Is social media marketing finally maturing?

Duke University has released the biannual update to their longstanding CMO Survey, with findings that lead me to surmise that the health of the social media marketing industry is in fact stabilizing. After the frenzy and froth of activity (one might say “drivel”) following the 2008 financial crises, where many people lost their jobs and immediately became self-anointed “social media experts” (often based on nothing more than user-level familiarity with platforms emerging at the time), the credibility of marketing was quickly put in peril. Because we were on the horizon of a brave new world, it was increasingly difficult to discern those with true marketing acumen from those who merely could talk a good game. In some ways it was reminiscent of the dotcom bubble 1.0 – lots of prognostication accompanied by little actual value creation.

In any event, Prof. Moorman’s research indicates plenty of projected spending on marketing technologies alongside little to zero spending on human capital (see the video’s 1.57’ mark). Combined with an increasing emphasis on social media marketing in general, I’m led to conclude that, in a make-or-buy situation, businesses are indicating a strong preference for outsourced over in-house support. This makes sense for a couple of reasons: 1) there’s been a ruthless weeding out of agencies and individuals agencies so that only the strong value-creators remain as viable entities; and 2) because marketers are perpetually being asked to do more with less and resources continue to be constrained, hiring an internal expert in social alone isn’t a sustainable proposition. The obvious positives of the first point aside, this second one also implies to me a return to rigorous management and evaluation of marketing activities. In other words, for all the chatter surrounding ROI, the bottom-line contribution is still imperative.  In fact, one could interpret this development parallel to the first – and conclude both to indicate that the industry is maturing rapidly (albeit a bit later than some of us would’ve preferred).

Finally, I’ll mention another intriguing insight of Prof Moorman: Marketers aren’t performing enough experiments (see video’s 4.29’ mark). Add to that this statement:

CMOs tell us they only use about a third of the data that are available or requested.” Moorman said, “Companies need to think as much about managing the use of big data as they do about getting it in the first place. One does not naturally follow from the other and more than 30 years of research shows that companies that use more knowledge perform better in the marketplace.

Reviewing both findings together, I take this to mean that for all the amassing of big data that’s occurring, there’s very little light being created from all that heat. Which is to say, the activity of gathering the data isn’t the same as the hard work of analyzing it for meaning and deriving useful insights from it. (Forgive my stating the obvious.) This is reminiscent of the maturation process I mention above. Getting the data is difficult enough, but making sense of it – formulating hypotheses, then testing, measuring and revising them – is damned hard work. And yet it’s the basis of the marketing profession and a critical component of any business.

So I’d say that big data still has rather a ways to go to attain its potential. (There: Your Deep Thought of the Day 🙂 )

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