Social Media is not a strategy, its a venue for marketers …

Published in Ad Age, Wed 15 June, 2011

Barely a day goes past when social media doesn’t grab a headline.

Marketers eager to join the social-media surge have been challenging their agencies to rethink how they communicate their brands in this more participative and transparent landscape. A lot of clients often ask, “What should my social-media strategy be?”

I think it’s a mistake to think of social media this way.

Social media is not a strategy.

Social media is a venue for marketers … a set of technologies or tactics that enable us to elevate and amplify brands and their marketing communications.

The question shouldn’t be, “What’s our social-media strategy?” but, “What do I need to do to make my brand more social?” Or specifically for agency planners, “What can we do to make this TV work, print campaign or offer more social?”

Social media may be the channel du jour, but the message and the mechanics of how it’s deployed are the things that really count.

The DellOutlet Twitter feed became a poster child for Twitter’s potential impact, earning accolades by generating $6.5 million in revenue for Dell. But surely that success boils down to the product offers in the feed. Twitter was just the medium that carried those messages.

The fabulous Old Spice work featuring Isaiah Mustafa was built on a foundation established by an exceptional piece of creative, work that Weiden & Kennedy then very skillfully augmented through social-media channels.

Take two high profile brands that have been particularly active in social media: Charlie Sheen and Ashton Kutcher. You could argue both essentially have the same strategy when it comes to social media. It goes something like this:

  • Get a following on Twitter.
  • Interact and engage directly with fans.
  • Create buzz and conversation.

But there’s only one brand here that’s #winning. And it isn’t Charlie Sheen! Just adding followers or driving buzz doesn’t qualify as success, however often the brand marketing world uses just those metrics to try gauging effectiveness. Getting the overall brand messaging and communication strategy right, rather than jumping straight to social-media tactics, is what’s going to bring success.

Another lesson we can learn from Ashton Kutcher is that he isn’t just tweeting his brand. He is incredibly active across multiple media channels, whether he is being interviewed on Leno, featured on the cover of Men’s Fitness or making a live appearance at CBS’s upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall. After Charlie Sheen’s road show ended, in contrast, so did a lot of the talk about Charlie Sheen. For most brands, having a presence in social media alone isn’t sufficient. There are too many one-off social-media marketing campaigns that, although highly creative, fail to connect or drive the broader brand communications platform.

Social media needs to be embedded into all parts of the marketing mix as part of a single, integrated brand effort. Every agency — creative, media, digital, public relations and customer-relationship management — needs to grab this opportunity and take responsibility for socializing the brand. Social shouldn’t sit at one agency or indeed operate as a separate strategy on its own.

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10 Biggest Social Media Mistakes

Drew Neisser, CEO and Founder of Renegade, a social media agency wrote this superb and very current piece for MediaPost Marketing Daily …  the full article can be found on this link.

Here is a summary of the 10 key points.  All of them are spot on.

#1 Thinking of social as just another media channel
Media channels like TV, cable or otherwise, deliver a monologue, in which advertisers shout with the hope of being heard. Social media is a conversation in which the brand must first listen and then offer something of value in order to gain an invitation to interact. It’s about listening really carefully and responding with equal regard.

#2 Leaving social media to the “twinterns”
“When did it become okay to just give anyone off the street the keys to one of the most important assets you have … your brand!”
The risks of this approach have become readily apparent. Nestle, a brand that has come under repeated attack by activist groups like Greenpeace, only made matters worse when junior staffers responded flippantly to negative posts on its Facebook Wall.
#3 Ready, fire, aim
Like boxing, social media looks pretty simple to the untrained eye, but who among you would dare jump into the ring without a lot of preparation and, better yet, a real plan of attack? In social media, preparation is essential to avoiding an accidental knockout. Brands must commit significant resources, and equally important, have a process in place for managing customer interactions, establishing an escalation policy when complaints arise.

#4 Don’t define success
Ironically, defining success in social media isn’t all that hard, especially when put into the context of the overall business goals. Boiling this down to basics, every business needs to do two things to survive, acquire customers and retain them. And typically, the better you are at retaining customers, the easier it is to acquire new ones. Well, sure enough, social media can do both of these things in highly measurable ways. (These are not the only uses for social, but these are the ones the c-suite cares about the most.)

#5 Isolate in one department
Bonin Bough of PepsiCo explained at a recent conference, “It’s not about ownership, it’s about leadership.” To be successful, social media initiatives need to be led by an individual or team of individuals that can rise above a particular department and then tap into all the requisite disciplines, including IT.
Twelpforce, the groundbreaking Twitter-based help desk from Best Buy, provides a great example of how these cross-disciplined programs can come into being. Originated in the marketing department, the Twelpforce application was coded by an internal IT team. The Twelpforce itself is made up of 2,600 Best Buy employees from all over the company, including customer service. In its first year, the Twelpforce responded to over 42,000 customer inquiries at a remarkably low cost-per-interaction and remarkably high c-sat rate.
#6 Ignore social media
Ignoring social media for whatever reason simply won’t cut it. Doing so means the conversation is happening without you, eliminating your opportunity to respond to the negative, reinforce the positive and or close the door to a competitor who is more socially adept. If you are afraid your customers will say bad things, you’re probably right but rather than turning a blind eye, engage your detractors with honesty and fix the problems.

#7 Limit employee access at work
The simple truth is that companies that want to make the most of social media need to have a lot of social people across just about every department. The benefits of this open approach are far reaching, allowing the organization as a whole to cast a broader net to catch fresh ideas, important trends, hidden prospects and even future employees.
One company that has benefited from this open approach is the behemoth IBM. Realizing a few years ago that their clients hire IBM because of IBMers, they made an all-out push to become a social business. Presently, IBM has over 30,000 employees on Twitter, over 200,000 on Facebook, over 200,000 on LinkedIn and over 35,000 bloggers. Add these to internal networks and a 75,000 strong community of ex-IBMers and you’ve got a massive community that creates and shares content with unrivaled speed and agility.
#8 Selling too hard
Keep in mind that 50% of the people who “like” or “follow” a brand, do so because they hope to get beneficial information or offers. Curate your content carefully, a bit like you might on a first or second date. Once the friendship is secure, feel free to put forth relevant offers. Skittles, in particular, has benefited immensely from an entirely soft sell approach, amassing over 15 million fans on Facebook in the process.
#9 Multiple voices
Perhaps because it is so easy to create content, some marketers feel it is okay to present completely different brand voices even on the same channel. A smarter approach is to establish your brand point-of-view upfront and to employ the various channels like instruments in an orchestra, creating a harmonious and synergistic effect. Defining what you are for and what you are against, will not only give you direction for execution but also it will give you permission to engage with your consumer on your subjects of mutual interest.

#10 Misalignment of platforms and goals
Dell has been particularly adept at aligning the platforms with specific business goals. Dell’s IdeaStorm.com gathers customer feedback and crowd-sources new product ideas. Recognizing various uses for Twitter, Dell has a variety of accounts including @DellOutlet for deals on refurbished computers and @DellCares for customer support. Dell’s Investor Relations team was among the first to use SlideShare.com, a presentation-sharing site, to present quarterly earnings. And their 24/7 “Social Media Command Center” ensures that customer complaints are heard and addressed regardless of the channel.