekend. 

Snakes on a Plane (SoaP) is the entertainment industry’s greatest pre-release social media success story to date.  The Guardian called it, “Perhaps the most internet-hyped film of all time.”  Fans produced their own T-shirts, posters, trailers, novelty songs, and parodies.  Producers organized a contest to select a fan's music for use in the movie. The filmmakers added shooting days in order to implement changes suggested by fans on the Internet (including Samuel Jackson’s famous and unprintable-on-this-blog line about “m&f%*#f+!@ing snakes”).  

But what were all these fans fans of?  Not the product, apparently.  As EW put it, “SOAP came in below even the most ridiculously cynical predictions.”  The reasons why the social media buzz failed to produce business success are many (including that the PG-13 film was edited to an R rating due to fan input, a change that fatally narrowed the audience—so much for the wisdom of crowds), but in the end SoaP was a social media marketing success but a social media failure.

 To move the discussion out of the theater and into the mall, I am struck by how few retailers are paying attention to the difference between social media success and social media marketing success.  This weekend I visited three retailers in search of men’s apparel:

  • Retailer One:  I spent 15 minutes trying to find someone to offer assistance.  The only employees to be found were behind checkout counters with long lines. I left frustrated.
  • Retailer Two: I walked into a fitting room to try on shirts and found it looking like Hell’s storage room (or an average teen’s bedroom) with deep piles of clothes. I left disgusted.
  • Retailer Three:  I entered Nordstrom and found a store that was clean and staffed.  I got attention and helpful assistance from an employee.  And I spent $250.

Retailers One and Two are plotting social media marketing success.  They have “Join us on Facebook” links on their home pages—one has 500,000 fans and the other has 1 million.  They’ve enabled their catalogs with social tools so that site visitors can share products with their social networks.  They run social promotions including online events and sales.  And they spark engagement around fashion trends and scintillating discussion starters such as “Pick your preference: black or brown shoes?” 

What good are all of these social tactics if these retailers fail to provide the sort of real-world experience that get people saying positive things? While furnishing tools that customers can use to post stuff to social networks is helpful, what matters more are experiences that inspire people to engage with and about the brands in social ways.  I don’t think it is any coincidence that since the recession began in December 2007, Nordstrom’s stock (JWN) is down just 10 percent while the stock of the other two retailers is down between 30 and 50 percent.  And while Nordstrom has fewer Facebook fans than the other two retailers, it has more fans-per-location based on it 193 stores.  Nordstrom succeeds at both social media and social media marketing.

Does your organization want to be Snakes on a Plane, or does it want to be Nordstrom?  Do you want people buzzing about your marketing or about your product or service?  The difference is not found on Facebook or Twitter but in the ways companies are led. Marketing leaders who only focus on messages in social channels but fail to attend to how the brand is realized in actual product and service experiences may succeed with social media marketing but fail miserably with social media. 


Augie - I love the topic and

Augie - I love the topic and examples! I'd like to inject two thoughts into the discussion:

First, what do we mean by 'succeed' and 'fail' (perhaps looking back on your excellent recent post on ROI)? The SoaP campaigns were successful at creating buzz, but poor at creating conversions, aka ticket sales. I might argue that it was a social media success, but marketing failure (as a marketer, I'm judged not only on awareness but certainly on leads and new sales). In any case, I think clear goals are essential as you plot both social media and SMM programs.

My second thought relates to your retail example, and whether it's a shortcoming of social media or SMM, I think your point is that you have to deliver a 'whole' experience. No amount of SM buzz can overcome a poor product or level of service (I'm tempted to bring up certainly cable TV providers...but I won't). And great social marketing campaigns need equally good fulfillment + ways to measure feedback.

What do you think?

Excellent Points, Allen!

It's an interesting philosophical discussion (and one of my peers shared the same feedback you did) about what is "social media" and what is "social media marketing."

I think we focus too much on "marketing tactics" and not enough on creating a brand that resonates in social media. As a result, we can create a lot of "buzz" and engagement over our social media marketing but fail to create any change in consumer attitude or behavior about the product or service. We're seeing too much focus on the success of social media marketing (tweets, RTs, fans, buzz) and not enough on what I think of as true, organic, authentic social media--people wanting to engage with and share about a brand, not because there's a social sweepstakes or good Facebook promo, but because the brand experience rocked. From my perspective, Harley-Davidson and Disney were great social media successes before social media marketing even existed.

And thanks for exploring the retail examples more deeply. I certainly agree with you--No amount of SM buzz can overcome a poor product or level of service. That's why social media success isn't only about what you do on Twitter or Facebook; it's about leadership. Great marketers of the next decade will be focused as much as what their organizations do as what they say.

Appreciate the dialog and constructive criticism, Allen!

This is a really important

This is a really important lesson. And I also provide parallel advice when it comes to Web sites. Just because you have a Web site, Facebook link, Twitter page, et al., doesn't mean it's working for you. You must build an effective strategy integrating all of these things and use them to express your message AND create a dialogue. Don't just do social media because you feel like you have to since everyone else is. The social media sites weren't originally set up to be marketing tools; so now you must figure out how to work with them so that they are just that.

Correlation Between In-Store Experience and Stock Price Tenuous


I enjoyed your thoughts on the difference between Social Media and Social Media Marketing, but the inference that Nordstrom's stock price has performed better relative to the other two retailers because of in-store shopping experience is (may be) flawed. I'm going to assume that Nordstrom's was the more upscale of the three companies mentioned (please correct me if not). If so, there is substantial evidence to suggest that the current recession has created substantially more hardship for the middle-class than the upper/upper-middle-class. There are also a myriad of additional possible reasons to explain relative stock price levels.

Beyond that, I wished that we could move beyond compartmentalizing "Social Media" as a stand-alone category and begin to think of these platforms as additional tools in a complete marketing tool kit. At the end of the day, it's not Social Media Mktg vs Traditional (whatever that means any more) Mktg, it's just marketing!

Stock Price Linkage Tenuous

I absolutely agree that linking stock price to just about any task, program or policy is tenuous. The factors that affect stock price are far too diverse to make it much a measurement proxy for anything. (I remember seeing someone try to prove that United's stock price had fallen because of "United Breaks Guitars" and thinking the same thing.) Still, a brand that organizes around the consumer experience (as we know Nordstrom has) is better equipped for the social media era, so I'd hope its stock price over the long term might reflect that.

I also agree with you about integrating social and traditional--it IS all just marketing. But social media is bigger than marketing, and if we agree consumer experiences are going to be drive authentic social media in the future, then marketers need to consider how those experiences can be crafted to help build the brand. Marketing cannot be just about messages and tools but has to be about anything that changes the perception of the brand in the mind of consumers.

Thanks for the further

Thanks for the further clarification, much appreciated.

In the end it always boils

In the end it always boils down to customer experiences. That's what makes the brand. Not the logo, slogan, TV commercial and all the other hype. The two retailers (not) mentioned are prime examples of what Seth Godin a few years ago called "Meatball Sundaes" an ugly concoction due to a disconnect between corporate culture and its marketing communications. Social media has just added another layer in the complexity. It starts sounding like a broken record, but slapping on social media to an already flawed overall marketing strategy will not produce results. What's surprising is that those ROI obsessed CFOs when it comes to social media efforts, don't seem to be nearly as concerned when it comes to finding the reasons for the sagging stock price.

ROI obsessed CFOs

Thanks for the thoughts, Joe. The problem with ROI obsession is that it forces a short-term perspective. Investors are short-term focused, so the C-suite is short-term focused, so marketers are short-term focused. This means a focus not on brand lift but sales--anything that lifts sales NOW helps the stock price and means everyone gets bonuses and keeps their jobs.

While some social media tactics can help revenue in the short-run (such as promotions posted to Facebook groups and Twitter), much of social marketing is more long-term in nature. Relationships, trust, affinity and the like aren't created or measured quarter to quarter. Real long-term brand and social media benefits can be created only when leadership permits a long-term focus.

Exactly, and that's what

Exactly, and that's what wrong in so many cases in corporate America. Much less so in Asia and also Europe - except that mid-Atlantic place called the UK! The obsession with making quarterly numbers to please Wall Street has been well documented, including the negative effect on the overall economy. It has also become increasingly evident that this is detrimental to long term success, but then again, how many C-suite occupants care about the long term when their compensation is not based on it and their compensation is also based on the short term. To compound the problem, when things really go bad they exit with a handsome golden parachute and let the successor clean up the mess. End of rant!

Now, to get back to social media, yes I agree totally with your last sentence. That's exactly what needs to happen. Will it happen? Based on my comments above allow me to have certain doubts.

Success is Social Media doesn't happen overnight!

You are right about those obsessed in the ROI more than in the plot or plan of the campaign. The success of social media strategy doesn't come overnight.

Social Media Buzz and Bust

It's great to get the social media buzz and people talking, but it doesn't always deliver the customers. Lots of people like the connectedness of social media for belonging so they join these conversations, but they are not true customers of the brand.
And poor service wastes so much money that companies big and small spend on brand strategy, social media, and marketing. It may pull customers into the store, but poor service has the same customers running right out the door.

Thanks for saying it!

Social media zealots who insist that everyone have a Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube channel aren't focused on the bigger picture. The success of a marketing campaign isn't in the number of connections or followers. It's in the resulting customers -- and their ultimate satisfaction that brings repeat sales and referral business.

Social media networks provide platforms that can enhance the engagement of the consumer community. It is interesting, however, to see how many customers willingly "chase" a company as it markets through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, email campaigns, and website pages when the company actually benefits most from a visit by the paying customer at a real-world location. Social media marketing has its place in marketing strategies and campaigns, but it should not be treated as an independent silo for its own benefit.

Social Media vs. Social Media Marketing Success

You make a good point. Too often we want to create all kinds of buzz, but that's it. I shop at Nordstrom too for the same reasons. Eddie Bauer is another retailer that gets it.

Don't promote what you don't have

One succinct way to put it: Using social media to promote a poor product or service simply socializes the disappointment (or outrage, or whatever).

Comcast, for example, spent hundreds of millions improving their service even as they implemented social outreach. (And it is better, if still not perfect.)

Thanks, Josh!

I appreciate the input from the world-famous author of Empowered (due out September 14, 2010 and available for pre-order at Amazon: (No, I am not contractually obligated to promote Josh's book--I want to. It's a great read!)

As I read your terrific, succinct comment, I couldn't help thinking about the old analogy of "lipstick on a pig." All the "Like" buttons and Twitter accounts in the world cannot make a pig any prettier if the basics of product and service aren't right!

My thoughts exactly...

This is a great blog post and I completely agree with you. Social media tools are a great way for retailers to listen to what their customers have to say and where they should improve. However, listening and responding with a "Thank you for your comments..." is not enough, they need to act on it. It's not the fancy Facebook page that keeps customers coming back, it's their actual experiences at the store. Delta Airlines is another great example of how companies should take full advantage of their social media.


Thanks for the dialog, Aeshna. And I appreciate you bringing up Delta--I agree, they do a nice job of leveraging social media and not just social media marketing!

5 Keys to Address for Social Media Success

The points made in this blog post should be understood by every business. The idea of social media "marketing" only addresses the key point of "Speaking" to your audience. Advertising is the original "talking at" people. Social media is about engaging with them.
I advocate 5 Keys to Address that will help a business be successful at social media as Augie describes it here. They are Listen, Speak, Care, Share and Build Relationships:
1) Listen to current customers, prospects, industry experts and other influencers in the market space and internalize what you hear to improve your business.
2) Speak to the overall market conversation with quality, supportive and helpful content that people want to respond to, inquire about and pass on to others.
3) Care about what is being said about your products, your company, your competitors and your industry, but even more important, care about helping your customers and prospects fulfill their wants and needs.
4) Share your experiences—positive and negative—and your insights as you grow your company and evolve your product lines.
5) Build relationships with market conversation Influencers, Participants and Listeners based on the mutual interest of the consumer problems that need to be solved with product innovation.

If businesses are not building a social media plan that encompasses all of these ideas than they will likely end up with a "social media marketing" plan rather than a "social media" plan.

Thanks for the great points made in this post, Augie!

5 Keys

Thanks for eharing the five keys. Those are good, solid concepts for social media success.

Nothing but the truth

You nailed it, successful companies with social media already have in place an organisation that can adapt and act on consumer feedback... What top 5 social media tools or recos you read in mashable or social media examiner is less important... But of course, that new campaign tab on your facebook page that didnt cost much makes your boss happy, and questioning the organisation is "not the job of a social media guy"... See, there are big obstacles to deal with if you want to do social media right. Quick wins? Sure, buy ppc on facebook.

Making the boss happy

A consistent thread in the responses I've received to this and other blog posts is the idea that we have to do things to make bosses happy (such as focusing on direct response discounting promotions rather than brand-building relationship programs). I wonder if we sometimes fail to give our bosses appropriate credit! They may not always "get" where social media fits or how it changes the way we operate, but my guess is that they're equally committed to doing the right thing.

What do you think? Do we need to take more time to educate the bosses of the world? Or do you think that too many bosses focus on short-term metrics at the expense of long-term value?

I hope you're wrong about this

But I suspect you're correct. It is quite a daunting task to help people realize that social media/relationship marketing actually does represent a paradigm shift. As professionals in the field, it is part of our job to figure out ways to help the workers educate their bosses. Hmmm. I have to think about that one for a while.


They, as we, are under constant pressure to deliver and resistant to change as most people.

I will gladly read Forrester's new book "Empowered" which seems to have some answers to this.

Good post indeed.

Bad retail experience way out number good ones. I also think people tend to remember bad ones. Enter social media networks....

I would not normally re-post one of my own articles but it is very similar.

Thanks !

Thanks, Peter

Thanks for the link, Peter. Nice blog post!

Thanks for the great explanation!

This is the best explanation of the difference I've read to date. Thanks for making it so clear. What I've figured out about social media is that it truly is a return to word-of-mouth on a large stage. I liken it to the role of the pot-bellied stove at the general store. People come, they talk, they interact, and they'll let you know right away whether you're serving their needs.

Interesting read...In my

Interesting read...In my opinion, Social CRM = Social Media + Traditional CRM.
The troubles begins when organizations focus more on SM and less on the CRM part

Marketing tactics and trends ...

Thanks Augie,

Marketing tactics and marketing trends have (and will continue) to come-and-go while great customer service and a great customer / user experience remains core to the overall strategy and its success. It's one of the hardest dimensions to duplicate in business and one of an organization's greatest competitive advantages.

Great customer service and customer experience

I agree with you--great customer service and customer experience is core--but I think it's even MORE core in the social era. In the end, getting people talking about why our brand is great is the most authentic social media; getting people talking about our social sweeps or viral campaign is nice to have, but cannot beat real tweets and posts about the real product or customer experience.

Thanks for the dialog!

Good Read

Good read. Your final points summarize the essence of your blog. It really is all about the customer's experience. That is what defines the brand in the consumer's mind and the reason to buy again or to seek alternatives.

Mark Burgess

Couldn't Agree More

This is definitely the Seth Godin approach to marketing... forget blasting out irrelevant messages and focus on creating a wow experience. Social media finally gives companies who wow their customers the opportunity to be found out about fast. Of course the flip side is true... piss your customers off and, well, you know the rest.

Seth Godin

Thanks Aaron. Someday I'd like to meet Seth. I suspect he and I could enjoy a fun conversation over a drink or two!

ya i'm a huge fan of his

ya i'm a huge fan of his ideas and would love to meet him too.

Not too shabby

I think the real misconception here is what social media should be used for. It's a marketing tool, pure and simple. It's a part of a business's funnel to draw in and convert customers. However, a business can't treat it or think about social media in that way. The tool must be used to inform, educate and stimulate their audience in hopes that their customers will be compelled to convert into purchasing something.

Over all, great piece.


This is what I always share with my clients and colleagues in SEO. SEO practices like social media doesnt equate to profit or sales. Like the one happened in SoAP, it created buzz but doesnt make much sales. When doing social media or any SEO , make sure to define your goals why you indulge into SEO or social media, visibilty, traffics, leads or sales, from that work on the strategy applicable for your goals set.

I just wrote a post on this

I just wrote a post on this same subject at my blog targeting rural businesses. Working with very small businesses, I'm delighted to see your perspective on the difference between social media and social media marketing. All the hype about ROI, numbers of followers, bells and whistles on your social media sites cloud the picture to the point that micro-business owners determine that they "don't have time for all that." The point is they don't have time for all the social media marketing, but need to add social media to their existing mix of high quality customer care - like Nordstrom's. Thanks!