Like many of you, I’ve been trying to get up to speed on social media marketing.

I keep hearing about all the great marketing opportunities that can be found on social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

So I’ve been dabbling a bit – you can find me on all three sites – just trying to get acquainted with these new marketing tools.

It’s clear to me that there are some real marketing opportunities here, but I have yet to find the breakthrough marketing successes that so many gurus are promising.  Perhaps it’s me.  I don’t know yet.

But even if you can accept the argument that social media is an effective marketing method, I don’t understand how anyone can believe this will replace traditional forms of marketing.

A new form of marketing – or just another form?

That seems to be the position of a company called HubSpot, one of the most visible proponents of social media marketing and a clear leader in the field.  I’m on their list and I get all their materials (which is pretty good by the way).

But here’s my gripe:  In positioning their services as an alternative for lead generation, HubSpot proudly claims that social media will put an end to what they call “interruption” marketing.

By interruption marketing, they mean everything we have traditionally done to generate leads and sales – things like direct mail, advertising, telemarketing that will inevitably “interrupt” the prospect.

In contrast, they argue that social media is part of an “inbound marketing” strategy that allows prospects to come to you – on their terms, on their timetables.

There is nothing new about this of course.  Many consultants and other professionals have long used PR techniques like article writing and public speaking as their only method of marketing hoping that prospects will see them as experts and will come to them for help – not the other way around.

No question about it – this is the preferred method of selling – to have prospects come to you – and some people are very successful at it.  But not everyone.  Not even most.

The vast majority of companies need to go out and find prospects.  They need to call them, write them and visit them to generate leads and close sales.  Yes, they may even have to interrupt them.

I don’t see what the problem is.

Not-so-different marketing strategies

We typically recommend strategies that use direct mail or advertising to generate an initial lead by responding to a soft offer like a white paper.   Then when the lead is captured and qualified, we employ different forms of follow-up contact – email, direct mail and the telephone.

This is not entirely different from the HubSpot strategy.  They will post content on social media sites, encourage people to link back to their site or blog for more content, give them a soft offer (like a white paper or video) to capture the lead, then follow up with more and more content via email.

The obvious difference is in the front end – how you generate the initial lead.  With direct mail or advertising, you are paying varying amounts of money to reach out to your prospect base in the expectation that a percentage will respond.  This produces a very precise “cost per lead” metric that needs to be considered.

With social media, your first-time contact with prospects costs you nothing (other than time) so your “cost per lead” is zero.  Hard to beat, I know.

Clearly, this zero cost of social media is a major appeal for most social media users.  But more and more of them are beginning to recognize the extreme amount of time it requires.  If you add up the number of hours being spent to create content on social media sites and blogs (and assign a dollar amount to that figure), your “cost per lead” may not be so appealing.

But that’s the front end.  When you get to the back end – after the leads have been captured – HubSpot’s strategy doesn’t seem to be any different than anyone else’s.  They send emails like everyone else – to nurture their leads, to position themselves as experts and (dare I say it) to close a few sales.

What’s ironic is that HubSpot sends me a lot of email.  A lot.  Not that I mind.  The content is good – very helpful and informative to anyone interested in social media. And I did ask for it by opting in.

But seriously, they must send me one or two emails every day.  So much for interruption marketing.

Bob McCarthy

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."