The Clash of the Titans – Social Media Vs. OldSkool Marketers

Let me present to you, the Titans:

On the left corner – heavyweight Marketing Professor (self proclaimed heavyweight), Mark Ritson. On the right, petit & strong, Social Media Queen, title defender – Nicola Swankie.

This isn’t a new battle. It’s ongoing ever since new-age, progressive, young marketers heard the term “media” in Social Media, and decided it’s their new marketing channel.

For The Sake Of Clarification, When I’m Using The Term “Marketing” In This Post, I’m Referring To The 4thP Of The Classic Definition: Promotion (Or Advertising). Marketing In It’s True Sense, Seems To Have Been Forgotten, Or Just Left Misunderstood.. I Have A Dream, That My Children Will Know The True Meaning Of That Obscure Business Discipline, Marketing…


In a recent presentation, the heavyweight (or as he tend to refer to himself, half jokingly, as ‘fat’) marketing professor slams social media as an effective marketing (promotion, remember?) channel, citing top 10 Australian brands (as determined by an old-school index, powered by a consulting agency Brand Finance), in relation to their social media impact.

Prof. Ritson’s focus in this presentation was: how social media is being used by brands to communicate to your target consumers? (his words, not mine).

The fundamental flaw in his presentation focus, is the word “to” when referring to social media in brand communication. On social media, you DON’T communicate to. You communicate with. The major impact Social Media (and other web 2.0 technologies) has brought into our world is the fact that it’s not a one-way communication (broadcasting) channel. It’s two-way communication. You can still promote, send messages, and highlight talking points, but do expect a response.

That remark, in my opinion, de-validated Prof. Ritson’s entire presentation, in my opinion, but I listened… Not only he doesn’t understand the medium, he’s under the impression you can evaluate a new paradigm in brand communication, with the same tools you’ve evaluated tools in the old paradigm. That’s not really clever, is it?

One of the things that really caught my attention in his presentation, is the comparison of social media contribution to brand value (decimal points!! Get used to them), while admitting less then 5% of budgets attributed to all social media activities, especially when you try and analyse the value in traditional terms, such as exposure, CTR, etc. You get what you pay for, my friend…

Prof. Mark Ritson continues to share his views about the rise of social media coverage in the media, versus it’s true share of mind (and budgets) and so on..

Ding, Ding, Ding… On the other corner of the ring, standing in defense of the social media community (translation: people who work in social media – content creators / curators and distributors), is the lovely Nicola Swankie.

But Ms. Swankie straight away, and eloquently dug herself deep into a hole, starting with the point of view of the consumer in this debate, wasn’t the point she had to defend in the first place: it’s given us the control to personalize and choose the media we see and it’s given us a voice.” Like too many others, Nicola rose to defend her craft against Prof. Ritson’s criteria. Which was a futile effort. Why futile?

Because Nicola and her team discovered what they thought was a real insight about Prof. Ritson, on one of his own social media channels – LinkedIn. Nicola’s team found His research work about the social uses in advertising. I’m sure that the common short form of Social Media, now called by industry veterans “social”, had sparked their interest. However, this paper had nothing to do with Social Media as a marketing tool though. That piece of research took place in 1997, the same year Google was founded. Long before social media impacted our lives.

Nicola fished through the article, trying to find a gold nugget to hit prof. Ritson with. But she couldn’t:

Interesting… So Makes The Point Himself That Brands As Part Of Culture, But In An Era Where So Much Of The Culture And Content We Connect Over And Share Is On Social Media, Where We See Movements Like #Illridewithyou And #Putoutyourbats He Feels Brands Have No Right To Be There? 

Nicola, those #hashtags are not brand communications. Those are social movements, like the ones Mark Ritson said he’s not so stupid to ignore, as these are the type of movements that people create to communicate with each other. Not brand (I hate that term – let’s call ‘em COMPANIES!) communication.

In that context, Prof. Ritson is right! And you fell straight into his trap…

So what can we learn from this ongoing debate?

  1. Social Media is not an advertising channel. Companies will always be the third wheel on Social Media channels, if that their intention.
  2. When comparing results you have to compare efforts. If Woolworths spent an estimated $200M last year on advertising, did they really spend $10M on Social (5%)? I seriously doubt that. How can you compare results without comparing efforts?
  3. The impact of Social Media on businesses and companies (and their associated brands) is much more than an additional advertising medium. For example, Employer Brandingis something very rarely discussed in Australia, but is something discussed often between people, talking about their employer. Social Media is a great medium and channel to address it, and strengthen your Employer Brand.
  4. Social Media cannot be seen in isolation. When you’re running advertising campaigns, consider how you’d include social media in the mix. Are you going to use paid advertising or run a competition on various social media channels to get the ball rolling, or as a final destination? Integrate, don’t isolate…
  5. Don’t confuse people with companies. More often than not, Social Media “practitioners” will include Arab Spring, or other social movements in their arguments for the good of humanity. It’s irrelevant in this context. It has nothing to do with business, or business metrics. Very few companies have established brands, which people will defend with their lives, or at least get into heated debates over (read more: “The Culting of Brands”,Douglas Atkin.).

Marketing isn’t just about promotion, and social media channels are not designed for companies to “communicate to” consumers. They provide customer feedback and reviews, excellent customer services tools (look at Telstra), market research and competitive analysis, and offer many more aids to the marketing function of any business.

Social Media, isn’t just Facebook and Twitter either. I consider Amazon, Ebay, Tripadvisor, blogs, video distribution channels (YouTube, Vimeo, Viddlr, etc.), forums, online and console games, and any platform that allows online interaction, as social media channels.

I don’t believe Brand Finance’s top 10 brands are utilizing Social Media to the max, to get maximum results. I actually doubt those companies’ executives actually know what results they are looking for, and how they should be measured, with regards to their social media efforts. I’m very familiar with NAB’s Social Media command centre, which Prof. Ritson mentioned in his presentation. It was a sham, in my opinion.

Judging Social Media’s impact in isolation, as a marketing channel, is like judging the effectiveness of a single billboard. It’s stupid.

Asking to measure ROI of social media, in the old paradigm context, is like asking about the ROI of your phone system, or Email service. It’s also stupid.

Rant’s over. Comments welcome..

[symple_testimonial by=”razchorev”] Raz ChorevRaz ChorevSocially Acceptable
Experienced Global Marketing Director, Social business advocate, Dad, Nerd, Biker and a co-founder of @riding4acause. Not necessarily in that order… [/symple_testimonial]