Last week, MediaPost reported on new research from Knowledge Networks "How People Use Social Media" and concluded that "only 16% of social media users say they are more likely to buy from companies that advertise on social sites. Based on the findings, Knowledge Networks categorizes the value of social media advertising "somewhere in the long tail of marketing options, way below TV ads and personal, word-of-mouth recommendations." Ironically, the report went on to say, "What we're seeing is that word-of-mouth is still the No. 1 most influential source."
This is pure hogwash.
What I gather from this report is that apparently social media advertising isn't working very well. That's because advertisers and ad agencies don't yet get social media. It's not about broadcasting your message as loudly as possible on Facebook or Twitter or whatever social network you think your target audience is visiting. (Hint: It's probably Facebook.) It's about joining the conversation - creating a space where consumers and fans can talk about your brand and products and services, listening to them, and engaging with them. This works.
For some reason ($$$?) media companies and ad agencies still don't get this, so, if you're in the media industry, think like a consumer for a moment, and then picture Mr. Clean, his smiling bald face and all. If you were at the kids soccer game talking with other moms and dads and Mr. Clean kept butting into the conversation, trying to get you to talk to him, (or click on him!), you'd find him totally annoying and unbearable. If, on the other hand, Mr. Clean was off to the side, taking notes on what people who chose to walk up to him had to share, and maybe giving out some free samples and having a great time with people, you'd probably be into Mr. Clean.
Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are just tools for a much larger version of that conversation. If your brand uses the tools right, and enters the conversation the right way, not as an advertiser but as an authentic party wanting to listen and engage, share, connect and have fun like every other productive member of the conversation, then you can take advantage of the fact that "word-of-mouth is still the #1 most influentual source" and laugh all the way to the bank, while other brands and agencies lament that "social media advertising doesn't work."