The Future of Social Media Marketing?

The Future of Social Media Marketing?

A friend recently sent me Evan Bailyn’s Outsmarting Social Media with the instructions to “Read it!”  It’s an interesting book, well worth the time to look at.  Bailyn has some thoughtful and practical suggestions and insights on marketing through Facebook and Twitter (although I think Facebook’s new Timeline has thrown him a curve).

The subtitle of the book is “Profiting in the Age of Friendship Marketing,” and one of Bailyn’s key themes is how social media are changing the way marketers and advertising agencies will be using “influencers.”  With social media, the concept of “influencer” (or “trend setter”) is being brought down from the realm of celebrities to individuals in our lives whose opinions we respect.

What makes this granularity and personalization of influence so potent is that we decide who influences us, taking the guess work out of picking spokespersons.  As we add more and more personal information to our personal social media accounts, and as Facebook and Google (whom Bailyn sees as the main competitors in this emerging arena) perfect algorithms for real-time and truly personalized search, marketers and advertisers will be able to deliver their pitches at the level of the individual.  (In fact, Google has just rolled out its new Knowledge Graph or “semantic web” to make searches more personalized and intuitive.)

Bailyn foresees the time when ads for sneakers, for example, will be sent to you with a picture of one of your individually chosen influencer friends wearing or endorsing the brand.

As a marketer, that sounds pretty exciting.  People will tell us what they want, what they need, and what they worry about.  Even better, they’ll tell us who they know who would influence their buying decision.  Wow!  My job just got a whole lot easier.

I have no doubt that sometime in the not-too-distant future, women will be getting personalized lingerie ads and Cialis™ promotions will be targeted more precisely.

As an individual, however, the whole thing makes me a little queasy.

It’s probably a generational thing, but I have a profound objection to the notion of my friends becoming shills for products.  Certainly, I’m interested in their opinions and experiences with products and services and just plain stuff.  But when I want those opinions, I’ll ask for them.  (And I really don’t care what underwear my friends prefer.)  More important, as soon as these opinions are co-opted by advertisers, they will be significantly diminished in my eyes.  (Actually, I’d probably get in touch with my friends and ask them if they knew they were being used, and what were they thinking!).

Certainly, the idea of friendship (or relationship) marketing is not new.  It is, after all, the basis for all the multi-level marketing (MLM) programs.

What is new is taking the personal out of the personal relationships, interjecting third-party interests between the individual and the individual’s influencers.

What is new is the coming unprecedented ability to gather and manipulate vast amounts of personal information at the most granular and individual level.

Okay, so I admit it.  I’m old-fashioned.  I’m not looking forward to a brave new world where we put more and more of what used to be private information online.  And I’m not looking forward to a brave new world where that information is increasingly accessed by people I don’t know and is used to try and sell me stuff.  I get enough unsolicited suggestions for how I should spend my money as it is.

I have no issue with companies making billions off “friendship marketing.”  I am a capitalist to my toes. (Though I am probably not going to be a very good target for their campaigns.)

But this data collection (voluntary as it may be) makes me queasy because:

♦       It will probably be a matter of minutes before politicians and political causes catch on to the advantages of granular marketing.  They will obviously use this accessible database for fund-raising, volunteer gathering, and get-out-the-vote drives – at a minimum.

♦      How long do you think it will be before politicians and government agencies use this data in less benign ways?

♦       What do you think the chances are that all this private and personal information you are consolidating on social media sites will not be hacked?

Okay, I’m old fashioned.  But I fear that in the not-too-distant future, we will be reminiscing about what personal privacy used to mean.



6 thoughts on “The Future of Social Media Marketing?

  1. Nice post, Emily. I liked the points about deciding who influences us and also your cautionary statements about potential pitfalls of collecting personal data.

    Looking forward to next week’s offering!



  2. Hi Emily

    Yes, big trade-off between the quest for ‘a personalised web experience’ and privacy.

    That middle ground is hard to find!

    Personalisation is big business now: a good app can lift sales on a website by 20% under the right circumstances so retailers are right behind it.

    On FB I think you’ll always have an element that clamours for it, and will no doubt get their way.
    I suppose the rest of us will vote with our feet if it all gets too uncomfortable.


  3. I’m seeing an opportunity for a whole new type of “application” in all this. The last 10 years was about building connections, and a land-grab of twitter followers. The noise-level is deafening, and finding a nugget of value in all this bombardment is difficult, if not impossible.

    The next wave will be to find ways to rank quality, call it a “connection quality index.” Through some such index, we’ll filter both what we see and experience, as well as what we expose and share.

    Right now, it is a bit creepy to not have any tiered control over this – its all or nothing. Anyone want to start this company with me?

  4. Excellent post. Its not old fashioned at all – what we really need is “permission based market”. You obtain my permission to market to me. Anything else is simply abusing my privacy to obtain information on me. One is underhanded the other is appropriate.

    What’s been missing on the web is the software mechanism that enables permission. Finding the data is easy – getting my permission, not so much.


    • Dead on, Peter. There is too much abuse of privacy in the name of marketing. Actually, I think it is becoming self-defeating. People don’t like to have their privacy abused, and they don’t necessarily want marketers in their private space.

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