Understanding the true nature of the social media marketplace

OK … Stick with me for one minute.  We’re going back in time about 1,000 years but I promise it’s going to come back to a great lesson about social media and marketing. Here we go.

As far as scholars can tell, formal marketplaces were first created in Europe around the year 1,000 AD.  They solved a problem. Villages were competing with other villages for commerce. Unlicensed hucksters went from town to town and the whole thing was rather inefficient until a few rules were applied to the whole mess, usually by the local church leaders.

Here were some of the characteristics of these newly-organized markets:

It was highly personal and interactive. You stood face to face with your seller, looked them in the eye, and bought with a firm handshake. You purchased goods from people you knew and trusted. The market was transparent. The goods came from a farm or workshop right to the market.

There was immediacy.  If somebody felt wronged or cheated, you knew it right away. Feedback on quality, service, and pricing was constant and immediate.

Success depended on word of mouth recommendations.  There was no advertising, mass media, or marketing plans.  If you wronged a buyer, word would spread throughout your marketplace like a plague. So you needed to treat people right … and maybe even do a little extra for your power buyers.

There were severe penalties for cheating. Like getting hung. Or losing a hand. Stuff like that.

I think you’re starting to see where I am going with this?

The fact of the matter is that these values and expectations have been shared between buyers and sellers for centuries. We simply interrupted the natural course of business for about 100 years with the introduction of mass media. We learned that we can sell very efficiently by broadcasting ads through radio, TV and the Internet — and we still can — but we also created a digital divide between ourselves and our customers. The human side of business that people crave was disengaged when we turned to mass advertising.

The social web is simply bringing us back to our marketplace roots where personal connection, immediacy, and word of mouth validation are the most important marketing considerations.  And if you cheat, you may not get hung today, but you will certainly be hung out to dry by angry customers with the power to publish their reviews for the world to see.

I think this is a powerful analogy to help managers who have grown up in the mass media world understand what’s happening now. It’s not really anything to be afraid of.  The world is simply returning to a form of buying and selling that has been preferred for most of recorded history. Be human, be honest, be transparent, and pay attention to the feedback.

Make sense? Let me know what you think in the comment section.

All posts

  • Stuck with you for more than a minute and you’re spot on Mark as usual. Can’t argue with that! 😀

    I always thought social media was like those days when we have so many mom and pop shops and stores that remembers you and your name and less giants like Wal-mart, bestbuys etc. It was personal and authentic.

    Slight difference between those days and now is that social media is like word-of-mouth on steroids.

  • Pingback: Understanding the true nature of the social media marketplace | Social Business Communications | Scoop.it()

  • Love this post, Mark. I stumbled across a fantastic presentation from Paul Adams of Facebook at the weekend that talked along similar lines (
    https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=853197114010). He postulates (or at least implies) that the reason so many people and organisations struggle with understanding how to communicate through the social web is because we’ve become brainwashed by other methods, when the natural human instinct is for one-to-one relationships to be built up over long periods of time through small, insignificant interactions. I’m not doing it justice, but it’s well worth the time to watch, I promise 🙂

  • Pingback: Understanding the true nature of the social media marketplace | Training Courses Blog()

  • Pingback: Understanding the true nature of the social media marketplace | Managing options | Scoop.it()

  • I like this post – great analogy you have used to illustrate the skills of social media and marketing. Nothing’s really changed except the way we do things. Basic principles of honesty, integrity, communication (learning to listen) still go a long way when it comes to doing business.

  • I think you’re right on Aaron. Hard to achieve, but that kind of attention is what people crave!

  • Wow, that is a superb video Paul. Everyone can benefit from viewing this. It is cool that I was thinking kind of the same way on a lot of these topics. Thanks for sharing.

  • Well put Midge. Thanks for commenting today.

  • This is a great post, Mark. And certainly one that applies directly to my industry. The only “right” way to market medical services is to gain the buyer (patient)’s trust. The only way to do that is by direct and honest communication, and the power of word-of-mouth endorsements. Some of my colleagues get it and some don’t. Some think that the “administration” is not doing anything to support them if there are not flashy mass media commercials and full page color ads in print journals.

    I may use your post to help persuade some of my colleagues who believe I waste my time on social media. Thank you.

  • Brainiac.

  • OK.., I like the post and I do agree with the analogy. One thing though.., when I read and/or discuss social media within a company it usually dominated by “marketing”. As in.., all social media is marketing and should be regarded as such.., and I sure believe marketeers want it like that.
    But.., I disagree.., I believe marketing is part of a larger social media “strategy” within a company.
    “There was no advertising, mass media, or marketing plans.” See?.., point made.

  • Really good application I think Alice. And I think this should make sense to them!

  • From you … I’ll take it! : )

  • Certainly there are applications for social media across the enterprise. But this is a big change and you have to choose your battles so marketing is usually where the change starts, at least in my experience. Thanks for the great comment Rogier!

  • Pingback: Understanding the true nature of the social media marketplace | fabriziofaraco()

  • This speaks volumes for the argument – Remove the packaging – Expose the goods (if you are not selling snake-oils)

  • Thank you Mark for your insightful “understanding the true nature of the social media marketplace”

    As of today thanks to Jeffrey Gitomer my focus is on locating “buying motives” rather than learning new “selling skills” Wondering how this fits into your understanding of marketing Mark…

  • Well said James! I like that.

  • I think it all fits very well. I start every class talking about the importance of strategy, including being clear about your points of differentiation and knowing your customer’s un-met or under-served needs (which may be different than what you sell!). We all need to do that upfront work or we are largely wasting out time on marketing — social media or otherwise. I was a contributor to Jeffrey’s last book by the way! : )

  • Pavel Konoplenko

    Good insight. The mass production/consumption of the last 100 years was certainly an interruption in the human transaction that history was normally filled with. The new paradigm centered on mass production allowed companies to make more profit. However, paradigms always shift, and we now have the technology that once again allows us to reconnect (this time on the mass scale through the Internet). Because it ultimately allows the business to deliver a better product – which leads to higher revenue long-term. Merchants will forever be motivated by profit, it’s just that now merchants are now able to recapture all the features that characterized past interactions.

    The way I see the trend going, unfortunately, is towards more automated interaction in the next decade once businesses figure out how to make it more “natural.” I don’t think that’s a good thing or a bad thing per se, just that eventually businesses will find it more profitable to once again outsource “real” human interaction.

  • Pavel Konoplenko

    Social media can be part of more than just the marketing strategy. Social media could be part of the development strategy (product designers all over the world using social media to create a better product), improvement of services (Twitter chats between professionals discussing the latest trends), empowering employees, finding better suppliers, and other business activities. Social media is more than just marketing, it can be used to literally improve every single business activity.

  • Thank you Mark for clearing this up for me! ; )

    I’ve been honored to host several of Jeffrey’s books on my website, and received complimentary copies for my resource library.

    What is Jeffrey’s book that has your contribution Mark?

  • Absolutely! And, it’s time for the media maniacs to understand the reality that they can no longer “control” the thought processes of the masses. The consumer is now begining to take back the economy. Customer Service comments like “We’ve not had this problem before” just don’t cut it any longer.
    Great post Mark!

  • “Everything old is new again.” Cheers! Kaarina

  • markdisomma

    Great post. Technology is so
    seductive isn’t it? And so are the measurements that we put alongside them.
    James D. Roumeliotis has a phrase he uses that I think sums up your point Mark.
    He refers to “human marketing” and the need for everyone within an organisation
    not just to think and act like a marketer but for the organisation itself to
    feel as human as possible. Picking up on his point, I believe that brands are
    at their most powerful when they are most human. There is a real sense of people
    behind what’s on offer – just like the people behind the stands in the
    marketplaces of the past. The most powerful listening posts most brands have in
    the market are their people. Thanks as always for another very interesting discussion. I go into the whole concept of what “human
    marketing means for me in more detail here: http://markdisomma.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/human-marketing/

  • Social Boom

  • You’re probably right. And how would we ever tell? Puts a new spin on “all natural” : )

  • Pink Floyd comes to mind right now. “We don;t need no education. We don;t need no thought control …” nice to her from you Steve!

  • Yup!

  • Quite interesting observations. Sounds like this could be a good blog post for you!!

  • Thanks…

  • Great analogy, Mark. Makes complete sense.

    Not trying to be a smartass, but 1,000 AD? Seems rather late. What’s the definition of formal marketplace?

  • vniven

    I agree with your observation – have you read Doc Searls’ new book, “The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge”?

    Here’s my attempt to describe what the ancient marketplace looks like, when the public square is replaced by a public social network like Twitter (with a link to Doc’s book): http://www.needtagger.com/the-intention-economy-lets-get-this-party-started/

  • Hi Mark, I talked to a community manager recently for a large community and asked them what was the key skill they needed to be successful and they said it was being friendly.

    Relationship building takes time in the real world and on line. Being friendly,caring, helpful, fun to hang around with, authentic, trustworthy etc etc are all traits that are just as important online as off line.


  • No it really was around 1,000 AD. I actually read about this stuff. I love medieval history. That is when the first records started showing up about rules, tariffs, etc. Most of it was organized by the Catholic Church.

  • I will check that out. I love Cluetrain! Thanks for the tip!

  • I love that and believe it to be true. I actually discuss this at length in my book Return On Influence. “Likeability” is a genuine source of power in the real world that translates quite well into the online world as well. Thanks for the great comment!

  • I thought I would require a lot of different skills to run a large online community but I’m good at building relationships off line so I’m just going to apply more of this online. I do have the “Likeability” factor but my wife says I don’t have it all the time 🙂

  • Our wives would get along : )

  • This is an excellent analogy! I think people tend to underestimate the penalty or rather, think they can escape or ignore the penalty since it happens ‘online’ and won’t affect them physically ‘offline’. That usually gets them into trouble.

  • Pingback: Reblog: Understanding the true nature of social media | Completely Free Sales Advice()

  • That is an interesting topic in its own right Jan! Thanks.

  • Hey, Mark – started Return on Influence last night. Love that brands can be “hung out to dry by angry customers with the power to publish their reviews for the world to see”. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility, right? Some of these consumers are abusing that power to publish because they recognize their new found voice can hold a brand’s reputation hostage. We need to adapt that drink responsibly slogan: Power to Publish – Use Responsibly!

  • Pingback: Small Business and Pay to Play: Just Say No()

  • Vicki Theurer Crider

    I’ve become a new follower/reader as I learn how to setup and manage social media for my company. I’ve appreciated your direct, logical and simple approaches for a brand’s successful existence in the social media world. Thanks!

  • Great post! This really highlights some of the key points of social media marketing and business.

  • Pingback: On Birthdays & Buddies | a little writing project by dave()

  • Pingback: 3Rhino Media | How To Understand the Social Media Marketplace Of Today()

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details


Send this to a friend