This is a provocative post that challenges current movements in what some call social advocacy or social employees. Before deciding whether I take one direction or another, take a look at the post for yourself!
The crux of my argument is that the objective for social media has changed dramatically… from “being there” or broadcasting news… to engaging audiences. Because of this, the skills for successful social media marketing are new, complex and hard to find. The outcome is that much of social media marketing is flat… the majority of executives feel their social programs are underperforming and top analysts describe them as “islands” or fostering “anarchy”.
This post examines the new requirements, the skills that social media marketers need to have if a business really wants to increase their social engagement.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
I remember reading a book many years ago, I believe it was published somewhere within Stanford University. The book was about problem solving. It’s probably been 25 years since reading it but two things remain a part of my approach to life:
Identify the problem before you start trying to solve it. One of the keys here is that most people try to solve symptoms of the problem and not the problem itself. If you have a headache you take an aspirin, right? How about stopping what started the headache? Maybe you need new glasses, you’re a bit dehydrated or your hat is too tight. Sure, take an aspirin too but don’t expect it to make a new pair of glasses suddenly appear. In business I see this all the time. I think there’s a related effect here… in an earlier blog entry, “Don’t confuse confidence with competence or education with experience“, overly confident people assume to be too smart to not get the problem at hand and charge a company to go in the wrong direction.
There was a great story about the process of trying to build a machine delicate enough to pick tomatoes. Long story short, the problem was the tomato… after spending years and millions, some of the original machinery would have sufficed… they grew a hybrid tomato that had a more resilient skin.
Back to Albert’s quote… brilliance, simplicity. My lesson learned today… if my current trajectory becomes problematic, I need to stop and reconsider how I got to this point. Identify the root cause of the problem and then reshape how I came to the conclusions that caused it… think differently.
Your target audience IS your target audience, regardless of where you come upon them. The key to this series of blog entries is that a marketing strategy needs to be your marketing strategy. Tactical plans should feed into that. Digital and social plans need to connect to the larger marketing activity. Sure, this sounds obvious, but is it really? I constantly hear people talking about their organizations’ digital marketing strategy, with no mention of overall marketing strategy. It’s as if the digital marketing strategy is the strategy. This is where we disagree.
Back to social media. Forrester describes the current state of enterprise class social media programs as producing “islands”. Altimeter identified some 74% of these same organizations producing “social anarchy”. Both indicate that social media programs are already headed in the wrong direction. The enterprise is particularly tricky, a dozen different functional organizations are hiring dedicated headcount, making connection or alignment of approach nearly impossible; meanwhile, none of the activities are attaching themselves to the larger marketing initiatives.
Making social media more difficult than digital, social is really an enterprise-wide necessity. Outside the marketing objectives of awareness and engagement, social activity is growing in importance for less obvious functional areas of todays’ company: HR needs to use social to connect with candidates, product teams need market feedback, and sales teams need to demonstrate competence and listen, to name a few.
To wrap this up, social media needs to be an intrinsic part of your marketing strategy, not a separate, disconnected plan. When done properly, your social program will:
Provide a centralized enablement function across the enterprise – approach, tools, metrics, sharing of best practices.
Provide a customer experience that’s consistent with the rest of the enterprise.
Increase efficiency / reduce waste of resources, avoiding duplicate tools and roles.
Increase coordination and communication across functional business areas.
And, increase the likelihood of producing greater outcomes and accountability.
The unfortunate truth is that most people reading this will think that I’m referring to a white paper or an article. Not really. It may, but content is really used here in the context of the information you’re trying to deliver to your audience. There are many styles and a growing number of formats, but the point is to add value to the life of your audience. The good news is that many people already see this and understand that the objective is now placed on the audience and not you.
I believe the best marketers really try to find those intersections where audience value aligns with company value. Bingo!
The reality is that what a brand says to their audience (content) is equally important as how they say it (creative) and both are probably more important than where it is said (channel). I understand that creative people are going to argue that the big ideas are paramount. I don’t disagree. I’m merely saying that what you say is equally as important. Also, I always hear mobile experts saying that you need to use more mobile, and similar from social media folks. Maybe.
Why do I feel this is the case? The role consumers play in the process of buying has literally done a 180. Consumers, really buyers in generally, now operate as a filter of information… just 15 years ago they struggled to find information. Their hurdle for what constitutes good information, content, has been rising steadily for the last decade. Evidence the erosion of media effectiveness, banner blindness, or whatever you want to call it. The days of interrupting people to tell them your message, expecting them to grant you the permission to even pay a small amount of attention, is just gone.
These observations come from an insiders perspective: Over the last 4 years I’ve led a global social program for a F1000 company, building it to a Kred Top 5% influencer; and over the last 3 months I’ve been digging into the social media technology space, deeply. One thing that’s become increasingly apparent to me is the gap in application of marketing principles to this channel, social.
Some examples, if you have more please share them –
Listen / respond – listening is a necessary part of a social program but playing a reactionary role, responding, just isn’t sufficient. This innovation is directly parallel to the earliest days of email… companies acquiring funding and perceived as “cool” were “listen and respond” in nature, customer service tools often… Kana, Right Technologies, etc. After the lusty glow of funding waned, we saw a different breed of email player become valued, email marketing. These companies built value based upon engagement using marketing principles. We’ve seen a couple of huge exits recently… Responsys to Oracle this month for $1.5B and ExactTarget to Salesforce.com for $2.5B earlier in the year. Yes, those numbers are with a “B”.
Amplification – several companies are gaining funding and excitement in this category. While spreading the word is a good objective, more people shouting the same thing in the social channel isn’t necessarily better. In many cases it’s a bad thing, antithetical to your audiences perceptions and needs. A perfect example of amplification occurred this Fall when hundreds of socially activated employees tweeted the same mea cupla apology… insult to injury, their audience realized the utter tone deafness of this social program. For generations marketers have known that shouting the same message to their database is a flawed idea. Using the email example again, it’s like a marketer hammering their database with each and every message they feel a need to send. Spray and pray. The first step in alienating an audience.
The social media technology category is new, we evaluate it from a pretty low level of maturity. I guarantee we’ll read todays analyst reports and trade articles in a few years and realize this. Some takeaways I’ve gathered…
Marketers need to start using the social channel as a proactive means to engage specific audiences. While listening is important and responding to on target conversations or mentions is critical, it’s a strong customer service approach but a very incomplete marketing strategy. Reactive response will never scale and by definition puts you in touch with people who are further down the road of discovery than you would naturally like to find.
Paid media on social sites is the first phase of outbound, proactive marketing in the social channel. While “paid” media is an important part of the marketing mix, there are critical counterparts… “earned” and “owned”. I could argue endlessly that paid media on social sites is different than true publisher sites, I believe the value exchange is very different, let’s suffice to say that marketers need to increase their capabilities in this proactive, outbound objective.
People use social channels to find and share good ideas (from a commercial perspective, a good example is researching high consideration purchases). Your shared ideas need to have value to your audiences and the topics they are interested in discussing. This means that the 82nd retweet of your press release may not be a good thing. I understand that 1st party content creation is a tough business, so how about finding new sources of ideas to share? I’ve had tremendous success sharing articles written by others, where the point of view aligns with the core differentiating principles I’m trying to espouse. Find those validating 3rd party references and promote your position without actually appearing to promote… yes, provide value and people will engage.
Segment your audiences and find them in social channels. Properties, groups, pages, and hashtags are good examples of targeting mechanisms. Once you know who you’re trying to target, determine what they’re interested in and where you can find them. Marketing 101, right?
Amplify your outbound messages to the specific segments, audiences, who will be most interested… and only them. More messages, blasting like a shotgun, are just antithetical to any known marketing principle. Stated in a more plain sense… apply your sharable ideas to the people who are apt to be most interested and you’ll gather engagement… do the opposite and you’ll piss them off.
Tech firms that place the words “social” and “marketing” in their positioning statement don’t necessarily provide marketing solutions for the social channel. Often times these are lines of code looking for a buyer. Even if a lot of venture money is flowing towards the category, it doesn’t mean that the objective of the technology is even reasonable… from a marketing perspective. What happened to virtual worlds? A few years ago they were going to change the world. Hmmm…
The last 15 years of marketing innovation are indelibly etched in history, yet the prior 30 years set the groundwork for why this all makes sense. Mass marketing strategies that drove tremendous advertising growth in the 60’s and 70’s gave way to targeted audience based concepts by the late 80’s. Around this time marketers crowded consumer choice, proliferating brands and even non-brands, in an environment where consumers already faced tremendous friction in their ability to gather information for evaluation and purchase.
Then in the early 90’s we all partook in the greatest, most timely invention of all, the Internet.
More than a new technology or a new advertising channel, the Internet cast a milestone that marks the shift in consumer objectives forevermore; from acquiring information to filtering information and increasingly creating information. This consumer shift is the primary wedge inserted to marketing and advertising, especially for brands that have yet to realize this change; exacerbated by waning consumer response rates, many brands have upped the ante by driving even more impressions, using new technologies to drive efficiency and reach.
More than a retro-futuristic steampunk story, if we were to sit down and examine what’s available would we again build the rigidly siloed marketing systems of today? Of course not. Marketing starts with audiences and objectives, not channels and data siloes. In a sense, I’m advocating a righting of the marketing equation, placing the consumer rather than channels as the primary concern. Viewing the equation from the this dimension, we eliminate complexity and increase targeting accuracy, experiential consistency and measurement accuracy.
I’ve known folks at Digiday for a year or so but had the distinct pleasure of meeting Brian for the first time last week at IAB. Yeah, it’s nice to put names and faces together so that meeting probably grabbed my attention when I saw the email come in, but his coverage of this research really hit a note with me.
For all of the column inches of text covering “shiny bobbles” like the latest social media tip or mobile ad feature, what marketers really want is:
Integrated marketing 50%
Building strong brands
Top marketers are focused on delivering strong data-driven customer experiences and shareholder value… What a breath of fresh air!
Quick thought… how frequently do you hear people talk about a 360 degree view of the customer? How frequently are the same people referring to a core marketing database that is exclusively offline OR online in its capabilities? This is a clear indicator of the actual range of their customer centricity.
Historically, the marketing database held insight about customers and prospects and aggregated information from many offline channels… telemarketing, POS, customer service, direct mail, and others. 15 years ago, that was pretty close to a 360 degree view. However, since the advent of digital communications channels, more and more insight has been outside the view of these assets… rendering them less valuable and perceptually obsolete. Today, with about 42% of media impressions being in digital channels, this historical vision has now shrunk to about a 208 degree view, and, promises to continue shrinking.
Contrasting this, all too often I see industry luminaries extole the benefits of a 360 degree view of the customer and refer to a solely digital solution… Yeah, that’s actually only a 151 degree view. Even a less accurate view of the customer, and typically with far more remdial concepts of marketing data and predictive analytics.
What does this all mean? Customer centricity will be illusive until online and offlinemarketers start sharing data and tools… communicating towards the same objectives. The traditional direct marketing folks have assets that digital marketers would be floored if they understood; Predictive analytics, record matching, cross channel campaign tools and more. However, the people who manage them frequently do not see the path to actioning these assets in the new world. Meanwhile, digital marketers are trying to build things that already exist and their vision is limited in scope, never actually seeing the 360 degree view of the customer.
In a blog entry last March, Is Social Media a Consumer Haven or Marketing Channel?, I discussed the disconnect in value exchange between social properties and their consumers. I went so far as to identify the pressure Facebook will feel when they become subject to quarterly earnings expectations after their IPO, and hypothesized the situation where they will increase the exposure of personal information to encourage marketers to spend with them. Well… the game is getting started…
Today, Digiday featured the article “Brand View: Facebook’s New Targeting Options” and identified new elements of consumer data that will be available for marketers to leverage. I’m a firm believer in data driven marketing, this blog entry is not a comment about that. Rather, I point back to my initial conjecture that Facebook will do this and emphasize that this action will end up making no sense to consumers. Opposed to content rich sites like Yahoo or Microsoft properties, Facebook has no content, consumers create all of it but don’t yet recognize that it is their content and their profile are being monetized.
Mark my words… within three years, we’ll either see a Facebook with a dramatically new approach to monetizing their platform or a dramatically smaller company. Maybe both.
I’ll admit it… I’m in my 15th year of digital marketing, wrapped inside a 28 year career of marketing. While this can make me sound like an old fart, I realized quite a while ago that I no longer think in digital terms… I apply digital concepts, tactics and measurement to marketing strategy.
More than parsing words too closely, this goes to the core of all multichannel marketing and consumer centric strategies. Thinking in terms of channel based strategies, a.k.a. digital marketing strategies, is antithetical to success. Your target audience IS your target audience, regardless of where they come upon you.
Consider the rage of discussion around data management platforms, real time bidding and web recommendation tools. Across the board, all value the input of digital signals to try to deliver better or more efficient digital media. Is this the right answer? Last time I researched the area of media consumption, I found that consumers amass about 42% of their media impressions through digital channels.
If you still believe in the “digital marketing strategy”, today’s best practice, consider that you’re looking at less than half of your cutsomer engagement to deliver less than half of their impression of your brand. How does that align to the other 58% of media impressions? How do you control consistency between those impressions?
Hope you get the point. Start thinking about your marketing strategy, and how digital signals and media can help achieve your objectives. The world is turning increasingly digital, but until you make this shift, or until 100% of your audiences impressions are digital we’ll never see an alignment between the digital marketing strategy and overall marketing stratetgy… we’ll never see true consumer centric marketing or true customer engagement.