RIP Social Media Gurus

As I near the end of the research phase of the report I’m working on regarding financial advisors’ use of social media, one thing has become very clear to me. I’ll tell you what that is in a moment.

The report will be based on a survey of more than 400 financial advisors conducted by Aite Group. We surveyed advisors about their use of technology in 2009 (including social media) and surveyed them again this year. In addition to the survey responses, I’ve talked to a number of technology vendors and consultants with expertise in supporting advisors’ use of social media.

There are three findings from the survey that stick out, one of which is not surprising: The percentage of advisors that use social media to support their practices has increased since 2009. More surprising: The percentage of advisors that have reaped benefits from social media has declined since 2009, as has the percentage that say that social media is a strong contributor to a range of key business objectives.

While the report will go into detail about the survey and what wealth management firms should do about social media, that’s not what this blog post is about. This blog post is about the moment of clarity I’ve achieved as a result of this research effort. Here it is:

Social media does not make you a good marketer. Good marketers figure out to effectively use social media.

I imagine that many of you are sitting there, thinking “DUH!”

While this may be patently obvious to you, I assure you that it’s not patently obvious to everybody.

I can’t begin to count how many firms I’ve talked to that tell me that they create “pre-approved” content for advisors to tweet, post, and blog. I’ve asked them how this content differs from the direct mail, email, and newsletter content that advisors have previously published, and I’ve been told that in many cases it’s the same content, or variations on it.

Then I ask: “Why is content that is — for the most part — ignored when it arrives through direct mail, email, or newsletter suddenly and magically engaging just because it came through Twitter, Facebook, or a blog?”

I’ve yet to hear a good answer to that question.

For the past few years, I’ve argued — mostly with myself, I think — that firms don’t need a social media strategy. That they need a marketing (better yet, business) strategy and an understanding of how social media could and should support that marketing strategy.

But many firms have (obviously) ignored that advice and have hired their social media gurus to help them develop social media strategies. For many firms, this isn’t just a waste of time and resources — it’s detrimental to their marketing efforts.

By putting an undue emphasis on social media — and without a clear understanding of how social media should and will integrate with other marketing efforts, these firms are hurting, not helping their bottom lines.

I’ve been reading the blog posts and tweets from a number of these social media gurus for at least three to four years now. Every time I challenge them with a comment on their blogs, I’m usually ignored. I imagine they figure I’m just a moron with the nerve to challenge their brilliance. (Maybe they’re right, what do I know).

Here’s my message to the social media gurus: Move over rover, and let the real marketers take over.

I’m not going to make any new friends when I explain what I mean by “real” marketers.

Marketing is a complex, multi-disciplinary function. Advertising, database marketing, pricing, promotion, PR, etc. are all disciplines within the marketing function.

But it seems to me that too many of the social media gurus out there lack experience beyond any one of these functions.  There are a few gurus I’m thinking of specifically, but no, I’m not going to name names.

Isn’t it bad enough that too many marketers can’t see beyond the walls of marketing to understand how social media — which they control in a high percentage of firms — could support and improve customer service and other business functions?

PR- and Advertising- centric social media gurus need to step aside. It’s time for marketers with a broad understanding of the various components of the marketing function to take control of the (marketing-related) social media agenda. 

There’s enough collective experience with social media out there that they don’t need to turn to consultants whose only experience with marketing is setting up a Facebook page and running a Twitter account. 

At the Social Media Breakfast event in Boston a few weeks ago, I said that folks with social media in their job title have about another year before they need to find another job within their organization. Someone tweeted that commented and added that he thought my timeframe was too aggressive. I’m sticking by my statement.

Looking narrowly, as I am for the report I’m writing on financial advisors’ use of social media, it’s become clear to me that wealth management firms that focus on helping their advisors use social media are missing the bigger picture regarding how to help their advisors become better marketers. 

More broadly, I’m convinced that many other firms in a range of industries are missing the bigger picture, as well. The challenge is how to improve marketing — not just social media marketing. There is too much emphasis and reliance being placed on social media.

Social media isn’t going to make you a better marketer. You need to first become better at marketing — and that means getting better at using a variety of channels and techniques. Of which social media is just one. 

RIP gurus. Your time is up. 

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