Earlier this week I summarized my Hide and Speak article series with a wrap-up post outlining four key lessons on social media marketing. The post tried to get companies to realize social media marketing was an ongoing process that requires time, commitment and a passion for your product. What I should have included was the need to see social media marketing as a way to tear down the walls that separate your business from your customers. That wall called "marketing." Thankfully Mack Collier steps up to the plate today with an excellent post on this very topic.

Mack piggybacks off a post by Chris Brogan claiming marketing is not social media and that social media is not marketing. While the two can obviously mix, Chris makes a really valuable point when he writes:

Marketing is a discipline with lots of emphasis on channel thinking, on campaigns, on message shaping, on control and covering all the bases.

Social media is a set of tools that permit regular people access to potential audiences of shared interest. These tools give voice, give preference, give rise to individuality, give flexibility, collaborative opportunity, and a whole lot of other things that don’t resemble traditional marketing the same way gym class felt absolutely nothing like social studies.

Chris goes on to point out the value of social media in the eyes of the masses and to remind marketers of the sanctity of that conversation. After all, no one WANTS to be marketed to, especially not in the midst of conversation with friends and acquaintances.

Mack picks up on this line of thinking and takes it down the path of finding the real value of social media as a marketer. He acknowledges, as do all of us that social media marketing is a marketer's dream environment. After all, what better place to reach a consumer than when they're sitting around talking about the very topic your product addresses?

Ah...but what a short-sighted way to view it. Sure, you may be able to get some extra sales from social media, but direct conversions isn't where the true value of social media lies.

Mack explains...

...social media can be the X-Factor. For example, a company can start blogging from its side of the wall. But as the customer gives its input via comments, the language and thinking of the customer begins to seep into the company's space. And if the company is willing to listen, then the customer can begin to have an impact on how the company does business. The wall begins to crack. Then the customer sees that the company is listening, so the distrust begins to fade. The wall begins to crumble. If taken to its happy extension, the line between company and customer will begin to blur.

If you missed it, go back and read this sentence again.

Then the customer sees that the company is listening, so the distrust begins to fade.

THAT is the true value of social media. Unprecedented access to what your customers thinks and feel. To what they like, what they dislike, what they dream of and what they lament. Companies are fearful of engaging their customers in conversation because the customer might say something bad.

I say companies should revel in this. When in the history of marketing have you ever been able to go into people's "living rooms" and hear the conversations they're having with their friends? There's a difference between the angry customer who writes a letter or calls your customer service team to complain and the person who goes home and tells their friends and family about their experience. With the letter or phone call, you may hear about your most egregious errors and have the opportunity to fix them. Unfortunately, when it comes to those personal conversation you fail to hear about the little annoyances that your company could easily solve.

Fixing the major issue may avert a PR crisis, but addressing the annoyances will probably change your entire public image for the better.

Along those very lines, Mack goes a little "Seth Godin" on us and points out the need for social media to serve as a learning medium for businesses.

Social media isn't a silver bullet that will transform a company's marketing to make it more efficient. But if they are willing to listen and use the tools as we do, and for the same reasons, social media CAN be a silver bullet that transforms the company itself, which WOULD result in their marketing being more efficient.

Maybe it's time companies stop thinking about how to sell more products as a direct results of pushing social media campaigns and start thinking about tapping in to all that consumer opinion. You can sell a few more products right now, or you can massively increase sales by finding the things that will make ALL of your customers happy. Seems like a no brainer to me.

December 14, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


Good article. all comes down to honesty. and that's what social bookmarking puts in the hands of the average internet user. i think i'll definitely start spreading the news on mixx (and others) to my customers, so they too can benefit from this amazing sport!

"I say companies should revel in this. When in the history of marketing have you ever been able to go into people's "living rooms" and hear the conversations they're having with their friends?"

And even better, PARTICIPATE in conversations with those customers?

This is what's so exciting for me as a social media consultant. WE bloggers understand the amazing possibilities of social media, but the customers that aren't invested in this space can't see the potential. At least not yet.

What will marketing look like when the majority of companies DO understand the potential of social media, and are utilizing these tools in the same way, and for the same reasons that their customers are?

I think that day is coming soon. We are already seeing that companies like Microsoft and Dell are starting to connect the dots.

Good point on the take part in the conversations bit Mack.

The thing I'd caution about though, is the need to read and listen for awhile FIRST. When people start to see themselves or their companies being discussed, it's hard not to jump in, especially if the comments are negative.

I think there's something to be said for taking your time to get the lay of the land and to familiarize yourself with the style of different communities and social media tools before you actively engage in conversation though.

That isn't to say you should ignore the major issues, but I've seen too many companies jump in feet first and start firing off messages to every last perceived criticism. (i.e. someone comments they found an item cheaper at a competitor, so the original store jumps in to defend their great prices, lol.)

It takes a little finesse and understanding to take part in the conversation. It takes absolutely no skills to listen. (Comprehension is another story, lol)

You're right though. It's going to be very, VERY interesting to see how social media changes the business landscape in another ten or fifteen years. As someone building a business around the things I hear my target audience asking for, I KNOW what a different listening and taking part in conversation makes.

How long before other companies do as well?

Interesting Jennifer, but I think there is one flaw in all this. Social media isn't representative of the whole population. The users of social media are usually on the higher spectrum technologically, I would say 10% of Internet users is an optimistic measure. Also, remember that while the Internet has very high exposure numbers in developed countries, it is much less in the developing ones.

In any case I think your argument could be true on smaller niche markets and/or the long run (with SM gaining more popularity)

If social media is really representative, Ron Paul would be the next president and Mac OSX would have a monopoly;)!

Rami said

"I would say 10% of Internet users is an optimistic measure."

Ahh...and you would be wrong my friend. :)

I think a lot of people mistakenly believe social media is ONLY social networking sites like Facebook and social bookmarking sites like Digg and del.icio.us. Social media is pretty broad. It basically includes all the ways people communicate in a public forum online.

That means you've got to count blogs, discussion forums, sites like Flickr, etc...

When you look at it from that perspective, the number is far larger than 10%. In fact, eMarketer released some stats just this week that said just under 57% of Internet users use social networking sites in 2007.

Buzz Logic says 65 million Americans read blogs and that 65% of regular Internet shoppers read user reviews before making purchases.

iCrossing predicted earlier this month that user generated content is on track to make up 70% of the content online by 2010.

That's all the stats I have time to pull off the top of my head, but your 10% number is actually more representative of people creating new and original content (blogs, videos, etc) than it is of people participating in, reading and reviewing via social media sites.

I particularly agree with conclusion where, you can actually get direct feedback from your customers about your product. If possible, improvise on the product, acknowledge their contribution. That implementing market research on real time basis!!

What a great augmented conversation. Now, THIS is how blogging is supposed to work. Mack picks up on something. You pick up on the two somethings. Everyone comes and mashes it up and thinks even more. Wow! (Sorry, Kool Aid moment.)

Perhaps the hardest part for corporate entities to cope with is that social media tools and the spirit in which they're used is just a little more holistic than companies tend to want to grapple with. Companies are very segmented in their thinking. R&D is something designers and developers and product managers do (all in different ways, I might add). Marketing is something done over here. Customer service is over there. Internal workflow communications happen inside the firewall like this.

And yet, social media tools work on all those situations in ways that would flow communication much faster to those who need it.

Imagine reading a blog post about how someone hates your new product. Instead of marketing responding, your empowered engineer recognizes that it's actually just a usability issue, and that there's a really simple workaround. She writes a quick blog post with pictures from her Flickr stream, and leaves the cost in the blogger's comments section.

Another coworker from Human Resources sees that the blogger in question is on Twitter, requests to add them, and then realizes that this blogger who complained is actually chock full of great ideas. He hooks up with the blogger via his Facebook page first, to get a little more background on what kind of person the blogger is.

The HR person sends his ideas to the head of Product Management, who agrees that this person is probably useful, checks his LinkedIN profile, and then reaches out to talk about working together on the next build of the project.

THAT is how social media could empower an organization. THAT is why it's not marketing. It's because the tools don't fit a simple silo, and that their usage isn't meant just for marketing.

Crap. I think I accidentally blogged in your comment box. : )

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Changing What You Want to Get Out of Social Media