Nope: Marketing Should Not Give Up on Earned Media in 2014

Augie Ray is a good friend and the indefatigable author of Experience: The Blog, one of the very best of its kind. He is unafraid of being provocative; seldom will you detect a hint of personal bias, but you will always note his clean argumentation and seemingly unlimited capacity for research and fact-finding. And he writes from real experience, not self-manufactured social media Expert/Guru/Jedi “status.” Just recently he published one of his best and, in my humble opinion, most important posts: Three Reasons the Marketing Department Will Give Up On Earned Media in 2014.

Most important: Why? Because it raises the most important question about social media and, specifically, social media ROI: Organization. Who’s in charge? Who’s responsible for implementing a social media strategy that drives real  business results? His conclusion, however, could hardly be more wrong.

Augie generously concedes that “within many companies, there is no more consistently innovative organization than the marketing department”; that they largely deserve full (and sometimes sole) credit for their companies’ first forays on the Web and their presence on social networks.” But, he concludes, the time for Marketing to control earned media is, or should be, over: Such control should be passed to the business units and to PR.

I think we can be equally generous to Augie’s argument as he is toward the marketing folks. Indeed, I can’t quarrel with his “three reasons” at all:

1) It is increasingly difficult for earned media to furnish the reach marketing needs.  That is to say, the social networks, in their desire to be all things to all people, and in their desperate search to monetize every single feature of their platforms, have made it ever more difficult for companies to truly “earn” anything worth earning! Nope, we’re now inexorably pushed into paid media. Can’t get more than a few percentage points of your posts to your “loyal” Facebook fans? Well, then, pay up—buy ads!

2) The harder marketers try to win earned media, the greater the risks. Difficult to gainsay this, too, as Augie’s exhaustive rendering of case after case of social media gaffes and fails and embarrassments makes clear. Think Spaghettios and Pearl Harbor, think Kenneth Cole, think… Oy!

3) There is little evidence that social media marketing success drives business success.  Hard to argue here, as well. Are you looking for actual sales, actual $$$, from Facebook, Twitter, whatever? Bet you can’t claim it; and I bet you’re using a host of proxy metrics to deflect the question.

As stated, it’s pretty much impossible to dispute Augie’s three reasons. (Although he himself specifies there are exceptions to his “rules.”) But the further reasoning, specifically the conclusion that marketing departments should just give up on earned media and pass the responsibility to PR is, well, bizarre.

Lest I be accused of bringing my personal bias into this discussion, let me note that I have built several PR friendships over the years and also maintain at least a modicum of respect for PR work. (And I’m very aware of PR 2.0, even if I haven’t seen a lot of the practice of it.) So, with all due respect, let me say that I can’t imagine a worse  choice of a corporate partner to “run” social. (Well, I suppose you could pick corporate finance or, good Lord, IT.)

PR is pretty much the opposite of everything that social is: It’s damage management, it’s news prevention, it’s one-to-many in a world that is now one-to-one, person-to-person. Can you trust the PR guys not to, uh, screw up, on social? You bet—they will not commit the gaffes and fails as did those overreaching and over-enthusiastic marketers so faithfully chronicled in Augie’s post. But: They will embarrass  you, because they will bore your loyal fans and followers to tears with the whitest of white bread posts and tweets. They will kill your earned media strategy.

Let’s think back a bit to the Marketers justly lauded by Augie for their history  of innovation, for their love  of innovation and their fervent desire to realize innovation in corporate America. (And admit how different and even opposite this is from the PR mind frame!)  Yeah, the marketers will screw things up some times, and the PR guys never will, but, at the end of the day, do you want to succeed  in social, or not? If you want to succeed, please let the marketing guys do their jobs. Ignore Augie on this one.

And, oh, BTW, if you want real  social media ROI, join earned media meaningfully — organizationally — with your owned and paid media. But that’s another column.

Originally posted December 30th, 2013 on Insurance Innovation Reporter.

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