Social Media as Mass Marketing … Not the Future

"We're on Facebook."—Sign outside a nursery/garden center near my home

In 1994 I had the opportunity to work on the first hotel company website, when we pulled together 64 pages of brochure-ware for Hyatt Resorts. At that point, keyword advertising was years away and it would be another five years before Permission Marketing would be published. As people started to think of what marketing would be like on the Internet, mass marketing was the paradigm they used, because that was what they knew.

Looking back 15 years later, our mid-90s view of Internet marketing seems primitive. My opinion: In the future, our current view of social media is going to look similarly primitive, and this time we'll get smart much more quickly.

Like early thoughts about Internet marketing, popular discussions of social media tend to use a mass marketing paradigm. "Wow, there are 250 million active Facebook users!" "Twitter grew 752% in 2008. Incredible!" People talk about Facebook and Twitter user numbers with the awe that is usually reserved for late-January new stories about the power of Superbowl advertising.

More of my opinion: The big numbers won't be the big story in the future.

Already, the best uses of social media are not the mass uses. (Who cares if American Airlines has a Facebook fan page?) The best uses are the micro uses. Example: My 8th grade class, the 1973 graduating class of Lake Bluff Junior High School, has coalesced on Facebook and we're having a reunion. Now that's cool. I'll bet most of you have similar stories.

We don't know what social media's most effective marketing uses will be in the future. But if you want to get a hint of what it will be like, here's my suggestion: Don't think mass marketing. Don't think of advertising-type metrics, such as reach, frequency, big numbers, and "cutting through the clutter." Think micro. Think relationships. Think of a customer saying, "What's in it for me?" not a marketer saying, "Cool, I have another marketing tool!" Think of customers talking with each other, not companies adding social media to their "marketing mix."

Executives feel a need to be "On Facebook and Twitter," as if being "On" these sites signifies that they are up to speed on the latest marketing tools. But being "On" these social media sites doesn't mean a thing. When your customers use social media to talk to each other about you ... now that means something.

[Read more by Steve at Yastrow.com.]