Social media might just save Marketing. But not for the reason we think.

All those who have bemoaned the status that marketing is accorded in most large organisations should take heart.  Our saviour might well be upon us.

It will be enormously ironic if it proves to be true, but my bet is that social media may yet see Marketing invited back to the boardroom table.

Why? Because the boardroom table respects those things that can either deliver great success or cause great harm.  For years Marketing hasn’t seemed to deliver much potential for either. Most Boards were highly sceptical of what value marketing could deliver (certainly when compared to more operational functions). And, in a logical corollary, they didn’t really fear what damage could be done if Marketing got something wrong.

They also didn’t really buy the argument that Marketing ‘owned’ the consumer.  Either because they didn’t see the need for the consumer to be at the heart of their business, or, more likely, because they felt that some combination of sales, retail, corporate affairs etc was just as capable of representing the consumer view.

We in the broader Marketing fraternity have found this frustrating and not a little insulting.  We tried very hard to argue that we knew exactly what we were doing, ours being a professional, regimented discipline, with proven success factors delivering strong return.  But (with apologies for being both simplistic and judgemental) we tended to fall down when called on to prove this, betrayed by our meaningless language and superficial analysis.

Our panic has increased as we’ve confronted a new digital world. We’ve seen our audience wrenched away, our traditional creative strengths made less relevant and, most frighteningly of all, the rise of social media with its democratisation of opinion, free sharing of points of view and returning of power to the people.

But this is actually what might save us.  Because social media is dangerous.  It has a power that every Board should be afraid of.  Its ability to galvanise people is remarkable, and its ability to galvanise people around an issue that can threaten any business needs to be respected.

And at the same time social media represents enormous opportunity, for it galvanises people around a positive issue just as effectively as a negative one.  It allows people to share in a great service initiative just as much as a botched one.

But while its unfortunate, the truth is that for most businesses fear dominates.  Fear forces decisions much more readily than opportunity, and my suspicion is that most businesses fear social media.   Which is where our opportunity lies.

Social media is Marketing’s responsibility (not entirely Marketing’s, obviously, but for the moment we’re the ones most likely to be taking the lead). And social media cements again the need for every businesses to have the consumer at its heart. Which is exactly where they, and we as Marketers, should be.

It will be ironic. Social media has been enormously unsettling for Marketers.  We don’t understand it yet and, if you’re of my vintage, it challenges much of what you’ve spent a career advocating.  But social media will revolutionise how businesses behave.  And it’s very likely to be fear of social media, the thing we marketers don’t really understand, that will see Marketing invited back to the boardroom table.

Once we’re there, hopefully we can help people see the opportunity too.

Social media might just save Marketing. But not for the reason we think.

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