You have to appreciate how I used the word “social” twice in the title.
I heard these two stories on NPR (“On The Media”) over the weekend, and they so tied psychology and sociology to interactive buzz marketing that I had to share them here. Give them a listen, before you read on.
Peruse any job board for positions relating to interactive marketing and almost always under the desired education requirement you’ll see computer science, IT, business administration, or the narrower disciplines of marketing and public relations. It seems the interactive marketing community as a whole has severely underestimated the application of a social science degree to an online marketing career. My undergraduate degrees are in psychology and sociology, and on more than one occasion I have found myself explaining how my training in the social sciences is applicable to a career in marketing.
To me it’s not a big leap; to others it’s implausible. When people think about psychology, they picture a comfortable room with two people – one sitting in an arm chair taking notes, and the other laying on his back spilling his guts while paying $200 an hour for the privilege to do so. I didn’t pick psychology out of the list of majors to become a clinical psychologist like the one in this example. I could care less about a stranger’s relationship with his or her mother. I started in the field with the desire to become an experimental psychologist and through empirical hypothesis testing I wanted to explore the mysteries of human behavior and mental processes. If it helps, picture a guy in a white lab coat holding a clipboard observing people through a two-way mirror.
Similarly, I find that people are often misinformed about what sociology involves. They confuse the discipline with social work or social advocacy when in fact sociology is nowhere as benevolent. Sociology, in brief, is about investigating the behavior of groups and their interrelationship with the individual. I have even argued that marketing is a hybrid of applied sociology and business administration, given marketing’s high level goal of influence and persuasion. It’s pretty well accepted that the multibillion dollar a year industry of market research is a type of applied sociology.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone active in online marketing that would dispute the statement that social media is where it’s at. With big brands flocking to Facebook and MySpace to transform latent customers in to brand advocates, interactive marketing firms are scrambling to adopt in this new environment. As much in SEO or PPC, if not more so, interactive marketers that practice social media channel development must ask questions like:
- How do we influence customers to buy our products?
- How do we influence customers to promote our brand?
- How do we enter into a new online community and interact with members effectively?
- How do we leverage these social networks to create buzz?
- How do we encourage long term retention in our customers
- What are our customers saying to us?
- How do we respond?
- How do we track the reach of our message?
To my ears, at their core, these are social science questions, not computer science questions. How companies can actually leverage observations from social science research to generate ROI is the business marketing extension of each of the questions listed above. Unless marketers first try to understand the questions (and answers) above in the light of the specific community they aspire to influence, they will not be successful in their efforts to generate ROI. Just because a community or culture exists online, doesn’t make it less of a community or culture. A person trained in psychology and sociology may be more effective in uncovering deep insights about the types of people behind the screen names used on social networking/media websites than a person with a traditional marketing background. For example, during my undergraduate years, I took classes in community psychology, social psychology, social problems, psychological anthropology, and methodology of social research. The sum of all these courses was a solid background in how to systematically dissect, investigate, and influence the inner workings of a community.
Although, I relied on the social media example to make my argument, a social science degree is strongly conducive to success in other areas of online marketing. In conclusion, folks with psychology and sociology backgrounds have taken courses relating to influence, motivation, perception, group dynamics, cultural studies, demographics, statistical analysis, survey design, consumer psychology, and research – all of which are important in Internet marketing.