These days everyone is desperately trying to figure out the best ways to leverage social. In fact, if you type the phrase “social media” into Google, over 500 million results will appear. That’s more than the results for just “media”. Marketers are feeling the pressure to become more “social” from senior management and scrambling to put together social media campaigns so that they can check that box off of their marketing deliverables. Many marketers think by launching a Facebook page or getting a lot of Twitter followers that they have satisfied their social media needs. Once marketers realize that it takes much more to drive social activity that will result in ROI and the resources required for managing these social initiatives, they are quickly on the hunt for social media experts to assist them; and there are many who claim to be social media experts ready to serve your every need.
Marketers have started to tackle their social media needs, similar to how they have historically approached every other marketing tactic - by isolating and siloing their strategic parameters, success metrics, and analytics. We’ve seen this time and time again. This is how marketers dealt with banner advertising in the ‘90s, SEM and email in the early ‘00s, and mobile and in-game advertising in the late ‘00s. Over a decade later and the same mistakes are being made. Next it will be real-time-bidding and then most likely video; especially as digital convergence really takes form and everything (i.e. TV, radio, print, etc.) is technically “digital”. Agencies and media providers are always ready to reposition themselves based on the flavor of the month. Social is the new black. Or is it the new pink? Most trends are just that – “trendy”.
Don’t get me wrong, social marketing is extremely important. In fact, it is too important to think you can just silo it out and hire a specialized social media agency to manage it on your company’s behalf. The most successful marketers are not experts in analog media, digital media, social media, search marketing, or real-time-bidding; they are efficient in communication and understanding how to serve people’s needs. Once you understand what your audience/customers’ needs are and their communication requirements, you can determine the most effective channels and tactics to satisfy those needs - just like establishing any human relationship.
I realize most marketing disciplines these days require specialists to deploy and manage specific tactics. However, we must not confuse strategy with execution. You must have an integrated communication strategy that puts your customers and target prospects at the core. Through the communication planning process you should determine how much social marketing support is required and how it should be managed. Additionally, we should stop referring to social as a tactic and think of it more as the fabric that weaves throughout your entire marketing program. There’s no such thing as a social media campaign. You don’t make friends with someone and then decide to abruptly end that friendship because he/she had plans on the same night you wanted to go out.
A strong relationship is cultivated over time and this means you need to be willing to allocate the necessary resources to building those high value relationships and plan on managing them indefinitely. The only way to assure this can be done is by centralizing your customer relationship management internally. Yes, social is a component of CRM. Only now, it is a multi-dimensional dialogue and your refer-a-friend programs have exponential potential. Those that are positioning themselves as “social media experts” are less concerned about the long term value of the relationships between you and your customers, and really trying to capitalize on the ignorance that exists in the marketplace to, once again, provide false value – kind of like that “friend” who is always there to console you during a really bad time. They appear to be genuine, but we all know there is an ulterior motive which is driven by taking advantage of your vulnerability.
Be less concerned about the new, bright, shiny objects and focus on better understanding your audience and customers. The more you learn about what people want, the better you can serve their needs. Marketing channels and tactics are just the delivery mechanisms to serving those needs. With all that being said, I do recommend partnering with those that are proficient at managing the execution of each tactic. Many tactics are extremely labor-intensive and require a deep understanding of the market and the various technology platforms used to effectively manage these programs. However, when it comes to building your strategy, focus on the communication needs of your audience, then determine the channels and tactics that will help facilitate how you address those needs.
Remember this, there is no such thing as a category called “social media”. All media is social. It always has been and always will be. Only now, you can actually see what people are saying behind your back. You just need to determine what value you can contribute to the conversation – more importantly, make sure it is a reciprocal dialogue. Leave your “push, push” mentality back in the 20th century. And if you plan on playing in the social sandbox, make sure you are welcoming, respectful, appreciative, and provide value. Treat those the way you would like to be treated.
Sometimes I think marketers forget what it means to be human. In the words of Robert Fulghum, “all you really need to know, you learned in kindergarten”. Play fair. Share everything. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Don’t hit people. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Clean up your own mess. Now, stop your wining and go make some friends!