Is Social Media Management A Viable Category?

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I can hear the collective groans. “That’s a pretty stupid question. How can ask that of a category that generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue? Whatever you’re on, please share some.”

On the face of it, the question does seem idiotic, but hear me out. Let’s start with the premise that there are two major use cases for “social”:

  1. The first is the “sense and respond” use case. That is a brand listening to what is going on in the social mediasphere and then engaging with users. The interaction might result from a question, or a great offline experience, or a poor one. It might be a passing comment, or a detailed review. Whatever the case, the brand hears what a user has to say, and then takes the appropriate action.
  2. The second is when a brand uses social channels to build audiences and fill the top of its marketing funnel through the use of interesting and engaging content. It might be a cat photo, or a funny video, or an informative infographic. Whatever the case, the brand is using that channel to get people interested in what it has to say.

Virtually all uses of social fall into these two buckets. Note that I am not talking about social media analytics where a brand can pick up clues by listening to social, or sales leads; I am talking specifically about workflow oriented use cases.

Well, that sounds reasonable. So reasonable that it sounds like a software category is emerging.

The problem is that there is already billions of dollars invested in the first use case, in the form of customer service and call center software. When viewed through the lens of sense and repond, social is a really just a feature of a strong service offering. And while that may not be the way it always works today, it is hard to argue that a separate team and separate software should be manning social channels, web online chat channels, email channels and phone channels. By the way, I don’t buy the argument that “social is different” and that it needs to be treated as special.

Garbage. Sure it’s new-ish, but it is solving a decades old problem, simply through a new channel. We saw the same sort of evolution when email emerged as a new channel in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

In the second major use case, filling the top of the funnel, the marketer’s objective is to create, curate and publish compelling content to attract and engage social audience members. Ultimately, the marketer’s objective is to fill the top of that funnel, and then convert some portion of that audience into the next stage of their funnel. The rub here, is that CONTENT is the key, not the fact that it happens to be on a social channel. I will absolutely grant that different social channels (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, SnapChat) have different personalities, but that simply means that the marketer needs to tailor the CONTENT for a particular channel.

It is interesting that in the latest Forrester Wave, two out of the top three, and three out of the top nine of the biggest challenges faced by social marketers have more to do with content than with the channel. A further two of the top nine are related to finding budget, and that ties directly to the top issue: measuring the impact of social.

At the end of the day, it seems logical that the sense and respond use cases for social will become features of customer management suites.

More interestingly, it seems logical that the worlds of social and content marketing will collide. Who knows what we will call it, but it pretty clear that they are becoming two sides of the same coin.



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