Differentiation When Social Media Moves Towards Mass Adoption

Social media – cutting edge? No way. (Clue #1 – My father-in-law likes to talk about it with me on a regular basis.) It is at the mass adoption stage (or at least mass interest stage as most companies still try to figure out how to adopt it). A recent survey/report, “How Marketers Are Using Social Media to Grow Their Business,” by Michael Stelzner, points to the fact that just about everyone is in involved or plans to be involved in social media initiatives. 880 respondents rated their experience using social media marketing for their businesses. Only 5% declared that they are not currently using social media.


So if social media is a play for the masses, can it be a differentiator for your business. I never thought I would ever quote Sarah Palin, but “You bet-cha.”

And the crowd responds, “Please Social Steve, tell me, how can this be?”

But seriously, let’s start with a common theme in most of my articles … creating an awareness, winning position, and positive brand of your company starts by having a real, true value that you deliver to a targeted segment. The next step is having an effective marketing plan. This marketing plan includes traditional vehicles and new media communication.

Assuming you have a compelling and attention-getting marketing plan; social media is a powerful tool. (On the contrary, using social media to communicate garbage will make you smell like a landfill.) Social media is a massive mega-phone. It communicates much louder, further and wider, and at lightning speed. Reminds me a little bit of the movie “The Gremlins” – social media is a loveable little creature, but if you don’t harness it the right way, complete chaos and pandemonium will break out. (Am I aging myself here?)

Social media should be used to optimize marketing, but remember start with the marketing basics. Once you have the marketing basics well defined, then develop the social media plan as suggested in a number of other articles I have authored (Before You Start with Social Media, Measuring the Value of Social Media, Using the Social Media “A-path” to Capture Ultimate Customers, Brands in the Age of Social Media, Social Media – What Companies Are Looking For).

Social media can optimize your entire marketing plan and create significant incremental synergy. Here are some social media optimization tips:
1. Increase your linkability
2. Make tagging and bookmarking easy
3. Reward inbound links
4. Help your content travel
5. Encourage the mashup
6. Be a User Resource, even if it doesn’t help you
7. Reward helpful and valuable users
8. Participate
9. Know how to target your audience
10. Create content
11. Be real
The first 5 (1-5) were defined by Rohit Bhragava. Jeremiah Owyang added the next 2 (6-7). The last 4 were appended by Cameron Olthuis. Two later sets of additions were provided by Loren Baker and Lee Odden. (http://www.pronetadvertising.com/articles/introduction-to-social-media-optimization.html)

In order to ensure that social media provides measurable incremental value to your marketing efforts, I suggest 3 additional tips.

12. Listen – to best understand your audience’s pain, pleasure, motivations, and their vernacular.
13. Test – ensure all communication supports your set positioning statement.
14. Monitor – search for references to your company/brand. When you find a positive occurrence, help the content travel (point 4). When you find negative comments, take action. This may mean a) providing proof it is not so or b) apologizing and stating how you plan to remedy the problem. Be honest – the socialized public knows when you are and are not.

I personally believe that the movement towards social media mass adoption is a good thing and will help your business even if you see your competition getting involved. It all points back to traditional marketing winners … if you have true differentiated value for your target audience and you can articulate your position in a simple, understandable way, you will not only have purchasing customers, but advocates for your company. Social media is the most powerful tool to leverage this marketing/branding position today. Plan and use it wisely.



Filed under marketing, marketing plan, social media, socialmedia, SocialSteve

21 responses to “Differentiation When Social Media Moves Towards Mass Adoption

  1. Steve, this is a great outline for what companies really need to do moving forward from a marketing perspective. But, I’m thinking that to truly differentiate, they need to expand past marketing into customer service, vendor relations, competitive intel and all other aspects of the business where it needs to interact. Then they truly differentiate by capitalizing on the ubiquity of the Social Web! IMO there’s so much more to this than Marketing and PR.

  2. SocialSteve

    Steve – I totally agree with your points. Great additions.

    I wrote a different article “Brands in the Age of Social Media” where I briefly mentioned how branding should be something that is lived within a company. It is not what they say, but who they are … living the brand. I think this is definitely applicable to socialization of your company and how other functions besides marketing live the socialization and social media toolset, also.

    I purposely did not mention this because I don’t want companies to be scared to take on too much as once. I believe that social media should naturally start with marketing and then evolve to include all aspects of the company “conversations” for both internal (private) and external (public) collaboration. It is part of a social media maturing that companies need to experience.

    Thanks for your valuable input,
    Social Steve

  3. Thanks for the list, Steve. Useful to keep in mind in my business practice as well as in my pasttime of promoting a revision to a concept (in which I attempt to transform historic preservation from a dusty old thing to something engaging…)

    Will keep your list at hand for future reference!

  4. johnny

    Hello. Thank you for this great info! Keep up the good job!

  5. thank you! I really liked this post!

  6. Hi Steve,

    I don’t think it will be about differentiation, because when executed along side the brand equity, you’ll be different. The challenging thing will be to get attention and the appropriate attention towards your brand when mass-adopted.
    Attention is the new scarcity.

    Best regards,
    Gianluigi Cuccureddu

    • SocialSteve

      Hi Gianluigi,

      Thanks for your input.

      I don’t think “attention” will be strong enough to be the leader or one of the top brands in a category. Brands will need to move their customers along the A-path (as highlighted in my article “Using the Social Media ‘A-path’ to Capture Ultimate Customers”) from Attention-Attraction-Affinity-Audience-Advocates. I do think differentiation is most important – it defines “what makes us stand out.” Differentiation is required for your product/service – otherwise you are just a commodity competing on price. If you have “differentiation” in your product/service, the social media optimization suggestions will help to get your customers traverse the A-path and ultimately get your customers to be advocates and market your product/servce.

      Social Steve

  7. Steve, sorry, but I can’t share your belief that social media can be adopted as a serious tool for communicators.

    I am a great enthusiast of new technology and software and always have been an early adopter of new gadgets and software. Thanks to a North American friend I was registered on LinkedIn long before it became known in the UK, and today use a number of other social media channels.

    But just as there are still organisations today that have a useful intranet that cannot be accessed by all the staff – we must recognise that social media has a similar problem. It is delivered on such a diversity of services that you can be confident that none of them has 100% penetration with a company’s staff. You can also be sure that the fads and fashions will change – todays Tweet is tomorrow’s Bleat, or whatever.

    There may be a benefit for, say a modest sized call centre with young staff, or perhaps a sales team being persauded to adopt and be motivated to higher achievement by Tweeting or another channel. Or maybe company staff may enjoy a social gossip by sharing space on Linked-in or Facebook.

    But trying to get every single member of staff of a major bank motivated and engaged in adopting social media on an external website is a non-starter.

    If a similar service is embedded into an intranet and is accessible from every person’s desk then that’s a different story in – but it’s still called an intranet. Discussion lists have been around for over 10 years on intranets and this is nothing new. But these are notorious staff time-wasters and organisations often have to restrict access and have house rules to govern their use.

    The other problem is the one we face as communicators in having to meet the demands of so many different channels. Either we concentrate on one and make a good job of it, or dilute our effort over a multiplicity of channels without any certainty that we have reached our target audience. The choice is ours.

    I think you have an uphill battle on your hands Steve!

    Malcolm Davison
    Managing Director of Writing for the Web.

    • Malcolm –

      No problem you differing on social media. But an uphill battle – I am seeing the exact opposite. I am seeing more and more adoption, more and more demand.

      I think you are looking at a social media implementation completely wrong. Who ever seem to suggest “trying to get every single member of staff of a major bank motivated and engaged in adopting social media”? It takes a mere few of any organization (bank or otherwise) to represent the “brand” and communicate to a target market.

      Yes – there are some many channels, but an orgnaization needs only to concenetrate on a few. The way social media works is that channels spawn other channels by word of mouth.

      Reject it – no problem. BUT there are numerous companies working success with it. Here in the USA, social media just had a huge positive effect on Black Friday – out biggest shopping day of the year. Tons more positive implementations – yes I feel like I have been an early evanglist, but no need now … socil media coverage and use is brewing.

      Social Steve

      PS – you are an early adopter of LinkedIn? Looking at your profile, I would never guess that. Do you use it at all? 11 connections?

  8. Malcolm Davison

    OK I was referring to using social media for internal communications, which has some advocates, and it’s now clear you are talking exclusively about marketing communications.

    I thought black Friday was a sidekick to Robinson Crusoe on a desert island, but thanks to you I am now wiser!

    Certainly networking on social media is helping some SMEs (small/medium enterprises) to win business in the UK – but can this seriously be considered a sensible tool for marketing for major corporates? Rightly or wrongly, this to me is the acid test of its real worth.

    Perish the thought that advertising will seriously intrude the hitherto remarkably advertising-free world of social media.

    As for my own usage of LinkedIn – you’ve made the point for me, it’s sadly yet to prove its worth – but maybe it takes an evangelist to reap the rewards.

    There are many forms of social media. Much that is included under this umbrella title – wikis – chat rooms – blogs – discussion lists – customer feedback on products and serviced – surveys / polls – have been around for a number of years and are hardly new.

    I didn’t suggest social media would replace advertising – just that promotional messaging may, in the fullness of time, destroy the channels it is trying to latch onto. Should we be a part of this?

    If you can give specific examples of how just one of the channels has been used to improve business promotion – then this would be of much interest to followers of your blog. But we need to avoid generalisations about social media and be more channel specific.



    • Malcolm,

      Do some research … big companies using social media (here in the States) turning positive results with social media … Dell, Starbucks, BlendTec, Ford, and many more.

      LinkedIn – you have no positive results because you have not cultivated a community – 11 connections, come on, you expect positive results with a community network of 11?

      I agree that “customer feedback on products and serviced – surveys / polls – have been around for a number of years”, and that social media has not re-invented this. But what social media is, is a very big mega-phone that speeds the customer feedback up and sends it many more place. This happens with social media both by formal forums and just word of mouth.

      The only thing I see social media hurting (not destroying) is some print ad spend, and maybe some other traditional media – not sure … we’ll see.

      While social media is new, there are some success stories as I mentioned above and others. Read Groundswell (book is 2 years old) and has a number of success cases. I am delivering success case in my practice as well (travel agent, security company, sports and entertainment sponsorship). There will be many more and the industry matures.

      Sit back, be a skeptic and watch or dip your toe in the water, learn, make some mistakes, see some success like those whom elect to do so.

      Social Steve

  9. savita A UBHE

    Hello there,

    Thanks for the article, yes i do agree that differentiation is required. According to me, social media network is in its infancy but provides businesses with great potential for success, well to those who use it in the right manner. Everyone is trying their best to deploy this huge social network .
    The main issue for me, is the loyalty of customers which was more possible with the traditional sources of advertising, with social media the marketing expenses of companies have reduced to a great extent but the next challenge is going to be “how to retain these cusomers in the jungle of competitors with no differentiation”.

    • Forget social media (or any form of marketing) for a second. You can not retain customers with no differentiation. This is a proven, old principle. The one exception is commodities, and then you are simply playing a pricing game – lowest price wins.

      What so many forget is that you must apply traditional marketing principles before you even start with social media. If you have a good product/service that truly delivers value to a target audience, then proper use of social media can help you gain awareness, increase your pipeline, and turn customers into loyal customers and advocates. If you have a product that does not deliver value and is just full of marketing jargon, the social web will beat you down.

      Social Steve

  10. Jo Porritt

    Hi Steve

    I have been following you on Twitter for some time, and have not yet been brave enough to comment on your blog, but here goes!

    I was reading the thread above, and was interested in the posts from Malcolm Davison; I feel compelled to respond.

    I work in Guernsey, a little island between the UK and France, known as an offshore finance jurisdiction – I have worked in traditional marketing for many years, then digital, and the last year have specialised in Web 2.o/social media. Malcolm, if you are from the UK you will know of Guernsey and it’s status, I am sure…the reason I wanted to comment is because you mentioned banking as the type of institution that could not realistically embrace social media; albeit internally, and you quoted the use of intranets and the amount of governance these need within financial institutions…

    Your points are interesting, but also sound very familiar to me! As a large portion of my client base are financial service companies (a few international big names too) I would like to just clarify how, IMHO, they are “winning” by implementing SM strategies. First off, that word right there “strategy” – as Steve says, SM is an extremely powerful tool, due to it’s potential reach and speed compared with traditional marketing methods – but as with any marketing, you first need a strategy and defined objectives. You would think that highly regulated industries (such as those forming a large part of the market where I live and work) would find it extremely difficult making the leap into adoption of any SM platform. But, I am finding that this sector are now looking at SMM as much as any other sector I work with. There are many ways that SM can help to market a financial/legal brand, and as Steve says, it doesn’t need the WHOLE company to make it work.

    I have seen more and more financial institutions start to explore the SM sphere, realising, like most, that these conversations are happening online about their business, their products/services, their industry, their competitors, and to ignore them completely is perilous. What many are doing is looking at their own culture internally – Malcolm, you mention that intranets etc..are a den for “staff wasting their time” etc…and these are exactly the cultural shifts brands need to look at – getting a balance between the preconceived notion of fear of employees having access to such platforms & understanding how embracing the value of staff as contributor’s to the company’s overall wellbeing. What I love most about social media is that it also encourages the flattening of traditional hierarchal management systems – and that can only be a good thing!

    After writing an article for a recent local business publication, I was totally surprised at the response from banking/law sector. So Malcolm, you say that “today’s tweet, may become tomorrow’s bleat”..well I recently said similar in a presentation I gave to a finance company! BUT I followed it with the comment that whilst the SM platforms we all know; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn may change, disappear even or evolve into something completely different – what will not go away is the amount and the strength of user-generated content i.e. Web 2.0 taking traditional marketing from the “monologue” to the “dialogue”, consumers, prospects, target markets – they all now have voices, are not afraid to use them by posting, blogging, sharing their own experiences of brands and their services. THIS is what speaks volumes and will sustain any evolution or even revolution of any SM platform…..

    And finally, as to which channels “work and can be proved” ? Well, again, that depends on the brand, it’s marketing strategy, products/services – remember that social media is a current and powerful tool, which if utilised correctly can enhance everything from brand reputation to customer services…but it needs to be integrated and considered.

    I understand I may be in the category of “evangelist” as you say, but like it or not, conversations win over campaigns, and this way of doing business is here to stay – no matter which business sector you are in.


    p.s. 11 connections on LinkedIn – that’s not enough to say you have REALLY tried and tested that as a platform is it?

    p.p.s. I notice that you say you are MD of Writing for the Web – that surprised me the most! 🙂

    • Jo –

      Thanks for joining the conversation!

      I think the most important thing (as you highlighted in your comments) is that Web 2.0 is taking traditional marketing from the “monologue” to the “dialogue”. This includes the blog forums as well. I want my blog to be a conversation, not a monologue – so thanks for participating!

      Social Steve

    • Malcolm Davison

      I was interested to read your observations Jo. This posting will add a postscript to my earlier postings and hopefully extend the dialogue further.

      Yes I know of Guernsey, its status and the way it has attracted some leading financial names to this delightful offshore haven.

      To take your penultimate point first. Prompted by Steve’s comment, I am giving LinkedIn another chance. You may be surprised to learn that I now have 53 connections on LinkedIn. I doubt that it will make a difference though.

      The reason I write that is that I have also been on Ecademy for 10 years and have 25 contacts. But this has not generated anything of any real worth. Frankly I never expected it to, as much of my business is generated through recommendation. But I have had some interesting business-related discussions.

      I would commend you to visit LinkedIn (Maybe, Jo, you will need to join? You don’t seem to be a member.) and join the eMarketing Association Network. There you will find an interesting dialogue ‘Social Media for Business is CRAP!’ started by Kevin Conway, President of Boston eMarketing Solutions. It has so far attracted a very healthy dialogue of 916 comments – both pro and con.

      Over the Christmas break I have judged two regional UK electronic communication competitions. Several entrants had explored the use of social networks, most claiming positive feedback. But as a judge I have to know the ROI – but this is difficult both for the entrant to convey and the judge to assess and verify.

      One application I have come across concerned using social media to support the promotion of a local specialist service in the health sector. However social networks generally attract a younger audience – and not the older less healthy population. So we need to identify a new channel’s strength and weaknesses before investing time and resource to it.

      So I agree with you that we need to keep an open mind and explore the careful and targeted use of social networks. We also need to see these channels mature. Some are still primitive, show frustrating usability traits and offer limited facilities.

      Perhaps Steve, you may like to spend time and space to help steer and pressure social network services to get their act together.

      There is a serious downside to the meteoric rise of social network channels. Like the mushrooming of TV channels in the UK from four to 500+ in just 20 years, means that the primary channels now have a massively reduced impact. Some struggle to survive because of the dissipation of advertising spend.

      Likewise we can expect ‘socially active’ audiences to become smaller and smaller as they are spread more thinly – and the major channels diminish in their clout.

      Malcolm Davison

      • Malcolm,

        Everyone is due their opinion. Everyone can find pros and cons for every subject. Hey, someone can say smoking is good for you … it calms you down. Rationally this does not hold water.

        Yes, there have been numerous blunders in social media. Most of the mis-steps are the result of not following proven business and marketing principles. Your examples show that the companies involved had a lack of understanding of their target markets. (A key requirement for marketing success.) But I would disagree when you say social networks general attract a younger audience. Yes, this was the case early on, but the largest growing age group is older – check the research. Used correctly, social media is a powerful toolset, not replacement for any business operation.

        You and I will just have to agree to disagree. Let’s reconnect at thend of 2010 – I predict it will be a breakout year for social media with numerous recorded success cases.

        Best in the New Year,
        Social Steve

        PS I easily found Jo in LinkedIn – are you using the search correctly?

  11. Jo Porritt


    Hello! I have in fact got a presence on LinkedIn (see Steve’s comment) and I recently got two offers of work from the UK and Jersey through my profile..one is a major collaborative project, so I have to say, it works for me.

    I think as Steve says, we may have to agree to disagree on many issues here, but I still enjoy the debate. A lot of my time is currently spent educating those that don’t “get” social media, or see it as a valuable tool in respect to traditional business. There are many times when I leave presentations with the sceptics still shaking their heads, but also many times when I sceptics have agreed to drop their guard and listen and actually understand the meaning behind what is commonly known as social media.

    I notice you commented on your 53 connections on LinkedIn “I doubt that will make a difference though” – I am not sure what you are expecting from this platform, but as with all I have said earlier, we need to move from the monologue to the dialogue. Simply putting a presence on LinkedIn does not guarantee results – as with having a presence on Twitter, Facebook or any other SM platform…

    I am already a member of the eMarketing Association Network, and will most certainly have a look at the discussion you cited.

    As for ROI via SM? A HUGE topic, which I could certainly write reams on! However, I think I will just go back to my earlier comments regarding the changes needed by business generally today – you reap what you sew basically. Yes, most ROI is measured by Finance Directors in respect of pounds and pennies, the bottom line is what counts. But how much is positive brand sentiment actually worth to a business? Or referral? Or a retained customer that becomes a positive advocate for your products/services? Can you put a price on the real VALUE of those things?

    So ROI, IMHO, for social media is hard for sceptics to measure, as they are still getting their heads around the cultural shifts and knock-on effects these are having in today’s connected marketplace.

    I personally think SM is bridging the gap between the traditional and the new – and if nothing else, it should tell brands, in all sectors, that the days of traditional push messaging and propoganda are gone for good. And for that alone, I salute these changes.

    Good to talk!


  12. Jo Porritt

    I would just like to add that as Steve highlighted, if you do some research, the highest demographic adopting social media platforms are not the “youngsters”.

    Also, you mentioned that most of your business is generated by referrals?

    I rest my case.


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