As the calendar has turned to 2011, we have been inundated with an endless barrage of Social Media predictions compiled by experts and dabblers alike. Some of what I have read are excellent and well informed perspectives backed by data and research, while others appear to be, well, nil-informed. As Yogi Berra once said, “Prediction is very hard, especially about the future.” No predictions here, just some observations about Social Media based on 3 years of experience working inside a large firm.
There is No Playbook
This medium or channel, or whatever you wish to call it, is way too new to have a reliable playbook. What works for some brands will not work for others. I would go so far as to say that Social Media does not have any common marketing ground. Direct mail and basic advertising principles are largely transferrable across brands and verticals even though retail is very different from financial services which is different from manufacturing. Social lacks such helpful fundamental truths.
Outcomes are Slippery
Save one or two examples (Dell Computer coupon codes on Twitter comes to mind), there is low confidence that a marketer could reliably forecast results from activity in the social sphere. Your CMO wants to know what she/he can book if your Social Media team is given $500,000. The CMO isn’t getting good answers to that challenge.
Mobile Adds Complexity
Social and mobile are matching luggage. They just naturally go together. A very different beast from the early web days of the late 1990’s. Back then the channel was confined to the desktop computer, a narrow pipe and a basic interface. We were able to make progress with a measured development roadmap. But with today’s always on, high speed connections and smart phones, there’s so many more variables to consider. Location, screen size, gestures, cameras, text messages, etc.
You Will Always be Outnumbered
One of the things that raises the possibility that there may never be a Social Media playbook is the injection of the consumer into the mix at every turn. They chime in when you least expect it and on topics that are completely unpredictable. When they called you had a private conversation. Today it takes place in public. Consumers sometimes comment because they just don’t understand, or have unrealistic expectations, or forget (don’t care) that we run a business and need to make a profit, or are just plain angry over something. We need to respect the fact that employees in a firm will always be outnumbered by consumers. People will just keep coming at you.
Fail Fast and Often
We can’t take our own sweet time. Social years will make online years look like we were standing still. Remember 2000 when we joked about “Online Years?” One year online was equal to five years off line. If you thought that ratio spun your head, try “Social Years” where one month might equal five Online Years! Social Media is not about what we’ve been doing all along. It’s about what we’ve never done before. We will need to learn faster than any previous time. It’s not just a new language, it’s an entirely new world and the wheel has yet to be invented.
My best advice. Do lots of things and count on failure. In fact welcome failure so you can rule things out. The list will grow quickly, but so will your knowledge. Make Social Media everybody’s business in your firm and eventually you’ll develop an edge over the competition and who knows. You may be able to walk into the CMO’s office and say. Give me this and I’ll give you that.