I’ve taken the past few weeks to digest all the Social Marketing information that I normally follow. There’s a lot. There’s a lot of opinions, there’s a lot of following an idea because (please insert SM guru of the day) said it. However there’s also a lot of really well thought out, well stated and written theses on how to corral this exploding market and harness it.

Is the SM world flat or round?

A lot of who I read to gain insight on how this market is evolving, stems from my own feelings towards it. I gravitate towards a particular viewpoint that supports how I feel and how I have seen SM work the best. I tend to steer clear of, apart from the occasional glimpse, any conflicting opinions. I’m always open to giving a well rationalized argument it’s due but I tend to avoid the overt sales pitch.

I don’t see this as a problem. The SM world has yet to be defined as flat or round. For all I know it may be both, depending on your community and message. It may be that all viewpoints are valid in the context of their creators, communities and messages.

It may be many things, but it’s not a strategy.

Although I don’t see a polylogue on SM as a bad thing I know it annoys those who wish to include an SM strategy in their business. So, here’s my big idea for the day.

Don’t.

Don’t include it as a strategy, it’s not. SM is far too young to have defined paths of implementation beyond the fundamentals. It has not had time to evolve and coalesce into a 4 hour seminar. This is both fantastic and annoying. It’s fantastic because now is the time to experiment to explore and determine, to quote Mr Rumsfeld, what you know, what you don’t know and what you don’t know you don’t know. It’s annoying because, especially in this climate, getting the leeway for this experimentation is tricky.

It’s fundamental

I read an article last week  quoting the CMO of  Unilever on their decision not to implement an SM strategy. Good for him. A lot of comments were berating this statement as yet another big business not moving with the times. I don’t believe Unilever should implement SM as a strategy I think they should implement it as a new, fundamental avenue to interact with their customers.

Just as you learn any hobby you realize that there are fundamentals to success that if not adhered to will cause failure far before you actually step up to take the shot, climb the hill, swim the lake. SM, at this stage is the same.

The one current theme that flows through all the conversations on this topic is that of building and engaging community. Without community with whom are you going to socially network? Without a social network who are you going to socially market too?

Fundamental step one.

Know your community. Know your customers. Read what they write. Understand how and where they communicate. Without this any attempt at SM  is doomed before it begins. Thankfully knowing your customers better is an easier sell to those who pay the bills. Who wouldn’t want to know their customers better?

What do you think? Is it a strategy or is concentraing on the fundamentals a good first step to implement?

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Twitter’s future.

April 9, 2009

One of the guys I follow on Twitter (sorry forget who) tweeted this article on The Washington Post‘s site re the launch of Twitterpartners.

The service, which launched this week, has 12 ad agency partners already including Unamis and Salesforce and says it is “building a suite of apps, tools and services to help brands, media companies, and celebrities harness the power of the Twitter ecosystem.”

I believe that this is the first, serious, coordinated attempt by existing advertising and media companies to define a structure which uses Twitter as a marketing message delivery vehicle.

The end of the beginning?

I believe that Twitter, and most of the social networking sites haven’t found their stride yet. It’s all well and good having gabillions of users but to generate revenue you have to be able to do something with them. For me that’s always been the fuzzy part of the social networking business model. If you build it, they will come but how do you make money when they do?

So, does the advent of this company mark the end of the beginning of Twitter. Will Twitterpartners model to use Twitter be the step that takes it from noise and chaos and introduces structure which allows it to blossom as a one to may broadcaster?

The beginning of the end?

Or is this the end of Twitter as we know it? Will the imposition of a structred, reproducable response to using Twitter as a marketing channel cause it’s demise?

A double edged sword

People want to communicate, they want to discover and learn. Social networking is a fantastic vehicle for collaboration, learning and making relationships. I don’t think that commercialiasation of the space is a bad thing, in fact I think it should be welcomed and encouraged. I think Twitter needs some more coherency and large organizations using it will help define and foster that coherency.

We don’t need another billboard

Having said that we don’t need another billboard. There are plenty and the the drop in ad placemenets and rates may be indication a saturation point in that particular vehicle.

The penetration of larger organizations, purposefully using Twitter for engaging and building relationships with customers, will only make a great form of communication more useful. However if those larger organizations treat Twitter like another billboard we’ll have to start another one, and keep starting them until the message gets through. We don’t like being talked at, we like talking with you.

The end of the beginning or the beginning of the end? I don’t know yet but I’m interested to see how it turns out. How about you?

Chris Brogan, fast becoming a favorite read on the social media world, posted a thought today that I felt was worth weighing in on.

This is really where it’s at: Twitter isn’t just that site any more, it’s a communications method

Chris’ premise is that the real strength of Twitter is not as a tool but the method of communication it has introduced. For me Twitter has been a tool searching for a purpose for a while now. This is true for most current social media sites but Twitter has shown glimpses of how it could be used. The Hudson River plane crash and coverage of the G20 protesters all showed that Twitter can be used to inform and broadcast as well as converse and publish.

Twitter, the smart pager

As a marketer, Twitter is great for gauging a buzz and researching a topic. It’s great for building a relationship and reading other perspectives. It should be more. It can be more. It seems odd to me that the concept of the pager has been resurrected in Twitter. Twitter could easily install tools which allowed different streams of Tweets to be viewed and organized in one user acct. Each stream could serve a different purpose and allow one to many broadcasting or paging.

So, here’s a few random things that I’d like to see Twitter used for.

  • Bus arrival and wait times
  • Parking space availability
  • Emergency weather alerts
  • Tickets on sale for Elbow gigs

There are many more, I’m already getting cycling commentary and results from Europe. Chattanooga has a vibrant social media network which uses Twitter to broadcast, comment and organize.

Yeah I can find it, but I want it delivered

I realize that all of this information is available on the web already but I have to look for it. The Twitter concept of a one to many broadcaster delivers it to me in one place. It’s beginning, but my gut feeling is that Twitter hasn’t found it’s sweet spot yet. I can’t wait ’til it does.

Building relationships takes time, are you willing to put in the effort?

Chris Brogan had a great post today. That’s not a surprise, Chris has pretty good posts everyday. Today’s post was about “promoting-without being that guy“. The basic tenet of his post was that the most effective communication happens after relationship has been built.

After reading the post my nagging thought was, who has the time? Or, probably more accurately, whose boss will give them the time? Social media is all about the relationship which is fine because people buy from people but it takes the time to build the relationship.

Are our expectations skewed?

I think marketers approach business relationships with a different set of expectations than personal ones. The expectation with personal relationships is that they are long term, will take time to develop and require work and effort. The expectation of most business relationships is that they are short term and disposable.

Business is just not set up for nurturing long term growth.

Yeah I know everyone will say it is, but it isn’t. They will argue that focused short term growth leads to continued long term growth and it does but at what cost in finding new business? If you look at the most successful sales guys you know. I bet most of them have been in the same industry or geography for a long time. They have built the relationships that keep rewarding them.

My experience

I was a territory manager for over 3 years selling AV product for Techrep Marketing. When I started I didn’t know the dealer base, I had no relationship. I spent the first year getting to know my dealers and how they operated. I didn’t try to sell them anything. I made sure that they knew that they could depend on me to show up when I said I would, know the answer or get the answer and sort out their problems.

1 Year, 365 days, of not trying to sell them anything. The way in which Techrep is set up in terms of philosophy and leadership from the owners, compensation and autonomy allowed me the time to build the relationship. I know I would not have had that environment at other companies in my industry and I know my sales would not have increased as much as they did.

Most businesses do not have the patience

Most businesses, due to the myopic quarter by quarter time frames they operate under, do not have the patience or the leeway to allow a social media strategy to grow and evolve. Techrep did and I nearly tripled annual revenues in 3 years.

Social media is a vital and fundamental movement in helping businesses relate to consumers. Those looking to build a succesful relationship with their customers need to take the time to build it. Businesses looking for a quick fix will be sorely disappointed.

How to hear the song in the noise.

So, social media is officially buzzy. All kinds of people will throw all kinds of acronyms, synonyms, analogies and stuff they heard someone say that sounded right at you. In all this noise how do hear your consumers singing?

Identify and follow

An established organization should have a pretty good idea who their customer is. If so, you’ve got a great start point in integrating social media into your marketing outreach. If not then you have a deeper issue and I recommend you go find out. Now.

Identify

Define a set of key search words which can be used as a benchmark for research on your industry. Do the same for your organization and how you wish to classify the results. Plug these search terms into Google, Perspctv, Technorati and see what comes up. To re-hash Lord Leverhulme, do it often and never neglect to do it.

Every day would be a minimum until you get an idea of the pulse of how your industry interacts with social media. A quick glance over the sites that pop up will be enough to decide whether they’re a legitimate result or not. As these sites, blogs and outlets are identified use Delicious to archive them. Rinse and repeat.

After a short period of time and reinforced by your stack of Delicious tags you will begin to notice patterns. The same blogger names will keep popping up, or the same sites, or the same quotes from the same source.

Follow

As a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of how your target interacts in this world, follow them. Make time to follow the bloggers you have identified, read their work, understand their perspective. Remember social media is all about them and not about you. The definition of your brand is where your message meets your customers perception.

How your message is being perceived is probably the most useful side effect of engaging in social media. It provides perspective on how your message is doing, for better or worse. As you get to know those who are commentating on what it is that your company does entry points for interaction will appear (more on that later).

Identify and follow. To quote Radiohead “Karma police, arrest this man. He buzzes like a fridge. He’s like a detuned radio”. Trying to find your consumers singing in the noise of social media is like listening to a detunes radio, hopefully you now know where the tuner dial is.

You are not in control, get over it.

My first post in this series focused on looking past social media as a one stop solution for deeper engagement with consumers. This post focuses on why social networking requires constant engagement.

It’s all still so fluid.

All social networking sites are constantly adding and removing features attempting to do the same as you, engage better with their audience. As well as the networks changing, users reactions to the networks are changing. In the same way as you engage your target audience the tools they use and react to will change over time and message.

This is a huge shift from web 1.0 where a website was published and updated by the publisher when there was new product or announcements. Compared to web 2.o web 1.0 is very static and is controlled by the the publisher. The joy and frustration of using web 2.0 to engage consumers is that it’s always changing. What worked for a message last week will probably, but not necessarily work this week. In other words it’s not static and you don’t control it.

Social media requires a total shift in perspective of how marketers should view their target market. In the past most of your target market read a few select publications and attended a few select events. They were easy to find, define and track. They were also easy to engage. Now they are spread and not where you left them. Like toddlers they are off exploring the new world (there’s an analogy that’s going to get me into trouble).

Successful adoption of social media requires keeping your finger on the pulse of the media itself and your target at all times. Thankfully this is not difficult, just time consuming. There are many, useful tools and avenues for obtaining and cataloging this information.

Remember, with social media you are not in control, get over it.