Social media marketing’s scalability problem

I’d like your thoughts on what I see as one of the biggest problems I see for using social media in marketing:  scalability.

In theory, using social media for marketing should scale elegantly.  Most advisors and evangelists tell a story that plays out something like this:  once a marketer gets up enough courage to push over the first domino and launch a social media effort, that person tells a friend, who tells another three friends, who tell yet another three friends, and so on with almost infinite reach at almost zero incremental cost.  Examples like Subservient Chicken, Dove Evolution, and Elf Yourself are often cited here.

In practice, real life starts to get in the way.  You can’t create "viral."  (In fact, "viral" is even the wrong metaphor.)  Philippe reminds us of Watts’s "big seed" concept, which starts to look like mass media. One-ninth of the WORLD’s population watched the 2006 FIFA World Cup final.  Social media vs. Television for marketing purposes just doesn’t match up.

People don’t scale, either.  Frank at Comcast does a great job, but he’s only one person.  Dell has 17+ people on Twitter, like Amie Paxton.  Scott Monty is a new kind of leader, but he’s only one person.  How much harm did Exxon Janet inflict?  (Answer: none.)

[Let me pause here and say that I have and will always believe that the purpose of marketing is to sell stuff, whether direct response or 30-year sales cycle.  Marketers who don't believe that their job is to ultimately sell something should become receptionists instead, if all you want to do is talk.]

I do believe social media can help sell.  Social content has started integrating into traditional tactics like banners and emails.  I have a better opinion of Comcast after Frank helped me with my cable modem and will resist Verizon FIOS for a while longer.  From my last post asking if social media matters, the commenting consensus seems to agree, with its impact in awareness, consideration, and preference.

But if social media marketing matters, then does it scale?

I don’t think so.  I think the technologies scale.  But the programs – especially those with a labor-intensive component – don’t.

[Social technologies are better applied inside the enterprise - to improve existing systems, grow culture, improve productivity, and scale to a finite point...]

Your thoughts appreciated.