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Why social media isn’t great at lead generation

We were asked recently, how do you use social media to generate in-store retail traffic? On the surface, this is a great question because it speaks to the perceived usefulness of social media as a way to solve real business problems. However, once you dig in a little, you realize that this question isn’t going to deliver a satisfactory answer. Here’s why.

Spiders in the funnel

If we look at the simplicity of the marketing funnel, we realize that the point of media is to generate audience, to generate awareness. The point of marketing is to take that audience and turn it into leads. The point of sales is to take the leads and turn them into revenue. Each discipline specializes in these practice areas and the tools of each discipline reflect this specialization.

The hint about social media is output is in its name, social, meaning people and conversations, and media. Social media is about engaging people in conversations for the purposes of creating and distributing content, which is what media does. Social media, as a form of media, logically has a primary output of more audience. As a form of media, it creates awareness, trust, and engagement that help people talk more about you, become more aware of you, and tell their friends about you.

This also means that social media, like advertising and traditional media, isn’t necessarily great at direct response. Direct response is a marketing tactic, and occurs further down the funnel, once media has done the job of creating awareness.

Think of the difference this way:

Media gets people talking to each other.
Marketing gets people talking to you.

If you do a good enough job of creating a product or service that people desperately want, once people talk to each other, they will seek you out in order to talk to you about how to obtain it. If you try to get people to talk to you first and foremost, then not only do you lose the amplification effect of talking to someone else, you also don’t have their awareness or trust.

Use social media for what it’s best at: getting people talking to each other about you. If your product or service is worth talking about, people will engage you in the conversation as the next logical step. That’s not to say you can’t ask for direct response activity from your audience using social media, but be prepared for it to not deliver the same quality of results you would normally expect from pure direct response marketing methods.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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Posted on May 14, 2014 in Advertising, Marketing, Social Media

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn has been featured as a recognized authority in many books, publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, BusinessWeek and US News & World Report, and television networks such as PBS, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and ABC News for his leadership in new media and marketing. In 2012 and again in 2013, Forbes Magazine recognized him as one of the top 50 most influential people in social media and digital marketing; Marketo Corporation named him a Marketing Illuminator, and PR News nominated him as Social Media Person of the Year. Mr. Penn is the Vice President of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications, a public relations firm, as well as co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp New Media Community Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. He is an adjunct professor of Internet marketing and the lead subject matter expert and professor of Advanced Social Media at the University of San Francisco. He’s the author of the best-selling book Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer.

@cspenn Excellent, simple explanation on the purpose of social media.

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