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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Social Media Marketing: The Social Element as an End in Itself

In the religious domain, some people struggle with the inherent incongruity of acting selflessly while believing that the righteous are rewarded in heaven. Resolving this oxymoron in practical as well as theoretical terms may come down to “one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing.” Whether innate or a “learned skill,” disentangling a practice from any hope of reward can be applied to social media marketing. This application is easier said than done, especially in a culture of greed saturated with opportunism at every opportunity as a strong norm and custom. Indeed, the underlying question may be whether a “strong personality” once well-engrained is able, not to mention willing, to “park itself out back” if even for a much-needed break.

Gary Vaynerchuk, the author of several books on social media marketing, preaches a two-step approach, which can be characterized as the marketer becoming a native in whichever (social media) platforms he or she is in and then consummating the (ultimately) desired transaction. Ideally, the selling fuses with becoming a native (or recognized as one), so the two phases are “phased” into one.

Crucially, being able to come across as a native is not the same as “going native.” Whether in business or government, putting up a front in order to be perceived by the masses as one of them is not the same as being one of them. Even though Vaynerchuk emphasizes the need to respect the nuances of a given social media platform (e.g., values and mannerisms), he may be interpreted by some readers as maintaining that presenting the appearance of respect is sufficient to “become” a native, at least for marketing purposes. In other words, a marketer need not “go native”; going through the motions is sufficient as long as the other participants believe that the entrant is satisfying their social or informational objectives.  

Unfortunately, learning how to come across as a native in sync with a platform’s distinctive “cultural” mores and norms may be too short-sighted not only in terms of “going native,” but also in achieving marketing objectives. In fact, the approach itself may be too self-serving—too close to those objectives—to render the marketer as a native. Positing a distance between engaging the social element and being oriented to making the sale, Vaynerchuk advises that in contributing to the social or informational dialogue at the outset, “you’re not selling anything. You’re not asking your consumer for a commitment. You’re just sharing a moment together.”[1] The experience shared is essentially an end in itself, eclipsing any further motive, as in to sell a product or service.

It may seem rather strange to find a marketer oriented to exploiting any opportunity “just sharing a moment together” with electronic strangers as an end in itself; serial opportunists in an enabling cultural context are used to treating other rational beings as mere means at any opportunity, rather than as ends in themselves (i.e., violating Kant’s Kingdom of Ends version of his Categorical Imperative). Vaynerchuk may undercut his own depiction of the shared experience as sufficient unto itself by reminding his readers that the “emotional connection” they “build through [participating in social or informational dialogue without selling but to “become” a native] pays off [when they] decide to throw the right hook [i.e., make the sale’s pitch and consummate a transaction].”[2] With such a payoff in the offing, I doubt that virtually any marketer oriented to “maximizing” any opportunity to tout, brag, or hard-sell would just share an emotional connection at a moment without being motivated by, or at least mindful of, the hidden agenda.

A "stakeholder model" approach to social-media marketing. This framework is inherently self-centric, whereas a web-like structure would be more in line with "shared experiences." Both frameworks are distinct, and yet can be managed, or related, such that neither encroaches on the other unduly.
(Image Source: irisemedia.com)

As difficult as it may be for a marketing personality to simply share a moment with another human being—especially a stranger narrowly glimpsed through electronic means—Vaynerchuk rightly situates the feat as a requirement for “going native,” and thus, ironically, for being able to ultimately make the sale. In the context of authentic social and informational reciprocity in a given social-media platform, a wax figure easily stands out. Even so, all too many marketers come across as stiff, or contrived, in social media as if self-centeredness and lying advances rather than detracts from sales. Hence, I suspect that a rather intractable marketing personality and a related and thus enabling culture, such as that of American business, stands in the way of business being able to fully integrate social-media marketing.[3] 

Similar to why it is difficult to fall asleep without taking a break from trying to do so, marketers have trouble not letting their marketing hand know what their other hand is doing. At the very least, managers overseeing marketing would need to permit and even encourage the marketer(s) tasked with social-media marketing to spend time online without worrying about having to sell anything (even oneself). In hiring such marketers, managers ought to highlight rather than sideline those applicants who enjoy being on a social media platform.

[1] Gary Vaynerchuk, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook (New York: Harper, 2013), p. 22.
[2] Ibid, p. 23.
[3] The fixation on using any opportunity to sell one’s wares is exemplified in CNBC’s Jim Cramer’s choice of response as another host mentioned on March 14, 2014  that Jim had worked that weekend at his restaurant. Rather than share the moment by regaling his colleagues and the viewers with a tale of something enjoyable from his weekend at his restaurant, he remarked as if by script that he had worked that weekend because “we were trying out a new chicken sandwich” and a new drink. The sheer contrivance belied any semblance of authentic passion, as might be realized in relishing simply experiencing being in his restaurant (e.g., the atmosphere) and later telling people about it instead of selling as if it were an end in itself. Underneath the obsession with getting as much as possible from any opportunity is greed, a motive and value that knows no limitation. Ultimately, it is a well-worn grove that keeps marketers from “going native” and thus being able to fully inhabit social media.