Why Social Media Marketing May Not Be Right For You

Last Updated May 18, 2010 12:47 PM EDT

While most big companies have or are thinking of having a social media strategy, Harvard Business School marketing professor John Deighton asks the show-stopper question:
"Don't rule out the possibility that social media just aren't for you. So far, much of what social media have done is quite mean-spirited. Could it be, one shudders to think, that these media are better at destroying value than creating it?"
Pointing out that the medium certainly bends the message, Deighton makes the argument that what wins eyeballs on social media is "pass along" material, stuff you share with friends and colleagues. Often times that content is "gotcha", sarcasm, or parody. Think the United Breaks Guitars YouTube video.

So to truly be effective, a social media strategy might require you to play by these rules, to skip the soaring rhetoric in favor of a damaging parody of your competitor. Is this the best way to communicate your brand values?

This is a great point. To be authentic, your branding has to be consistent with your core values as a company. So if you can't use social media in a bold, uniting, uplifting way, you might want to take a pass--at least for now.

Use this time to go to school, learn what works and doesn't work on social media, figure out who the trailblazers are and why they are successful. At the end of the day, however, all companies need to be savvy about social media, if for no other reason than to respond effectively the next time a YouTube rant against you goes viral.

Do you agree with Deighton's characterization of social media content as largely mean-spirited? Read his full post Brands and the Dark Side of Social Media on HBR.org then come back here and tell us how your social marketing campaign would break through that negativity.

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.