Not the viral you were hoping for

virus cellsDon’t you love the surveys like this one that pit congress approval ratings against things like lice and (worse) replacement refs? (Congress looses in a landslide in case you were wondering. You may now thank me for not using the phrase “Spoiler alert.”)

They’re funny because they use the device of surprise. When you say something unexpected or place an element outside its usual context it makes us uncomfortable or jarred, and we laugh.

The other response to an unexpected element is revulsion. Like the way a body works to expel a virus. It’s working against the system. It doesn’t fit. Kick up the heat to try to kill it, ‘cause it’s gotta go.

This is what’s happening to marketing across the social web. So-called social marketing doesn’t work. Marketing consultants like me need to say it louder, and more often. Here’s a recent study where social ranks just barely above the infantile Mobile App and the uncontroversial king of annoyance The Banner Ad. What beats it? That head lice of marketing, The Email.

That’s right. We trust email marketing more than social marketing. Not exactly the future social marketing firms have predicted for us.

My contention is that marketing and social constructs are different animals altogether. What drives one is antithetical to the other. Marketing is, as this tweet from a digital marketing firm points out, a business discipline designed to increase market share in a competitive environment.

Social constructs couldn’t be more different. Their value is the social capital—the durable obligations+—created within them. And these obligations necessitate collaboration, not competition.

This is just one small example that illustrates the difference between what drives the creation of social constructs and what drives successful marketing. But you can see that what it takes to do one well is going to be very different from what it takes to do the other.

People making hay on the social web are leading people by building and leveraging social capital. Very much exercising leadership disciplines, not marketing ones.

This is the thrust of my work. With clients, on this blog, and in presentations. I’d love to hear from you—help me strengthen the position and find new ways of working through the concept. What do you think?

+ Janine Nahapiet and Sumantra Ghoshal (1998). “Social Capital, Intellectual Capital, and the Organizational Advantage”, The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Apr., 1998)