Call it an act of nature or simple proof of the great-minds-thinking-alike-at-the-same-time phenomenon (cough cough!), but exactly a week after posting my blog on whether Social Media “really works” came a very similar albeit much more powerful essay on exactly the same debate – by author Tara Hunt. With 18k views, it was the 2nd on LinkedIn’s top posts yesterday.  It is no wonder since she nails a complicated discussion with a brilliant analysis. Social Media as a domain has for too long being looked upon as a “Silver Bullet” – an instrument of direct marketing or a platform for sales. “It’s not. It never was and it never will be”, says Tara Hunt.

“There are hundreds of ways that your customer will find you (or not find you) online and offline. However, when it comes to spreading a message, word of mouth has always been the most effective way of marketing messages spreading. But these messages become ineffective when they aren’t authentic.”

Truth be repeated, Social Media is merely an opportunity for word of mouth. The job of the Social Media strategist is to find ways to amplify this word of mouth to the extent possible. Period.

Plain as it is, yet most brand owners falter. Why? One reason is that most brand managers look at Social Media as a market. As in, it is a collection of TGs, it has a size, shape, behavior, needs etc. (Remember Kotler?).  And when Facebook publicizes the fact it has billion-plus active users, it is seen as an awfully large market not to sell things to! This perception of Social Media being a mammoth market also explains why there is an almost unnatural frenzy or ‘buzz’ among brand owners. It is like a new Juhu Bus Stop or a gathering at a virtual Connaught Place.  This gives rise to an impatient bid to reach for those billion wallets almost immediately. But Social Media unfortunately cannot and should not be looked at as a market, though admittedly it often seems like one. Social Media is exactly what it says it is – a media – a channel to a market, and not the market itself. Social Media is not the crowded street in Juhu; it is the billboard overlooking it.  And like a billboard, Social Media too comes with constraints that need to be understood and appreciated. This understanding can come only once one has played around, experimented and ‘burnt some fingers’. Results will take time and are not necessarily guaranteed. As Hunt rightfully says, “You cannot force word of mouth.”

Then why should businesses invest on Social Media? Hunt lists out the salient features of Social Media (like real time analytics, feedback, community building, etc.) before summing it up brilliantly- “There are hundreds of ways your future customers will find you (or not find you) and it’s better to be findable than not. And good (social media) marketing means that you will be more findable AND have more credibility (if the branding is done right) when people do find you. And all of that helps with what you want: sales.

Is this something for every Social Media strategist to keep a note of? I guess so!