At times I think marketers live in a vacuum. We spend a lot of time talking shop to each other on social media … it’s fun; it’s comfortable; it’s edifying; but is it useful?

I know one thing: When I retreat to the safety of my marketing communication bubble, I violate my own advice to clients, which is —

  • Get out of the ivory tower
  • Don’t be inwardly focused
  • Listen to customers
  • Talk their language
  • Write from their point of view
  • Put a profitable purpose into every marketing activity

I don’t think I’m covering any new ground here. This is exactly the type of advice we hear over and over again, on Twitter and Facebook and Google+ and blog after blog after blog. In short order, we’ll be buried under the same mountain of sludge on the new darling, Pinterest.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest

Brad Shorr, Director of Content and Social Media, Straight North

It’s not that the advice is bad; it’s the misdirection that’s killing us. Clearly, all of this knowledge building and thought leadership building and connection building isn’t translating into results. Look at any 10 or 20 or 100 business websites if you don’t believe it. Content remains self-absorbed and reads like ivory tower pronouncements. Customer needs and wants, if addressed at all, are conveyed only in the most oblique terms. Profitable purpose? The average lead generation website’s is barely perceptible, and many an e-commerce site is laid out like an obstacle course, tripping up would-be customers at every step.

Websites are not the only problem. Email marketing? The distinctive feature of most corporate email blasts is their unimaginativeness. Corporate blogs? If there’s a strategic focus, it’s hard to discern. Collateral? Product slicks reel off a litany of features, but customers are on their own when it comes to figuring out the benefits.

Our message is not getting through. We talk a good game, but we’re only convincing each other – not the people who count, the companies doing the marketing. We’re not persuading our clients or our internal teams.

There is an endless supply of excuses to explain why our clients and internal teams don’t “get it” – ossified corporate cultures, bureaucracy, decision by committee, oppressive legal constraints, fear of offending, excessive risk aversion, lack of imagination … I’m sure you could add 50 or 60 more to the list.

Personally, I think all these excuses are garbage. If we spent more time working with clients and internal teams, and less time talking to each other, we could get the message across.

If you want an example of what happens when you focus on customers instead of peers, look at David Meerman Scott. You won’t see him cluttering up your Twitter stream or endlessly bloviating on his blog – because he’s in the trenches with actual companies, rolling up his sleeves and hammering out profitable marketing strategies.

He gets results.

What David clearly understands is that marketing theory doesn’t motivate companies. I’ve gotten to understand this much better myself since coming to the agency, where we work with clients in tough b2b niches like disposable rubber gloves and auto lift repair.

Companies like these don’t care about “quality content” or “theming” or “social sharing.” They are interested in generating leads and sales. They might read one of my blog posts and think I’m smart, but it won’t inspire them to act. They prefer to see a direct line between activity and results, or short of that, at least some connection between activity and results.

The safe haven of social media wastes too much time. We need this time to persuade the companies we work for and with to a better job of marketing. In order to that we have to get into those trenches and build connections between what we do and what we deliver.

Without doubt I have failed to practice enough of what I’m preaching, but just writing this post has inspired me to make changes. I’ve all but shut down my Facebook activity. I love Twitter, but I’m scaling back by sharing content that is remarkable rather than merely passable. I’ve slashed my feed reader by hundreds and am checking it less often. My hope is to find time to spend more productively. So far, so good.

What do you think? Is social media a time-suck or time well spent?

About the Author

Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North, a Chicago marketing agency. After a long career in executive management for an industrial b2b firm, he developed a marketing consultancy that was acquired by Straight North in 2010. He writes frequently on industry-leading sites about social media, SEO, and content marketing strategy.