Friday, August 28, 2009

Why “Social” is the Most Important Part of Social Media Marketing

Why It's Vital to Put Your Best People Forward

I am getting a lot of calls from businesses today about social media marketing. The gist of these conversations is usually: “I need to get some of that social media.” And many of these conversations conclude with “But I don’t have the people to put into it.”

My advice: then you should forget it.

That may sound a bit unilateral, but for the most part it’s sound advice. Because the “social” part of “social media marketing” – people – is the most important part.

Ok, there are some exceptions. For example, we’ve seen Dell sell millions of dollars of its products over Twitter, by simply posting what’s on sale. Food trucks are boosting their sales by using Twitter to advertise their locations, and retailers are using Twitter to clear out excess inventory. Arguably, the amount of “sosh” (social interactions and content) that goes into these sales-oriented programs is minimal: the value to the customer lies in the price, the timeliness, and the location. (Although I would also argue that if companies are just pushing out products and not taking advantage of the ability to have a two-way conversation with the people they sell to, they are missing an important business opportunity.)

But for most programs the true value will be in the “sosh.” And “sosh” equals people. Their expertise and their knowledge. Their personalities. Their familiarity with your products and your customers’ problems, and their pride in helping solve those problems. Their enthusiasm and their ability to converse on behalf of the business.

These factors are what will make you a valuable resource to customers and prospects, and someone they want to do business with.

Some of the businesses who call me want to outsource their social media – in other words, check it off their marcom to-do lists.

But if this describes you, ask yourself: are you really ready to delegate your newfound, highly interactive and content-rich conversation with your customers to someone outside your company? As my colleague Greg Jarboe of SEO-PR says of “outsourcing” your social media strategy: “Do you want to create opinion leaders who aren’t internal subject matter experts? That's like shipping weapons to the Mujahideen. Yes, they may use them to fight the Russians now, but they can also use them to fight us later.”

If you’re really struggling with manpower, look for creative ways to staff your program. For example:

There may be people inside your product organization (beyond the official product managers) who are already blogging or engaging in social media. Can you draft and train them?

Could you create an employee blog, but empower your Corporate Communications team to review content from hundreds of employees before it is posted – as Southwest Airlines did successfully with Nuts About Southwest?

Could you empower current students to answer questions from prospective students like the Wharton School has done in the Student2Student forum on the MBA Admission Blog?

For some other examples of creative staffing of social media programs, see my previous posts: “Bringing Brand Image to Life through Social Media Marketing" and “Does Social Media Work for B2B Companies?”

Social media marketing can be an invaluable strategy for most businesses. But it requires a social commitment, and that means people. It requires time to create compelling content and create a living, three-dimensional brand. Taking a checklist approach to this challenge is a sure path to lackluster results or even failure.

1 comment:

  1. Great points and excellent examples. Social media is too often a checklist item, as if using the media itself is enough. The Internet is too crowded for that to work any more. In order to get real value from social media, you have to work hard at it and be ready to spend some money, because unless you're remarkable, you're invisible.