Why That Social Pitch Is Just Like a Tent Revival

You Don't Need the Medicine of Paid Media, Good Friends! You Just Need to Believe in the Social-Media Gospel!

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You don't need the medicine of paid media, good friends! You just need to believe in the social-media gospel and you shall be healed!

Have you ever considered that much of the social-media marketing dogma out there -- including the insistence that paid media is no longer useful -- is based in the same emotion-driven tactics of the tent revivalist?

Think I'm being a little harsh? Then consider these common practices of the revivalist and tell me there's not a connection to the way social marketing is practiced.

Everything begins and ends with reputation for the revivalist. It's a crowded space, this revivalist game, and there are only so many tents that the faithful are willing to visit. Building up a small, ardent following is essential. There are, of course, lots of ways to do this. A preacher can be scholarly and authoritative, or he can be vociferous and entertaining. But he has to provide commentary and content that is engaging enough to build a core audience that loves to hear him speak.

Next, as his reputation grows, he starts to take lots of meetings with other pastors and builds relationships with key influencers in the communities he wants to target. The object is to get these individuals fired up about what he's doing and how it will make all of their congregations more responsive.

Once a date is set for a revival, the preacher then calls on these influential friends and enthusiastic congregants to spread the word. "Tell everyone about the revival," he exhorts in both public settings and private messages. The good revivalist knows that organic recommendations from friends are powerful tools.
Finally he holds the first night of the revival and, if he's good enough, word spreads swiftly through a community.

If he's played his cards right, from this night onward the tent is packed, and the next time he rolls into town he's looking to book an arena instead of the tattered bit of canvas on the outskirts of the city.
It doesn't take a theologian to see that this is exactly the same formula used by most of us with any serious presence on social media.

First we write a book, edit a blog, produce a podcast or distribute some other form of sharable content. Next we build relationships with influential friends. We then get the word out about our content through the recommendation of these influencers and our loyal audience. People start coming and, if we're good enough, word spreads rapidly. Finally we earn a verified account and brands want to send us free stuff because of our Klout score.

Specific tactics
But the similarities don't end there. That's just the formula. Social-media experts also copy the specific tactics of the revivalist.

One of the time-tested ploys of the tent revival is to have people close their eyes during an altar call. The preacher then starts talking about all the folks coming forward. Typically, however, very few congregants respond right away. The preacher just says lots of people are coming forward to make others feel comfortable enough to respond.

Social-media pundits do this all the time. After all, others can't see how many people are responding privately, so why not throw in some hyperbole about how many responses you are getting to goose the rest of the audience until the like counts or views create their own momentum?

But let's get more basic. A staple of the tent-revival sermon is frequent use of simplistic statements designed to get people to say, "Yes!" or "Amen!" or "Preach it, brother!" Isn't this exactly how we inspire likes, retweets, shares and comments? Many social-media managers will resort to lots of easy-to-acknowledge statements or questions to get their audience to respond with a great big social media "Amen!"

Let's not even get started on the money angle. The offering is the coup de grace of the revival, but it's done carefully and only after building up a fever pitch of emotion and connection. So, too, the best social-media players always have an "ask," that they carefully and tactfully deliver at select intervals when they believe their social credibility is at its highest.

Now yes, I intended all of this to be inflammatory, but don't mistake me as being dismissive of these tactics. After all, this type of gospel salesmanship has been employed for a hundred years or more to great success in tents and assembly halls all around the globe. Why not employ it for social marketing as well?

Old order isn't extinct
The trouble is many social-marketing advocates aren't satisfied with just being the emotional and inspirational arm of marketing. Dozens of times I've had to endure speeches and articles and whole books that claim social media eliminates the old order. "Paid advertising doesn't work any longer," they proclaim. "Social media is the future." "All you need is a good social campaign."

Claims like these cross a line. We go from being inspirational to becoming a faith healer -- the sort who says you should skip the chemo and just pray away the cancer.

Yes, much of advertising is wasted money due to poor planning and tactics. Yes, a recommendation from a friend or trusted voice is a powerful tool in the marketing arsenal.

But poor execution doesn't make paid channels irrelevant.

For every viral success that happens organically, many hundreds more -- think "The Force" ad for VW -- happen as the result of paid ad support.

For every media superstar like Beyoncé who eschews paid media for an organic launch, there are typically years of paid ad support in building his or her reputation and brand.

Social media is not a cleansing fire meant to scour its more-established brothers from the world of marketing.

If anything, social's continuing lack of business discipline, still-emerging process codification and anemic measurement relegates it to more of a supporting role than a driving one. But more important, just because paid-ad channels are failing us while social is driving great engagement doesn't necessarily mean that social is the better choice. It just means that the paid efforts need fixing so that the social channels can do their job even better.

We simply need to say no to the idea that paid media is no longer important.

Because hyperbole is the devil's instrument, brothers and sisters. It will lead you astray in the end. So hallelujah! Socialize to your heart's content. But marketing salvation takes the whole book of marketing.
Praise Ogilvy! Can I get a Like?

Bob Knorpp is host of The BeanCast Marketing Podcast (www.TheBeanCast.com) and a consultant.

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