Thursday, May 14, 2009

Moving the Needle on the Social Media Discussion

Beth Harte’s and Dan Keeney’s respective blogs got me thinking yesterday about how we discuss social media as a tool. Dan commented on Beth’s recent presentation to the Ft. Worth PRSA by saying that while valuable it wasn’t necessarily new. As a caveat let me say that Dan has made it clear he meant no disrespect, and if I understand correctly Beth took none. But it did make me wonder if we are in a rut when it comes to discussing social media. I must say that I echo Dan’s sentiment when I read many a blog topic about social media. We still seem to be pandering to (and this time it is I who mean no disrespect) the lowest common denominator—those folks, whether employers or clients or friends, who are either unaware of social media or are aware but know nothing of the tools. I think that many of us are still in outreach mode trying to make converts of everyone.

I propose, though, that it is time to elevate the discussion beyond the usual platitudes, i.e. “Your customers are using social media—are you ready?” Social media is nothing new, either philosophically (as Beth points out) or practically. The tools exist. I say let’s start discussing their use in more specifics and let the late adopters find their way on their own, or learn from our example.

Having said that, what is it that will move the needle on the SM discussion? I don’t know for sure, but I have some ideas:
  • We need to start discussing or speculating about social media usage in very particular applications. For instance, I’m a big fan of Stephanie Holland and her She-conomy blog about marketing to women. I’d love to hear specific ideas for targeting them via social media. Stephanie has made a case at a 30,000-foot level for the value of social media marketing to women. I get it—I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. Now let’s talk specifics. Twitter? Facebook? FriendFeed? SMS? Does one work better than the others when targeting women? Under what circumstances? Do particular age groups respond better to one tool over another? We may not have the answers now, but none of us can even try to use SM as a marketing tool without some kind of specific strategy. We need to share case studies of what works and speculate on what might work when we don’t know, so that we can go out and try it for ourselves.
  • The SM landscape is huge, and ever shifting. We’ve got blogs and microblogs, social media networking sites, social bookmarking sites, lifecasting, wikis, etc. We need to start talking about how they can or should work together as part of a marketing plan. There will always be linkages we can’t control, but when laying out a framework for guiding customer discussions or adding value to their experience of our brand, I need to understand where to send them and when. For instance, I personally blog and tweet, and I'm on Facebook and LinkedIn. A few weeks ago I saw some folks on Twitter discussing FriendFeed. Some of my friends are on BrightKite. All of these tools have value from a marketing perspective. Now how do we make them work together?
  • Part of the challenge of social media for marketers and executives is the conversational aspect. Many old-schoolers may be comfortable with face-to-face conversation but uncomfortable in a SM atmosphere. I say let’s help them by offering up examples of SM conversation. If you find yourself talking to a customer on Twitter, what do you say? When should you say it? How often should you say it? If you’re on Facebook, Ms. CFO, and a potential client contacts you about your company’s products or services, what do you say or do? Let’s take some of the mystery out of it by providing concrete examples for all of us to follow. I imaging the first users of the telephone were intimidated by the tool until they saw someone else use it and then tried it successfully. Let’s provide that example for social media.
I have other ideas, but this isn’t just about me. We all need to weigh in on this topic. For me, it kinda boils down to discussing SM “recipes.” If you are in Situation A, and you’re trying to achieve Goal B by addressing Audience C, why not try to use Social Media Tool D and reinforce the message with Social Media Tool E while running Traditional Media F?

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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