Will Social Media Marketers Become Obsolete Middle Men?

The Point Where "Middle" Parties Become Irrelevant is where Easier Use / More Powerful Tools intersects With Increased  User Expertise

Demand for Social Media Marketing has exploded in the past decade as brands struggle to reach audiences beyond the increasingly-fractured traditional media consuming public.  Right now Social Media Marketers are able to take advantage of the public’s overwhelming ignorance about communicating via social media and get paid to navigate those spheres for their clients.

It won’t last forever.  It may not even last another decade.

Think of the travel industry.  Before ‘teh interwebz’ information used to be scarce, so it made sense to pay someone else with expertise to navigate the complicated pricing schemes and array of accommodations providers to do it for you.  Flash-forward to the year 2000 when the web came into its own in terms of providing easier ways to book airline tickets, hotel rooms and car rentals (as well as recommendation sites chock full of free expertise and reviews).  This great graphic from the Cleveland Plain Dealer says it all:


Algorithms and automated notifications rendered the deliberately opaque price structures of providers irrelevant, crowdsourced reviews and advice sites made expertise easily-searchable, and it no longer made sense to pay someone else hundreds of dollars to do something that would take a half hour of your time.

Social Media Marketers are “Travel Agents” for digital ad budgets seeking customers’ wallets.

Permit me to shift metaphors.  Right now, most social media marketing professionals or firms are fishing on behalf of their clients.  They tell us what they want, and we pick the fishing hole and lures – returning them the wriggling catch.

What we’re moving to is a system where the social media platforms themselves are teaching users to fish for themselves.

The media buying industry has been in decline for years (some even argue it is dead in its traditional form).

Enter social media platforms as marketing strategists.

Both Facebook and Google have quietly been building user-friendly ad buying systems over the past few years.  Moreover they’ve gone a step further and are also offering rich tutorials, customer support, and interactive webcasts to teach users how to effectively market themselves.  The depth is impressive, starting with basic principles of marketing for true novices and scrolling all the way up to highly-specialized strategies and tactics for experts.

Let’s be honest: graduates coming out of Advertising/Marketing/Public Relations programs across the nation are entering a world where the relevance of what they studied is decreasing by the day.  The “glacial” pace of change in higher ed means that very few schools have faculty (let alone programs) that truly understand social media dynamics and how to teach future professionals to be adept at using them.

How Social Media Marketers can Stay Relevant

1. By Broadening Their Skillset/Services

Understanding the entire process from finding and attracting a customer to converting them is critical and marketers need to take a more holistic approach to what they do.

Customer Service is a great example.  No matter how great a marketing campaign is, shoddy customer service can completely nullify it.  We’ve likely all seen great ad or SM engagement efforts undone by a website that isn’t navigable or a lack of front-line customer support/service.  With everyone becoming hyper-focused on outcomes – we may as well advise clients on how to improve their overall customer service because we’re going to be blamed if sales don’t happen as a result of it.

A keen awareness of the entire life-cycle of the marketing process can be very valuable given the blind spots institutions frequently have about their own operations.

2. By Specializing in Creativity and Ideation

Even though anyone can learn how to use tools, not anyone can come up with creative and effective ways to use them.  Moreover, novices usually don’t have the time to benchmark against how others are structuring their marketing campaigns and learn from successes and failures.

Though anyone may be able to learn the technical details of how to run a campaign, you will be valuable if you can provide fresh and dynamic ideas for the content, targeting, and approach to that campaign.

3. By Staying Current

Mastery of two or three tools is reasonable, but the tools proliferate far faster than someone outside the discipline can keep up with them.  Every social media marketer worth his/her salt stays up on the latest developments – and that knowledge is extremely valuable.  This is particularly true of the smaller, specialized platforms that may perfectly suit a particular client based on the publics they’re trying to reach.

4. By Being Open With Clients About Their Methods

Any business model that depends on secrecy is bound to fail in the era of Radical Transparency.  Openness with clients about what you do provides a couple of key benefits.  First, it builds trust with the client (which is critical in this sort of relationship).  Second, it will help illustrate how time-consuming social media marketing is (which is the real cost, given how relatively low the financial barriers are).  More often than not, clients won’t have the time to engage in an effective ongoing campaign without help – and the efficiency your expertise brings to the process is a good investment.

[Sidebar: Forgive the sexist popular turn of phrase in the title – I absolutely mean both men and women but unfortunately the gender role sensibilities of search engines aren’t as refined as my own.]

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