A Relook At Social Media

Social media is not a new phenomenon.  Before the advent of the Internet, written correspondence was used to communicate messages across great distances.  I might surprise you that the earliest postal service (organized delivery) dates back to 550 BC.   Since then, the delivery system for messaging has been obviously streamlined and refined.  CompuServe was founded in 1969 and introduced the concept of chat rooms as a way of networked communication.  AOL came on the scene in 1991 and helped accelerate the adoption of both email and subject focused forums as a way to share information.  And, with that sparked the curiosity of bleeding edge marketers on how to effectively take advantage of this emerging media for brand promotion.

The big challenge faced by marketers in the 1990s was in determining whether social media was an entirely new form of communication requiring an entirely new set of marketing principles or simply an advancement in communication where proven principles could be applied.  

Of course, book authors took the position that it was a totally new method of communication not subject to the proven learning from newspaper, magazine, radio, billboard, word of mouth, or television communication.  One book author actually started his book by saying: “Fasten your seatbelt.  You’re about to experience some turbulence, because that’s what happens when you leave the solid ground of convention behind.”  In retrospect, this type of rhetoric was bunk. Social media turned out to be simply another communication channel to consider in your marketing mix. And while there are certainly some executional uniquenesses to consider (just like there is between radio and television), the basic marketing principles of effective communication continue to apply.

Six Considerations For A Successful Social Media Effort (or any communication effort)

  • You have to start a conversation before you can communicate.  If you can’t grab a person’s attention you won’t be able to get your message across.  Some tried and true approaches include discussing taboo subjects, sharing something unusual, being outrageous, saying something funny, telling a secret, or making a remarkable claim.  Whatever approach you take, be certain it is consistent with your brand character.
  • Amplify your message by leveraging traditional media.  Your social media effort should be integrated with the rest of your communication strategy.  That means integrated with both your paid and earned media coverage. Increasing the frequency of exposure to your message improves the odds it will be remembered.  From an earned media perspective, you need to think about your message from the framework of a story.  This is easier said than done.  But, if you want to master storytelling I encourage you to read Joseph Campbell’s book The Power of Myth. [Spoiler alert – George Lucas used it as a guide when writing Star Wars.]
  • Don’t ignore traditional media.  You need a good media mix to effectively communicate your message. The key is to really understand the media consumption habits of your strategic target.  Don’t simply buy advertising because it is “on sale” or has a low cost per exposure.  If your target will not be exposed to your message, that supposedly low cost choice actually becomes the most expensive in your media mix.  In other words, you are simply throwing money away.
  • Be different.  All you need to do is monitor the social media efforts of any product category and you will see a high degree of herd mentality.  Marketers (and their creative Agencies) have a tendency to play it safe. But, following the herd makes it very difficult for your message to breakout of the din.  It then becomes a money game where you simply try to shout louder than the competition.  That is great if you have a big budget to buy share of voice. If you aren’t fortunate enough to be in that position, remember – For your message to be heard, don’t follow the herd.
  • Measure results.  Social media should provide an incremental value to your message communication efforts. That value should be measured and the measurement monitored.  Be sure to focus on in-process measures and not simply your end-process measure (typically sales).  In process measures allow you to course correct before your budget is totally spent.  It is surprising to me marketers do not scrutinize simple measures like click through rates more carefully.  The proven principle of attrition between awareness and action still applies.  If your click through rate doesn’t far exceed what you need to make the effort worthwhile, the probability is high your realized conversion will be disappointing and you are wasting your time.  To be clear, I am not suggesting you rely on click through rate as the right measure.  I am only using it as an example of a simple in-process measure that typically gets only a cursory review by today’s marketers.  The main point is to create a dashboard of in-process measures and actually use them to stimulate corrective action.

Now we have had nearly two decades of experience with social media it is a bit more obvious the basic principles of marketing apply and should not be ignored.  I also believe the impact of social media can and should be measured.  There is no rule you need to invest in social media as part of your communication mix.  And, if you choose to invest, do so purposefully with the expectation of a return on that investment.

My personal advice is to minimally 1) consider investing in an effective website and 2) monitor what people are saying about your company or products online.  Everything beyond should be considered optional and should be subject to the same degree of investment scrutiny as any other element of your marketing mix.  In that financial assessment, be certain to include the cost of staff time to develop and maintain your effort.  Don’t simply focus on incremental out of pocket costs.

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