Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Start Saying the “C” Word

Start Saying the “C” Word
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You Say Expert; I Say Huckster

Charlatans. That’s the word I’d use to describe many in social media marketing. My bet is that you don’t disagree with me, and are also somewhat fatigued by the legions of “professionals” seriously referencing themselves as gurus and mavens.

At another time in history, I gather these folks would have been equally happy selling us pet rocks, and fallout shelters for our backyards.

In spite of how unintentional their blundering may be, the fact remains that many touting expertise in this area can do little other than get the tools running. This results in a lot of implementers, but very few actual strategists.

Surprisingly few illustrate a capacity for crafting coherent and measurable plans in the social space—and this isn’t limited to those on the ground floor. Global brands often screw the pooch as badly as those basement-dwelling social media “experts.” Be that as it may, smart people are at work and, as we understand the space better, it will mature.

Do You Want to Talk or Get Dirty?

The relative immaturity of most social media marketing is best illustrated in how weak the arguments for it are. While many brand managers feel some deep-seated need to be “active” on social media, few actually articulate the reason for this in less-vague terms. The problem with such lack of clarity is that it leaves groups flailing madly, trying to achieve some nameless, shapeless goal. Similarly, we see a lot of groups reacting, instead of taking calculated action.

Without having determined our purpose, it’s difficult to understand what we should measure. This leaves us incapable of ascertaining whether our efforts have been successful and, if not, how we might change what we’re doing. Sadly, most social efforts fall into a few awkward categories: claiming territory (i.e. locking down your Twitter handle) and leaving it at that; posting anything in a desperate effort to not feel left behind; and interacting with customers.

For many smaller organizations, this last one may be all that’s needed. Listening to, and speaking with, customers is a good first bet. (Particularly given how many organizations suck at it.) The next question is whether you want to to solely react to customers, or make a concerted effort to affect them. From a more traditional standpoint, you could look at this as the difference between customer service and advertising. Both are important, and overlap at times, but are distinct exercises.

Setting up Goalposts

Words like advertising and campaign have been silently deemed dirty or—worse yet—traditional. The funny part of the “advertising is dead” arguments accompanying such bias is that they’re wrong. Such contentions were the result of hubris, and wishful thinking surrounding the true cost of social/digital marketing. Yes, advertising is changing. One might also argue that its becoming more complex. At the same time, it remains an awfully effective means of growing and defending a brand.

Part of what works so well with advertising is that it scales, which is something that social efforts often don’t do. Additionally, we tend to look upon advertising as something that needs to be organized and measured. Curiously, in spite of how much more readily we can measure digital efforts over traditional ones, social media marketing is commonly masked by good intentions and ambiguous notions of success. It’s great that you’ve got 1,000 “Likes,” but does anyone really know what number you need to achieve, in order to be deemed a success? For that matter, now that you’ve got all those thumbs-ups, what are you going to do with them?

By framing social efforts in a campaign format, we’re forced to establish goalposts of sorts. By clearly articulating objectives, we underscore what we need to measure. By defining time-limited schedules, we are obliged to compare the results of one campaign to the next. Meanwhile, by really examining what it is we need to do, we are forced to focus on what’s relevant to our companies, instead of just following the flock.

As it currently stands, the term Social Media Marketer is an oxymoron. In order for us to move past that, we’ll have to go from acting like implementers, to thinking like planners.

This article originally appeared in Applied Arts Magazine.

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