It’s Time to Stop Calling It ‘Social’ Marketing

Social marketing suffers from one fatal flaw — one that can be easily fixed.

Social marketing is a hot commodity, serving as an effective tool for marketers and one of the pillars driving digital as it overthrows TV in terms of marketing spend. Yet it suffers from one fatal flaw — one that can be easily fixed.

The issue is that “social” is an outdated term, and the advertising happening on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat and other platforms needs a more appropriate name. “Social” limits what marketers are able to get out of the channels because it limits what they’re capable of designing and planning. Rather than “social,” it’s time to think in terms of “responsive” advertising.

Social media was built on peer-to-peer connections between consumers, with friends, family members and strangers digitally linked to one another via a platform. The brand’s role may have been connecting with these consumers as peers at first, but the honeymoon is over. Brand marketing strategy today should focus on engaging with consumers by responding to real-world trends and audience data via content that appeals to these consumers. In other words, the creative and messaging have to be responsive. This is why some of the biggest brands have already shed the “social” moniker in favor of this more accurate term.

New platforms were called social media early on because there was no precedent for this level of interaction, online or off. But these ad channels got stuck with the term, much the same way someone can get stuck with their childhood nickname for too long. After a while, it becomes sort of degrading, which is the problem that “social” faces now.

These are some of the most powerful tools at a marketer’s disposal, but they are regarded as insubstantial. “Social” sounds twee, like an ice cream social. “Responsive” is immediate and implies real-time. One word denotes some of the most sophisticated marketing processes possible, while the other makes it sound as if it’s marketing for a party in a high-school gym. These platforms can’t be effective if marketers treat them as second-tier, rather than as the powerful tools that they are.

The other major problem with the “social” label is that it lumps disparate platforms together. Any marketer that ran the same exact creative and copy across Twitter and Instagram could be called foolish, so why is it OK to lump both together in a marketing plan?

These two platforms generally compete for a share of the social dollar, when instead they should be viewed together, competing for traditional dollars. The press loves to pit Google, Facebook and Twitter against each other, but in reality, those companies are on the same team. Each has a completely different value proposition, and smart marketers are taking advantage of all of them, rather than trying to carve up a percentage of the digital budget that has been earmarked for “social” advertising.

By changing how we refer to this kind of marketing, we’re ultimately changing how brands and agencies brainstorm and strategize their campaigns. The data signals coming from responsive media allow marketers to develop creative messaging based on how consumers are expected to react. That should open up a world of creative possibilities that drive results. Other channels are racing to catch up to this capability, and in the next few years, we’ll likely see many media labels melt away as marketers become more fluid with where they allocate their dollars to get the best result. Call it what you will, but hopefully, “social” is the first label to go.

Chris Gomersall is the CEO of Atomized, a cloud-based visual content calendar for marketers.