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?

BTW you already know how to do it.

Yesterday I wrote about why Social Media marketing is still experimental. BL Ochman pointed out that fear of litigation is hampering adoption of social media as a channel for reaching new customers.

All businesses already use social networking.

There’s a grand irony at work here. All businesses are currently using social networking to reach new customers. They are using it without interference from the legal department and giving employees autonomy to interact with potential customers.

This is exactly how a sales department operates. The most succesful sales people are those who are deeply ingrained in the community into which they are selling. In fact one of the most compelling reasons to hire a sales person is because of their network, the relationships they already have in place.

Businesses already understand the power of social networking and have procedures in place to promote and control it. Maybe adoption is just a case of moving the procedures and attitudes already in place for sales to all departments in the organization.

What business wouldn’t want to increase their salesforce?

Great post on adage.com by B.L. Ochman titled “Social Media Playtime is Over.” B.L. explores why social media marketing seems to be stuck in “experimental” mode.

“Three-quarters of those surveyed who knew their budgets said they allowed for $100,000 or less for social media tools over a 12-month period, according to the report, written by Forrester analyst Jeremiah K. Owyang. And they are not integrating social media into their overall marketing strategy. Instead, they are “experimenting” with isolated tactics and hoping that they will take the place of long-term strategy.”

To me this sounded eerily familiar to the rise of another new channel about 15 years ago. Anyone remember “The Internet”? Obviously there are major differences between the paradigm shift of the internet and social media. However they are similar in their magnitude and disruption to established business practices.

The internet decimated the business models of several industries especially media and music. Where it did not fundamentally affect how product was delivered, it did affect how consumers discovered information and interacted with producers.

Talk with your customers not at them.

Social media is broader based shift. It affects how all producers relate to all consumers not just how product is sold. Social media allows you to talk with your customers not at them. B.L. Ochman makes a great point replying to a question of mine which asked why companies were scared to explore new avenues for reaching consumers.

“Philip – companies are afraid of social media for several reasons: lawyers run the show rather than CMOs, and, since they are not permitted to experiment in a meaningful way, they don’t learn the long-term benefits. It’ll change eventually. But of course by then there will be new tools available for them to be afraid of. :>)

BL OCHMAN | NEW YORK, NY”
The fear of litigation and being “off message” is so powerful that it inhibits experimentation and entrepreneurship. I wonder which group is more detrimental to the flow of the free market? The government in a communist state or the lawyers in a capitalist one?
The other reason companies are scared is that social media demands participation in communtity. This means that companies loose control of their message and how they are perceived in the market. Companies are very wary of loosing control and I think the prospect of true, bi-directional conversation between them and their customers may point out some truths they’d prefer to keep hidden.

Having attended Chattarati’sChattup at The Hunter” last night, I decided to dive deeper into their blog. I noticed that The Hunter Museum are well integrated into social marketing and found this interesting post on the social marketing strategies the The Hunter have implemented.

“The museum launched a blog (which is open to all Hunter staff members) and Twitter account and built interactivity into their new web site. In the physical space, “comment kiosks” in the museum galleries allow visitors the chance to share their personal reactions and responses to featured works. In the future, these in-person responses will also be shared online:

“These in-gallery kiosks will eventually… allow web visitors the same opportunity for asynchronous discussion about works of art and exhibitions.” -Erin Noseworthy”

The Hunter Museum is a small but striking regional art museum in downtown Chattanooga. It’s refreshing to see an organization implement social marketing strategies when there is a tradtional and well tried laurel for them to sit on. It appears that The Hunter have realized that social marketing is a low cost, low risk avenue for driving traffic and visitors to the exhibits.

Social marketing also allows an entity to more easily define a personality than through traditional marketing. The old axiom of “people buy from people, not from companies” hasn’t changed post internet. The great advantage of the Facebook, Twitter and blogs is that it’s much easier and cost effective to define that personality than previous to the rise of social networking.

Just as I wrote about how Lance Crackers responded to the peanut butter recall. The Hunter Museum has taken steps to move their presence from traditional “talk to” advertising into the social media led “talk with” relationship. Great job, I’d love to know how effective their strategies have been. I can tell you that without the Chattarati event last night, all social networking led, I wouldn’t have set foot inside the museum. Now I have I’ll be back. The bottom line is that The Hunter will have at least 1 more paying visitor this year that they didn’t have last year.