I am often bemused by these enumerated mantras churned out by marketing gurus. To what extent people exactly believe such mantras is a mystery to me, but it is certain that with the rise of social media, advertising and marketing directors and managers have been cooking up new theories and methodologies, invented words and ideas to mystify the things that they do so as to raise the status of their work.
As cynical as I may sound, I am actually one of them. But unlike them, I seriously advise you NOT to engage in social media should you identify with any one of the reasons below:
1. Social media is part of Marketing
What is marketing? As much as marketing professionals like to insist that it is an art that dates from ancient Egypt, the birth of the current idea of marketing only began in the 1950s. Back then, there was one person in the company who designed ads that got sent to the press. That person may also have designed some pamphlets to be distributed in letterboxes in homes. Now, every company has a department with a marketing director or manager running a team of executives thinking of novel ways to advertise their products and calculations to justify the costs spent. But when you get down to the basics, marketing is about telling your target customers, either future or present, why they should buy your products. It is a one-directional information flow.
From the time of Gutenberg to the age of colour television, information has flowed from one group down to another group: church to believers, radio broadcaster to listeners, newspaper editors to readers, manufacturers to households, politicians to citizens.
But the internet has changed that paradigm. Individuals have started to select the type of information they want, with whom they want to interact, when and where they want to interact, based on what kind of shared interest they want to interact about. Most importantly, there is no hierarchy on this interaction. It is a two-way information flow that is instantaneous.
Social media is a manifestation of that development, not a result of it. And with the portability of the internet, through the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, this mode of interaction is becoming more current.
If you understand this change of paradigm, then you will understand how social media is not part of marketing. It replaces it. Many marketing professionals try to prevent this change of traditional power structure by harnassing or controlling it, like engaging a junior guy to tweet or update the company’s Facebook page. If you are one of these marketing directors, then social media will never work for you.
You will most likely treat social media as another platform of one-directional information flow. Your tweets will be a 140-character long version of your advertising tagline, or simply links to your website. Your Facebook updates will also be your tweets. Your social media engagements will also most likely be subjugated to a particular marketing campaign.
2. I believe that social media has to have KPIs and ROIs
You are most likely one of those marketing directors I mentioned before, if you believe in the above statement.
I have seen marketeers setting targets on the number of people who LIKE the company’s Facebook page, or have a certain explosive numbers of followers on Twitter or Pinterest. They have also done that to websites, stating how many visitors they have had in a certain period.
Depending on the information you post, the kind of profile you have, the level of interesting-ness of your profile and posts, you are not going to get a whole lot of visitors nor friends. Social media is a place where friends giggle over something funny or cool, not where you blast how good your product is.
3. Everyone else is using social media, so should we
Just like how everyone rushes to make an iPad app and in the end the app turns out to be a tablet version of their website, everyone rushes to be on social media without thinking whether it works for them.
Those top managers and marketing directors who insist on using social media because everyone else is on it, then they do not know their customers. If you are a B2B company that produces mechanical parts for engines in the automobile business, do you seriously expect your customers to find you on Facebook and look forward to you tweeting about new products?
If you are sincere about engaging in conversations with your customers, you need to know: what are the profiles of people who engage in a particular social network platform in your country, in which language and in what settings? What are the social-networking profiles of your (current and potential) customers? Do the two coincide?
4. We need to be on the latest social media platform before other companies do
The race to be on social media has led to a race to using the latest platform.
I had some advertising person who asked me the other day whether I use Pinterest. I do. But it does not mean that I promote its usage by that particular company, because in the country where this company is located (i.e. Belgium), no one really uses Pinterest. Yelp for example is used to the brim in the US, and outside of it, no one has even heard of it. You only go to where your customers are, not where your competitors are not.
5. Social media is an online call centre
I have seen some companies getting social media engagement out of the marketing department and put it in the hands of their customer service department. It works brilliantly in many small B2C companies, where you get personalised replies and greetings. Customers feel like they are visiting a small neighbourhood shop where you get to chat with your usual helpful cashier (who does not hesitate to help you or even bend some rules for you). Comparatively, large companies that have tried the same thing have only muddled along: they are like cashiers in a gigantic supermarket who have to scan thousands of items per day and they cannot wait for the queue to get shorter or for the lunch bell to ring. This is especially so when the Twitterer of the company has to have his tweets double-checked and authorized by a senior manager. The guy cannot promise assistance to a complaint or call for help because it has to be approved by the manager concerned. Most awkward of all is when the company outsources its social media engagement so the agency has to first forward the requests to the marketing director who then forwards them to the right department, it takes days before a response is formulated.
What is social media and who should use it?
Social media are platforms on which individuals engage in a conversation with one another on common interests. If you intrude that space with a traditional one-way broadcast mentality, then you will quickly find yourself isolated.
The way I see it, it is an opportunity for you to talk about things that binds you together with your customers. You, as an individual, not the company. If, for example, your company is selling shoes for women, perhaps the conversation should be about shoes some actresses were wearing in Cannes. It allows you to find out what people like and why they like it.
Social media is a personal conversational platform. To use it to your advantage, you have to first break free of your marketeer mentality and talk to the people you want to talk to as an individual. There is no immediate or mid-term ROI, and you cannot set a KPI target.