Tip: Pushing your marketing campaign through social media channels isn’t “social.” It’s marketing. Nothing has changed.

Your marketing department or agency might be telling you that you have a social media program, but you don’t. You might be paying for “social,” but that isn’t what you are getting for your money. What is really happening is this: You are buying the same digital marketing campaigns you were buying five years ago, except now, they also include Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

You can call it “social” all you want, but it isn’t.

Want to know what else? This:

This (above) is a typical example of what happens in the course of a successful marketing, PR or advertising campaign. Best case scenario: You spend money on the campaign, the campaign generates attention while it is funded, people buy some of your stuff, and when the money runs out, things go back to where they were before the campaign started.

Now let me show you what happens when you incorporate social media into the same campaign mechanism. Ready? This is going to blow your mind. Here we go. A marketing campaign using social media:

Pretty wild, huh?

If you didn’t notice the subtle sleight of hand, let me illustrate the concept slightly differently. Ready?

Your campaign without social media:

And now the same campaign with social media:

See what happened here? Totally different thing, right? (Thanks to Daniel Agee for the clever visual subterfuge. Inserting a human head onto my body was pretty impressive photoshop mastery.)

So… right. In the end, it is exactly the same thing, just wrapped in a different skin.

If you are using social media channels for “marketing” and mostly for campaigns, no wonder you aren’t getting any concrete results: You are doing the same old stuff that already wasn’t working all that well five years ago, only it has been repackaged to sound hip with the times and include a few more channels. That’s it. The only problem is this: You aren’t doing “social.” You are still basically just creating content, pushing it out to potential customers, and hoping they will bite.

And that is why you are getting nowhere in social media, no matter how many people click “follow” or “like” on your stuff.

By the way, if you are gauging success by measuring retweets, followers, shares and “likes,” I guess you also gauge success by measuring website hits, right? Same deal. Same ridiculous, empty, diversionary metrics that mean absolutely nothing. People clicking on buttons on the internet is about as valuable to your business as counting how many cars drive by your office every day.

Want to see the difference between a company that takes its social media program seriously versus one that only uses social media for marketing campaigns?

Here is what a business that uses social media for marketing looks like:

Each one of those arrows represents a campaign. If you think of campaigns as microcycles of spend, attention and impact, the above diagram shows six subsequent campaigns and their long term impact on business growth. The orange line above the campaign microcycles illustrates temporary jumps in sales or business growth, which tend to wane between campaigns but remain relatively flat over time. This line shows anywhere between 0% to 10% annual growth.

Now let’s look at companies using social media more holistically:

Note that in the above example, social media is used for more than just campaigns. The business is using social media not only to acquire new customers or trigger a spike in business, but to retain customers as well, to develop them into active community participants, loyal repeat customers, thereby increasing their buy rate, transaction yield, and their reach into lateral networks through organic word of mouth. In this model, campaigns are merely marketing microcycles of attention in a larger growth strategy focusing on building customer relationships.

Another way to look at the process is this:

If you aren’t familiar with plateaus, the stair-like portion of the diagram illustrates what role the campaigns play in a model where social media is integrated into a business in every department: customer service, technical support, community management, product management, PR, HR, R&D, etc.

In this model, campaigns drive attention and participation, just as before. Social media activity, through community management, online customer service, customer engagement and other truly social modes of social communications help maintain (even stabilize) customer participation not only in dialog but in transactions as well. Social communications become the answer to the “now what?” question asked in the first two diagrams of this post: Use each campaign to get you to the next level of attention and activity, and instead of letting it all die back down once the campaign is over, maintain it through engagement. Once things settle at that level, get to the next plateau using another campaign.

This really isn’t rocket science.

If you want results, think. Use your head. Don’t keep doing the same thing over and over again hoping for different results each time. Calling “marketing” by another name or adding “social media” to it won’t change what it is: Marketing. Just because your ad agency’s digital department has rebranded itself a “social media” department doesn’t mean anything has changed or improved. Same products and services, different skin. That’s it.

If you don’t believe me, that’s fine. Just keep pushing marketing content out through social media channels and see where that gets you. As long as those budget dollars keep coming, digital marketing companies will eagerly sell you whatever services you want.

Don’t be a sucker. Focus on results, not buzzwords and BS.

PS: Some of this stuff is covered in my upcoming book – “Social Media R.O.I.” available for pre-order on Amazon: