So there’s a lot of buzz about social media. Everyone’s Twittering, poking each other, LinkingIn and gathering around the water cooler to talk about Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin – not because they watched it on SNL live, but from the NBC.com videos everyone watched in the office that morning. Facebook lets you write on “walls” with a crayon for the first time since you were three. But is there anything really new here?
Unquestionably, new technologies are at play. It may help to take stock of what comprises the vast range of activities known as “social media”:
- Social networks like Facebook, MySpace and LiveJournal all help connect groups of like-minded people.
- User-driven content services have exploded: blogs, chat rooms and discussion threads. Podcasting allows everyone to host their own radio show.
- Image sharing – e.g., YouTube for videos, Flickr for pictures.
But, a question begging to be asked: which came first, the behaviour or the technology? Did the emergence of Facebook turn us into community-driven creatures? Does YouTube drive us to be directors and actors in our spare time? The answer is no.
Old behaviours plus new technologies. What’s all the fuss? Two things: accentuation and acceleration.
Accentuation – New technologies & services intensify behaviours that have always existed. As marketers and communicators, we’re interested in them now because we can measure them. How many people are on Facebook and what are they doing? We can now aggregate individual behaviour and market to both individuals and groups.
But beyond measuring activity online, you can now easily structure latent human behaviours (connecting, gossiping, socializing, sharing and creating). If you want to structure a group of like-minded University of Edinburgh alumni – it’s much easier than ever before.
Acceleration – The technology allows the behaviours to happen with more velocity. Word of fingers travels like wildfire, instantly traversing the globe, communities and individuals’ radars. It’s faster than ever, and the viral possibilities of messages and information moving through communities are stunning.
So what should marketers do?
In a nutshell: stay focused on the fundamentals of good marketing (you don’t want to accentuate bad communications), and work harder to reap the benefits of the velocity (nothing about interactive marketing is for the lazy marketer).
The fundamentals. Organizations, businesses and corporations are now using these tools to spread their message. And so they should – they’re powerful, economical and provide measurable ROI. But there’s lots of bad, trivial and superficial stuff out there. So here’s a list of marketing fundamentals that need to be front and centre in your social media strategy:
a. It’s not about you – it’s about your customer. (Always has been, by the way.) Grassroots ownership of concepts is more powerful (or accentuated) than ever. Don’t lead a top-down dialogue.
b. Embrace the truth and feedback you hear from the community; don’t be scared of it. It’s hard work to actually know, with certainty, how you’re perceived, but at least now you have a real-time chance to manage/change it. You can’t live with your head in the sand forever.
c. Bring the best of your offer to the community – products, services, knowledge, connections. If your strategy focuses on these core benefits it will be meaningful and sustainable.
d. Be authentic and actively participate in the conversation. Don’t over-think the communication messages or brand positioning. Social media must “walk the talk” of your brand. Being natural and true to the quality of your products and services is what the community will embrace.
Work hard. Feedback cycles are fast, often near to real time. You will waste the promise of social media if you don’t nurture it and evolve with it on a daily basis.
a. Quantitative feedback – Like all forms of interactive marketing, statistics and analytics are both the promise and problem. The promise because you can learn a lot; the problem because knowledge demands ongoing action. Social media is no different: clicks, time, volume, demographics. There’s no shortage of quantitative data.
b. Qualitative feedback – Read what is being said and engage. It’s a golden opportunity to take action and help your brand live – in the moment – with your customers. But you must act on the feedback, or your social media efforts will come across as superficial.
When devising a social media strategy, it is important to understand what you have to offer community structures:
- Content – messages, knowledge, data, information
- Engagement – with your product or services
- Communal bonds – a reason for people to find each other
- Tools – to help connect people
- Leadership – to establish those first structures
- Energy – to drive issues
Social media is the latest evolutionary stage of interactive marketing. As with all forms of technology, it doesn’t change the fundamentals. People were always talking about your issues – now you can listen in, too. People were always providing advice to one another about your products – now you too can be part of that very conversation. People were always commenting on your brand – now you can listen and respond in real-time.
They are fantastic vehicles for reaching your audiences – just never lose sight of the fundamentals that you rely on in the rest of your marketing.
How H2 Can Help
H2’s Social Media practice can help:
• Advise you on a social media strategy that supports your overall communication and marketing plan;
• Recommend the right types of networks, channels and applications that you need to build to bring value to the social networks;
• Provide advice on how to be accepted within those networks – there are many written and unwritten rules of engagement;
• Technical know-how – building out creative, technical solutions; and
• Analysis – helping you interpret the outcomes and recommending action.