The tyranny of marketing

Marketing today is immensely more complicated than it used to be. I’m old enough to remember a time before the internet (maybe we should invent a new term – ‘BTI’ perhaps?) when I had a job title with the words ‘marketing manager’ in it. Although my responsibilities were primarily sales (to be honest, the title really just got me in the door to talk to the people I needed to talk to), what the actual marketing department did was massively different to what a marketing department (or person) must do today.

Marketing back then was of course primarily print related – catalogues, brochures, flyers, adverts were the stock in trade. All of these came with their own deadlines, but you rarely had a deadline to meet every day, possibly one or two a week. The rest of the work taken on by the marketing department related to conferences and exhibitions. Public relations was handled by a completely separate department.

Now there are marketing people who do no print material or ads at all – their only responsibility is to keep up a daily, in some cases hourly, presence on a wide range of online channels. There will often also be a component of search engine marketing, that is paid ads on the likes of Google, Facebook etc.

Keeping up a steady stream of communication on this basis is the tyranny in the title of this article – the channels may be ‘free’, but the work required to make them actually useful as a promotion channel is huge. Remember that on two of the major social media channels – Facebook and Twitter – there are forces working against your message getting out to your followers.

On Facebook only a small proportion of your ‘Likes’ (some sources quote 6%) actually see your updates appear in their timelines. So if you have 100 Likes for example, only 6 of them will get a chance to read your updates, unless they make the effort to visit your Facebook page themselves, or if Facebook decides to allow your post a wider reach. Facebook say that if they delivered all updates to all users, each user would receive on average 1,500 updates a day.

On Twitter there’s no Facebook style restriction on dissemination of updates, rather the fact that most active Twitter users follow hundreds of other Twitter accounts, so you are competing to appear in a Twitter feed that only shows around 20-30 Tweets from all these people and organisations on a real time basis. It’s pretty easy for your Tweets to just disappear.

To combat this information restriction/overload you need to plan and schedule very regular updates to the channels you are using, and the creation of the content you intend to post is by far the most time-consuming part of the equation. And it’s not something you can completely automate - generally a real human being needs to be doing this job.

So – there you have it. Free channels are really only free until you start to use them effectively. Then they become anything but free.

Our advice is to, first, choose the communications channels you feel are most likely to give you results and where you can devote the resources to keeping them up-to-date properly. You can’t afford to dabble. Then put together a publishing schedule – decide ahead of time what topics you will discuss online, what assistance and advice you will give and then start pre-writing this. Then look at what the paid advertising and promotion options are on the channel and test these.

Ultimately the more channels you are using, the better results you will have, and the less dependent you will be on any one channel. But if you spread yourself too thin you will get no results at all. There is a certain minimum amount of regular activity required, as with all effective marketing.

And remember, this is just the social media component of marketing. There's a lot more to it than that!

David Bateson

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