There is a danger of thinking that social media is the answer to all marketing problems in this day and age.
But it is always sloppy thinking to believe that the latest and greatest thing is the answer to all the issues you face. Successful business depends on deep thinking and a rigorous approach to finding out what is going on in your industry, your market and your company.
Social media has fantastic potential for many companies and markets. But this article from Mashable shows that many companies are doing very well without social media and that it is not appropriate for them to focus resources on it
Whatever your company, industry and market, you need to understand your prospects and customers but if they are not on social media or you need to talk to them in ways that are not suited to social media (e.g. requiring confidentiality, in-depth discussions or sensitive conversations) then you need other methods – pick up the phone, incentivise partners to survey their contacts, send out white papers, present at conventions, ..
The one essential is to spend enough time keeping a track on your customers and those who could become your customers to understand their issues, what makes them tick and what might excite them or make their life easier.
How you then pull out the key messages and best communicate with them is where the hard thinking comes in.
Social media tends to provoke one of two widely different reactions from business people – they either embrace it wholeheartedly and devote enormous amounts of time to it at the expense of other activities or they avoid it either out of fear or out of belief that it is just a fad which is a waste of time for them. This is particularly true of small businesses who do not have the luxury of appointing a person, still less a whole department, to manage their interactions with social media.
Social media has tremendous potential as part, but not all, of your marketing engagement. To understand this, we must first understand what marketing engagement is.
For much of my marketing career, one major element of marketing was called marketing communication (marcom) but this was in the days when companies told customers and prospects what was on offer and the only communication back from most of them might be a negotiation on price, possibly a purchase and after that maybe one or two requests for service. Feedback on new ideas, new offers or even new marketing campaigns was done at best with a focus group or small survey.
But now customers and prospects not only expect more involvement and dialogue with companies but also are willing to be your advocates if they like your product or service and the way you treat them. So now one-way marketing communication has evolved to two-way communication with the aim of going beyond simple expressions of “Here’s what we have to offer” and “Yes I’ll take it / No, I do not want that” to engaging the attention of the market. Now it is about discussing how the offer and its message can be adapted to the needs of the prospects and how they can be enthused to tell others about their experience.
Social media is a great tool for this because
- you can find and address communities with particular interests, and build your own communities
- conversations can be rich in structure and include short messages, links to detailed material, photos, videos, podcasts, slideshows and webinars
- feedback is quick and direct
- the means for passing on the message about your product is built into social media software
But social media is not the only way to engage with the market. Customers still appreciate face to face meetings, go to conferences and events, read newspapers, listen to the radio and watch TV. So your market engagement mix should include all types of communication that are relevant and affordable.
In thinking about the effort you should spend on social media, you should first decide on the amount of time. effort and money (and the number of people) to devote to market engagement as a whole. Then you must decide how to divide this up into five different activities that make up market engagement:
- Building and maintaining a shopfront: for most people this is not physical but a website or set of Facebook pages where the market can see who you are and what you have to offer.
- Meetings and events: face to face time where you have direct contact with prospects, customers, suppliers and partners. You might also include video conferences or even phone calls in this activity as long as you obtaining a rich feedback from people’s expressions, manners and voices to help build personal relationships.
- Listening and joining in relevant conversations: this is done on sites such LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+,Twitter, popular blogs, and discussion forums. To succeed you need to be interested in your customers, so it is vital to listen to them and comment on what they say rather than hogging the conversation with your own opinions. People are going to engage with you and Like/Follow/Link with you if you are interested in them as well as if you have something interesting of your own to say.
- Starting conversations yourself: when you have something to say, or even better when you want market opinion on a particular subject, then you can start a conversation, be it a Tweet, a post on Facebook or a topic on a LinkedIn group.
- Publishing detailed information that shows your expertise in a particular area (whitepaper, blog posts, slideshow, how-to video, etc) or that explains your product and service in detail.
Decide how much time you have to do all these tasks and then set realistic goals for how often you can do each of them and stick to it. Better to follow one or two of the most relevant groups and comment every few days than follow dozens but comment so infrequently that you do not leave a lasting impression.
Marketing engagement is a vital part of your business. Nowadays it can often perform the bulk, if not all, of the task of selling. Social media is a necessary and fantastically useful element of this engagement, but it is not the only element so you have to balance the time you spend on it.
For some time now there have been stories about people, particularly youngsters, being identified in embarrassing social media entries ( videos on YouTube, pictures on Facebook or Flickr, blog posts on WordPress or Blogger, tweets on Twitter) which causes problems with their employers or, if they are still teenagers, could cause problems when they come to look for their first job. My wife and I have been telling our children for a while that they need to careful what they publish even when they are young, since it might come to the surface and count against them in five or ten years time.
But this article in imedia
made me think again. It talks about employers starting to look at Klout scores and favouring those who score highly. Those who are active and engaged on social media are demonstrating their ability to communicate and to influence others, which can be important characteristics for some jobs such as marketing. This leads to the conclusion that it might be useful to be active in social media to give yourself an edge when applying for jobs.
Also the fear of embarrassing incidents from the past being visible on social media and being a major disadvantage in finding employment may reduce over time. We have all had embarrassing episodes in our past, but until recently they have only been seen by a few people. Yet the younger generation are growing up with a more open idea of what can or should be shared. In a few years, those hiring may well think it as normal that the embarrassing incidents can be viewed online as we now think it is normal that they happened at all.
So instead of telling people to beware of their social media profile and to keep it low, we should be telling people to be aware of their profile and raise it in the right way
I have just read an article by Melonie Gallegos in iMedia Connection on “9 social media questions you’re afraid to ask”. There are lots of good points in it, but one thing that I disagree with in the “What if I don’t have the resources to do it?” section. Melonie talks about what to do if there is not enough resource in the marketing department to undertake social media. She suggests seeking out geeks in the organisation and recruiting them to help, while I say – don’t search out the geeks to help you, search out the communicators!
Geeks love technology but they are often some of the worst people at communicating. On the other hand there are lots of people in most organisations who are already great communicators. They may be anyone from receptionists to project managers to HR specialists but they will stand out because you can see how well they engage people offline. It is far easier to train them in social media than it is to train most geeks to engage the people with whom they have online discussions.
Natural communicators can be given some brief instructions on the use of social media if necessary, but they are probably Facebook savvy anyway. Also they will need some guidance on brand guidelines of what to say and what not to say about the company. Then you can give them the opportunity to engage with customers, prospects, suppliers and anyone else who is communicating with the company on social media.
One other thing that they will need, as will anyone who uses social media on behalf of an organisation – the channel to be able to pass on key feedback, suggestions,questions and complaints to the appropriate department and the authority to ensure they receive answers which they can pass on. Social media is worse that useless, it is counter-productive, if input from received is not acknowledged and answered in a reasonable and timely manner.
Organisations have untapped talent in different departments that can be channeled to provide great resources for effective social media.
I have not blogged recently because I have been very busy building a new website for the AIB (Association for International Broadcasting) alongside defining and starting to implement an associated social media campaign. But I realise that I have a lot to say about my experiences of with website and social media tools.
The new website, www.theaibs.tv, is designed to highlight the AIB’s international media excellence awards – The 2010 AIBs. The awards are for those in the broadcasting industry : content producers, broadcasting companies, transmission companies, technology providers and others in associated fields.
The idea for a separate website came about only just over a month ago and it needed to be in place for the launch of entries for the awards on the 12th April, so tools that allowed rapid development were vital. There were also limited resources and budget so it seemed an ideal opportunity to try out the seeemingly rich possibilities available with open source software.
I decided to use WordPress for the website, having played around with it a little beforehand. It may seem ironic to use WordPress which is a rival to Blogger, where this blog (currently) resides but WordPress has a few real advantages : firstly, althought it is a blogging platform by origin, it allows you to create a whole series of linked pages, including those without any comments (static pages), so that you can set up a proper website structure; secondly, it has a vibrant community of developers who offer thousands of plugins, widgets and other tools which add to the basic features a vast range of simple and sophisticated add-ons (including different visual appearances, SEO optimisation, links to social media to name just a few); and thirdly, WordPress can be run on your own website and is supported as standard by many hosting companies.
It took a lot of effort, but the site was up and running on time and is being constantly updated. Now I am reasonably technical (I used to do programming 30 years ago) but I think anyone with a modest technical capability could manage the same as I did. To start with, I bought the book WordPress for Dummies by Lisa Sabin-Wilson. I did not read it all but as I started using WordPress, I dipped into it to understand particular concepts or for tips on how to make the best use of certain features. I still do use it and can recommend it.
A basic WordPress site is easily recognised by the format of the pages (top title block, right or left hand column with list of entries, categories, favourite blogs, links etc). But there are thousands of “themes” available, which provide different visual identities that you can apply to your site. I chose the Sliding Doors theme by Wayne Connor because I really like the way the images expand to show the menu option chosen. Since installing it, I have found that I will need to do some more work to show sub-menu options in an attractive way. That is on my to-do list.
The last add-on that I want to talk about at the moment, is cForms II which is a powerful plugin that allows you to design forms for site visitors to fill in. It is very powerful but be aware that it takes some time to master. Currently I have a simple form on the website homepage for visitors to register for further news. But I plan to have more complicated forms for registration particularly for the People’s Choice award and to gather feedback.
The People’s Choice award will be decided by votes from those viewing online shortlisted programmes on the subject of Climate Change. Between now and September, the challenge is to build up an audience of tens of thousands who are interested and will vote. This is where the social media campaign is planned and starting to take effect. I will talk more about other WordPress tools and the social media ones in future posts.