One thing is perfectly clear. There are NO social media experts! It is impossible. The social media industry is young and evolving and I expect there to be continued great advances. How can there be an expert of an area that still is going through so much evolution. Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely optimistic about the power of social media and the extreme importance it will play as a staple element within ALL successful businesses.
So let’s take a snapshot in time (4Q, 2010) and take a look at “The State of Social Media.” Kinda feels like “The State of the Union.” Ms Speaker of the House – “The State of Social Media shows great promise. …”
While I am not a social media expert, I am a social media activist and continuous student. I have been involved in social media since 2008 – first with a social network start up business, then as a social media consultant, and now I lead social media endeavors at Hachette Filipacchi Media (ELLE, Woman’s Day, Car and Driver, ELLE Decor, Road & Track, Cycle World, and Premiere.com). In the past few weeks, I attended four seminars/conferences/summits (OMMA Global – New York, OPA Lunch and Learn with Facebook, eConsultancy Peer Summit, and AdWeek Social Media Strategies Conference). This is the bases for my perspective on the state of social media. Thus, without further ado, I’d like to suggest some consideration points for companies and their social media activities ….
Successful Brands Take Chances and Try Things
At the Peer Summit, the main concern I heard was getting the C-Level Suite to understand the importance of social media. CxOs have trepidation. Thus, they are holding back and missing some great opportunities. How original was the Old Spice campaign? You don’t think this was the first time that a promotion of this nature was presented to a corporation, do you? Kudos to Proctor and Gamble for taking it on.
Any given social media program is not a guarantee of success. Frankly, you have to try things and measure results. This is what P&G did. And you know what the kiss of death is? … Being asked “Who else is doing this?” This shows just a total lack of creativity and really a shortcoming of desire to stand out in a crowd where there is so much competition.
This is the exact problem that Blockbuster faced. Why the demise of Blockbuster? “… because of what you could call the ‘internal constituency’ problem: the company was full of people who had been there when bricks-and-mortar stores were hugely profitable, and who couldn’t believe that those days were gone for good.” (Quote taken from an article in The New Yorker, titled “The Next Level.”) Rest on your laurels and don’t address the changing tide.
This is the same exact challenge for social media in so many companies. CxOs – if I may be so bold … Social media is here. It is not a fad or hype. It is not perfect. (Have any of your marketing or customer service efforts ever been perfect?) Get on it; get involved; try things; learn; measure; and start now or you will be another Blockbuster or CompUSA.
You Must Be a Great Listener
It starts with listening. This was a common topic at many of the forums I attended. Listening is hard. Everyone wants to be in the action, but in order to have a solid foundation for action, businesses need to listen first. While this may slow the process somewhat, the likelihood for success is far greater. If you want to get a deeper understanding of the importance of listening, check out, “Social Media Conversation: I Know You’re Talking, But Are You Listening?” Want more, observe how Ford listened to “customer feedback on design and engineering issues (for) the (Ford) Fiesta … This was particularly important given that Ford … introduc(ed) this version of the Fiesta—a European car—into the U.S. market for the first time.”
Be Human – Converse and Have a Personality
If media is an important channel for your business, how can “social” media not be paramount? I love how Nick Bilton, of The New York Times R&D Lab and author of their Bits Blog and new book I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works, says that “conversation is the most important part of the future of media.” And a conversation comes from a person. Social media is a people thing, not a corporate thing. Let the personality of the company AND the personalities of the people behind the company come out. Find that right intersection of the brand voice and social voice of your communicators. I think Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia and Wikia, said it best – “humanize communities to increase trust.”
Social media measurement continues to be a main topic of discussion. Surely not perfected yet. But I like the three categories Adam Lavelle (Chief Strategy Officer of iCrossing) suggests for “measuring social media: awareness, action, advocacy.” They are the right groupings that should be considered, but the actual specific data items for these categories will vary for each company. I always emphasize that you want to measure engagement and relationships and I make some suggestions of how to do this in the article, “Measuring the Value of Social Media.” You need to connect the dots. How does what you are doing relate to brand awareness, brand perception, lead generation, or creating advocates.
Social media is not this stand alone thing. It should be completely integrated into every part of the product/service definition and marketing. This is so often forgotten. You know how many times I have heard and seen the social team being pulled in at the 12th hour. It always comes across as, “Oh yeah, we need a social element.”
I’ve been in marketing for over 20 years and I have never heard it put quite as elegant as when Cam Balzer, VP – Marketing for Threadless (a very cool community based T-shirt company), said “marketing is the result of an awesome product.” How spot on. You can’t BS a mediocre product with marketing and this is certainly magnified even more with social media. Everything needs to be authentic and if you are using social media as a marketing tool, you better be real. It will be obvious if you’re not and you’ll be called out.
Many great companies turn to their audience for input on their product or service. Ford has done it. I am not sure any company does this to the extent of Threadless. I am not suggesting you need to go that far, but I am saying that social should be integrated into your product/service definition. I have led focus groups and advisory councils at a number of companies, and let me reassure you, social media is far superior for valuable customer input than the contrived alternatives.
Social media needs to be integrated into every step of product, program, marketing, and customer service plan.
Social is the new SEO
If you got on the bandwagon of SEO, why the question of social media? Adam Ostrow, Mashable’s Editor-in-Chief thinks “optimizing for social is so much more important than optimizing for search.” I not only whole-heartedly agree, but I captured this exact sentiment over one year ago when I proclaimed, “Social Media – Should Make Companies Rethink SEO.” As social media matures, we will find out about the stuff we want from our network and trust their input more than turning to search.
Social media will continue to evolve and change so I question anyone that proclaims that they are an expert of something still taking shape. But at this time, I think there is a greater importance looking at companies’ use of social media. Businesses must change their conservative nature or they will be left the way of the dinosaur. They must be willing to take on some risk. What they need to learn is not to be afraid to fail on something. Don’t get stuck in your comfortable way (hello Blockbuster). Be creative. Be able to laugh at yourself. Bring in your audience for their comments and input. (Ford and Proctor and Gamble).
In this article, I have listed some areas that MUST be addressed. In my previous article “How You Can Execute Social Media Successfully,” I gave you a foundation and ideas for a social media planning. It is time to move forward. “The State of Social Media” is not matter of assessing social media, but rather how companies are using social media and if they are willing to try something new and different. (You can’t repeat something that was done before.)
Make It Happen!