Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Corporate Social Media Is Not Social -- It's Sales Media

Posted by Tom Foremski - May 18, 2010

When it comes to corporate use of social media I have problems with the use of the word "social" because it's not accurate. It's not social.

When most people use Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace, they use it for its social qualities. Yet when corporations, and many professionals use social media, they are using it for commercial purposes, they are using it for sales.

This is an important distinction because it affects how businesses should use social media.

I was moderating a panel earlier today on how businesses can use PR to leverage social media, and Louis Gray said something that was very wise. He said that people create their Facebook pages in a specific way because that's the way they like it, they are comfortable there. If you come along and engage with them you need to approach them as if you were a guest in their home.

That means businesses have to be cautious about how they sell on social media sites.

All that relationship building and engagement is not because a business wants to get to know Jane or John better, as a friend or relative would, it wants to sell more of its product or service. That's a far different agenda from most people's engagement in social media.

Like at parties, people will avoid that person that is selling something. Friends that invite their friends to tupperware parties, or similar, are tolerated for a while, but not for long. Similarly, companies that use social media as sales media must understand there is a time and place for it, or they risk alienating people.

Sir Martin Sorrell, the head of WPP, the world's largest marketing and communications group, has similar concerns about the commercial use of social media. The Financial Times recently reported:

Sir Martin warned on Tuesday that social media sites are ”less commercial phenomena, they are more personal phenomena,” more similar to ”writing letters to our mothers” than watching television.

”Invading these [social] media with commercial messages might not be the right thing.”

So let's be honest about corporate use of social media -- it's really all sales media -- let's not dress it up as anything else.

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Please see: Every Company is a Media Company - EC=MC - the transformative equation for business.


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