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Five big social media contradictions and how to manage them

iStock_000002248298XSmall.jpgWhat's fast to build, slow to grow and needs constant attention? No, not a Chia Pet. It's social media! I've given this post a lot of thought over the past couple of months as I talk with executives and marketers who are discussing their entry into the social media space. Some are skeptical, others are passionate. Most have incorrect pre-conceived notions that are contradictory to the way things actually are. Ironically, most of these contradictions have been used as selling points in the early days of the space. So, here we go.

Contradiction 1: Fast setup, slow build

Yes, it is true that you can create a blog in less than five minutes. However, a five minute blog is going to have the same marketing impact as letting an 2-year-old create your brand identity. The physical build of a blog will take months to get right. It needs to be professionally designed or at least customized to look unique.

That, however, is the easiest part of blogging. The real build comes in building your community. It took me around 8 solid months of posting 4-5 days a week to really start making traction. Only around a year and a half in did I start to feel like I was making an impact.

Tip to manage: Look around at people who are successful here. Look at companies like Zappos, Dell or Comcast and see how they use it. Look for other companies in your space and seek out what they are doing. Ask experts, people are very accessible here.

Contradiction 2: Cheap up-front, financial marathon

I think way too many companies think of social media as an inexpensive alternative to pricey paid media options. On the contrary. The physical build/setup/design/etc. is in line with traditional digital implementations (think website/microsite). The real investment comes in the personal time necessary to make an impact. The build is just the tip of the iceberg.

Personally, I estimate that I spend 3-4 hours a day on this blog and within my online space. That's reading, commenting, writing and thinking about digital marketing and social media. That's on top of my workload and travel.

Let's say you have a community evangelist to work your digital marketing as well as social media. There are around 260 work days a year. I am a proponent of companies dedicating AT LEAST 2 HOURS A DAY to do this right. (Obviously, the more time spent the better.) Take agency rates of around $150/hr and that works out to around $78,000/year minimum just to manage the work. More time = more chances for engagement = a better chance for success.

Tip to manage: Look at the people/companies who you admire and ask them how much time they spend. Do your own estimations. Look a the content they're creating and estimate what it took to build. You have to show that this requires a continued commitment from a financial perspective.

Contradiction 3: Open/transparent/mashed-up meets legal and regulatory

While the spirit of social media and participatory marketing is open and extensible, there are real fears that MUST be addressed with the legal team. The best way to do this is to address them head on. Legal teams have been trained to defend brands, stop "unauthorized use" and do it quick. That doesn't fly in this space, it backfires.

Extending marketing and customer service into social media requires the full commitment of the organization at all levels. Everyone needs to be comfortable with the strategy and be kept aware of the execution. If this doesn't happen, it can lead to big trouble.

Tip to manage: There are a ton of examples here. Look at Scrabulous for example. The best idea is to sit down with legal and draw parallels to help them put this in a framework. Can you compare traditional media outreach to blogger outreach? Can you compare your phone reps to your Twitter reps? You can and you should.

Contradiction 4: Creating real estate turns to building on other people's property

Up until social media, digital marketing has been all about creating real estate. Websites, microsites, Flash demos, webinars, virtual offices, etc. Marketing around these spaces required volume to be successful. Email lists were crucial, online ads drove volume and measurement supported these tactics.

Social media is about finding where customers already exist and finding ways to add value within that space. Solving problems, crowdsourcing product and service development, creating cool applications, etc. all add value. Customer service may be the silver bullet in this space. Measurement needs to adapt to your business. Throw out the standards and find what matters to you, then measure it.

Tip to manage: Again Zappos, Dell and Comcast are case studies in the making here. Think about how Nike+ shifted the paradigm of tracking runner's progress and extended it to widgets, Facebook apps, etc. The iPhone is another example where you can add value and get the marketing benefit.

Contradiction 5: Unlimited opportunities to engage, finite places to make real impact

There are literally thousands of places to engage with your customers online. The challenge for brands is to find out where they are, how they move and what they find of value. The other challenge is to dedicate resources to support customers in the places that make sense while limiting waste. Facebook is a great platform to use if you add value to your customers through your marketing. However, if your customers aren't there it's a waste. If you don't see that they shift to a niche network on Ning next month you will continue spending time and begin wasting money.

Listening is key to keeping the pulse of your audience. It lets you see changes in location, sentiment and identify memes that resonate in real time. It lets you be able to pounce and that's key.

Tip to manage: Follow big brands and follow personal brands too. Look at how Chris Brogan engages with his community and grows his business. Look at how Mario Sundar advocates for LinkedIn. Watch Guy Kawasaki extend his business and build new ones (seemingly) on the fly. Watch Jeremiah Owyang redefine what it is to be an analyst while helping to empower an amateur analyst army. See Gary Vaynerchuk kill it every day and inspire everyone he touches like in this video:

What contradictions would you add? Any other examples that people should pay attention to beyond the ones I noted?

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