Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thoughts on Social Media: A Pragmatist's Point of View

There isn't enough time in the day to ponder and discuss all the things that puzzle me and intrigue me about the social media evolution. After much thought, I realized it was time to put these things into perspective. Listen to what the self-proclaimed experts are saying and apply it to what I know based on my own 15+ years experience in the business world. So, here is my take on several different topics related to social media....

1. Social Media Coup

When I heard that Google was attempting to stage a coup to usurp the Facebook domination of the social media world, I wondered what they were thinking. After all, basic principles of marketing apply...even to Google. Facebook is the leader and all those that follow will likely be limited to early adopters. Does Google really believe that it will persuade over half of the American population to switch? After receiving my invite, and perusing Google+ I became even more perplexed. After all the hype and attempt at intrigue (Invite only? Really?) I'm disappointed. Its...OK, but its just not that compelling.

My advice to Google? If you want to be seen as a leader in a category...define a new one and stop trying to be what you aren't. Right now, you're just a day late and a dollar short.

2. Tool vs. Strategy

I'm not sure where it began or how it took hold, but it seems as if there are people that believe that social media is something more than another tool in the marketing tool belt. As if somehow its different from all the other trends that have expanded and collapsed over decades of the advertising life cycle. Take for example the trends in Radio, starting with the first radio commercial in 1922; followed by television then the Internet and websites. And now, here we are again at the onset of a trend. Call it an evolution or revolution: regardless, in terms of its application to business, social media is another trend that can be used as a tool to reach a myriad of consumers. As exciting as this trend appears, participative advertising is nothing new, we just have a more powerful medium of delivering it. That delivery must still be dictated by smart marketing strategy and in conjunction with every other tool.

I once used an analogy of a planting a garden. Think of your brand as a garden. In order plant awareness and grow equity, you must develop the plan first; decide where to put your seeds, incorporate techniques and processes to nurture and finally harvest your existing and potential customers. There are many tools you may need to do in this process: social media, customer retention and referral programs, traditional media, etc. Regardless, if all you're doing is using one tool on an empty patch of dirt...you may dig your way to China...but you wont do much for your brand.

3. B2B vs. B2C

Social media can be a successful tool when its not something you do just because you can (or because someone says you should). The reality is, participative advertising and social media is most effective when your targeting directly to the consumer. As an example, lets look at the top 5 brands on Facebook:

1) Facebook (9,024,542 Fans)
2) Starbucks (7,217,370 Fans)
3) Coca-Cola (5,529,595 Fans)
4) YouTube (5,082,221 Fans)
5) Disney (3,475,487 Fans)

Note that not one of these is a B2B organization (you won't even find one in the Top 20). Each successfully markets directly to consumers. Compare these numbers to one of the US's top B2B brands, Cisco, with only 54,580 'Likes'. B2B and B2C organizations are as different as night and day; black and white; apples and oranges. To suggest that because you are a business you 'should' be engaging in social media just isn't reflective of reality. In truth, social media outlets like Facebook (and even Twitter) are most effective for engaging directly with consumers. Sure, we could discuss using participative advertising to augment a pull-through strategy, but even then the success rate is likely to be limited to the existing brand awareness.

So let this be a warning. If you are running a B2B organization and are fending off solicitors of social media that insist you need to be participating in the trend...consider it carefully...and with your overall marketing strategy in mind. Once you have done that, begin by limiting your social media presence to Linkedin and other specialized business platforms.

4. Talk, Twitter, Talk

If there is one thing that I have yet to figure out about Twitter is this: Why is everyone talking about social media?? I like to think that the lists of those that I follow is somewhat indicative of the average professional: Some "experts" (primarily in marketing), news organizations, and local businesses. With this massive assumption in mind, I decided to conduct a little experiment. I spent one hour just watching the Twitter feeds roll; listening to the subtle sounds of TweetDeck. As I watched this virtual carnival of information fly, I realized that at least half of it was discussing the power or potential of social media. Even more interesting is the fact that the primary point was engagement with consumers. So here I am, watching my lists talk about engaging...and yet only a handful of the hundreds...are actually engaging.

So, to my fellow tweeters, stop talking at me and start engaging. Isn't that what you're trying to sell in the first place?

5. Opportunity to Inspire

It occurred to me that it may appear that I'm down on social media which couldn't be further from the truth. I greatly enjoy using social media to engage with my friends, family, peers and business contacts. I have Facebook pages and I tweet. My Linkedin network is quite substantial and I enjoy learning about every new facet of the trend. There is, however, one thing that social media offers to a global society that we as marketers do not talk about enough: inspiration.

Millions can be inspired by one tweet or post, and not to buy something or to 'Like' a page, but to change a country, clean up the planet, or donate to save a life. It is the non-profits of the world, that serve for the common good, that seem to get the least amount of attention in all the social media buzz when it is they that are best served by this trend. Access to millions of people that before, did not know how access information, help or contribute can now do so at the click of a button. The opportunity to inspire is all around us in the social media evolution (or revolution) and yet we marketers spend most of our time figuring out how to increase our ROI and conspire to persuade people to like us.

So, here is a challenge to all the social media experts out there: use this trend for good as much as for profit. Donate your time and expertise to help a non-profit make an impact through social media. Inspire others to do the same by tweeting about it. Trends die because they cease to be profitable...if you want social media to thrive in a global economy, make it socially viable and relevant for good causes...as much as profits.

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