Social Media Marketing: It's About Relationships

Advertising and Marketing execs are going crazy and can't jump on the Social Media band wagon fast enough.  Best Buy has the whole company tweeting on Twelpforce  , every company on the planet is getting a Facebook page, and it goes on and on.  There is a wide range of results that are being seen and what some of these companies are doing appears quite reactionary, if you ask me.  It feels like a lot of "we need to do this but I'm not sure why" is going on.

However, Social Media Marketing is a very different animal and it has many traditional marketing and advertising types scratching their heads and maybe a bit out of their element.  It also seems as if having a blog, tweeting, and 2,000 Facebook friends can transform a marketing person into a Social Media Marketing person.  At least that is what you think if you did a search on that job title on Linked-In.

I say all of this as the founder of and someone that has been actively participating in online community building, social networking, Open Source, and emergence theory  research for over a decade.  During my work and tenure at Sun Microsystems, I was privileged to know and collaborate with some of the most brilliant minds, like Ward Cunningham who developed the first Wiki, and many others that were precursors to modern day social media.


I know the nature of this beast that has come to be known as Social Media Marketing and it has more to do with group dynamics and emergent behavior than it does with marketing.  That is the single biggest challenge to marketing people today.

  • Unlike the traditional megaphone of advertising and marketing that focuses on talking at the masses, Social Media is about conversations that take place among the masses.  
  • Unlike like the microscope that big-brother marketing and advertising use to observe and collect information about the masses, Social Media is about the relationships within the masses that makes people willing to share information about themselves.

Social Media Marketing is about leveraging the relationships and the personal credibility that comes with the relationships.  That is the power of Social Media Marketing and what makes it different from every other type of marketing.  If you don't believe me, consider the issues of profiling and privacy.


I recently heard a great exchange about privacy and profiling that occurred between an advertising agency person and an audience member during a panel discussion at the Digital Signage Expo in Vegas a couple of weeks ago.  It came down to this:

The audience member said "It's ok when we do it to ourselves, but not when you do it to us".

The Ad Agency claimed that since everyone is posting their every move and most intimate details on Facebook, that they have given up their privacy and that privacy was no longer important to them.

So, where is the disconnect?  I'll tell you.

When someone joins Facebook and puts personal information up there, they don't see it as making it public.  They see it as them sharing information with their friends.  They see this group as people they have a relationship with, whether that be by mutual acquaintance, interests, or experiences.  They also feel like they are in control of the situation.  They decide what to post and who to add as friends.

Unfortunately, we all want to be popular and we measure popularity by how many friends we have.  This leads people to add EVERYONE as a friend and Ad Agencies are misreading this.  It's true that once the group of friends becomes the group of all people, is diminishes the notion of being a friend.

However, this naivety is nothing more than a case of mom needing to do a better job with the "they aren't really your friends, sweetie" message.  Ad Agencies see this ill discretion as a desire to be a public figure and a surrender of their right to privacy.


So, when a "friend" says they heard you bought the latest Miley Cyrus CD , that is very different than Apple quoting chapter and verse of your last 6 months of music purchases.  The former is considered normal and friendly and the latter is creepy.

The real difference between the two is the person's perception of the relationship.  The complete stranger that they added as a Facebook friend is perceived as a friendly relationship.  This same person doesn't perceive that they have a friendly relationship with Apple, so different rules apply.

My final word to ad agencies and marketers is this.  Unless you are willing to enter into a social relationship with the people you are marketing to, be very careful how you implement Social Media Marketing.  It is a tool, but a fool with a tool is still a fool.

Thanks for reading.