Social Media: Good for marketing; bad for sales

The most effective way for Coke to connect with me would be for them to dedicate a qualified, personal sales person to visit me, check in on my soft drink needs, then work with me individually to formulate just the right mix. Coke, in case you're reading this, I'd probably be willing to pay a little extra for a cola that's 75% diet, 25% regular, served in twist-off bottles of varying sizes.

But Coke doesn't sell to me. They market to me. Marketing to me, with ads and promotions, is not the most effective way to connect, but it is the most efficient. Marketers have always made the tradeoff of efficiency for effectiveness: they touch more people at a lower cost-per-touch than sales people do.

In Malcolm Gladwell's clear-eyed, hype-free article published recently in the New Yorker he shows how social media builds low-motivation, "easy come, easy go" weak ties among acquaintances, not the sort of strong ties needed to create real change in real people. While Gladwell's article takes aim at the breathlessly exaggerated claims that social media is enabling social change on an unprecedented scale, I think there's an important link between his point and the world of sales and marketing.

I'd translate Gladwell's point this way -- Social Media is good for marketing, but bad for sales. Gladwell says Facebook makes friendship more efficient, but less effective. And I'd add a business corollary: LinkedIn makes business networking more efficient but less effective.

Social Media is a cheaper, easier, lower touch, more efficient supplement to real connections. It's important, especially for the broad reach needed by marketers. Coke makes the right business decision to use advertising to connect with me. And business marketers make the right decision to use twitter and LinkedIn to expand their reputation. 

But when it's time to create real change in real people -- changes in what they believe or understand or think or do -- social media can fail us. Developing new business relationships requires the "strong ties" that Gladwell describes, not the "weak ties" that social media is so good at facilitating.

My point isn't that social media is a bad tool or a good tool. This isn't about good versus bad. It's about sales versus marketing and effectiveness versus efficiency. Social media can be an efficient marketing tool, but it cannot be an effective sales tool.

Has your experience been different? If so, I'd love to hear about it. Post below!