More Thoughts About Social Media

You’re in a meeting with marketing execs (or you are marketing exec) and the topic is social media. The various constituents around the table have come with their usual analog playbook. “Tell them how great our products are, get them to buy, here’s where we make our money,” blah, blah, blah. One of the first things brought up is My Space. “We need to get out on My Space.” The task is assigned to a low level associate.

Fast forward two months later. The players reconvene to discuss progress. No My Space page has been launched yet. “The agency is working on it, and we’ll get a look any day now.” More pressure is applied to just get something out there. “Everyone in the organization needs to be on it!”  A suggestion is made to give everyone a small slice of the page and that should do it, right?

The above hypothetical conversation is being repeated in meeting rooms all over corporate America. It won’t end well. The community is not a company web site, or another surface for plastering the marketing flavor of the month. I put forth that social media is, in fact, closer to architecture than it is marketing or advertising.

Architecture is born of pragmatism. To be successful it must be built on a foundation of the necessity to serve people. Those not open to theoretical thought might want to skip to the next paragraph. Online community is a manifestation of dependent origination. This concept holds that all beings exist in relation to other beings. Everything is linked in an intricate web of causation and connection. Nothing exists in a vacuum. In this view, a greater emphasis is placed on the interdependent relationships between individuals than on the individual in isolation. Whew, that’s out of the way.

Does this mean that marketing dot points and advertising banners are off limits? Well not exactly, but they certainly need to evolve beyond the intrusive, shouting, stone age tactics marketers employ today.

People own the web. At least for now. We need to keep tabs on how Washington rules on net neutrality. If people want the corporate spiel they will fire up their browser and type in your URL. Once they do that all is fair game on your turf, but beware. Or is it be aware? The consumer is on to your little games. Most likely what they will do after reviewing your brilliantly crafted HTML is ask the community for their opinions. Many in body, one in mind. No amount of money can buy or influence what’s said in the community (for long). The currency in this world is connected to how someone, or a collection of someones (your company) behaves. Oh, and one more thing. It’s really strict.

Culture Flow: A Social Influence Marketing Framework

Humans want to connect with other humans by communicating what’s important in their lives. Each of us traverses life in their own unique way. But there are countless points of commonality experienced during the course of an ordinary day. Have you ever been driving your car or surfing the web with no one else around, and you wanted to share it with someone? Of course. You probably shared at the water cooler or on the phone with a friend later that day. An online community gives us a way to put those experiences on the web where our friends can see it. It’s a window into our life, but we are the one who decides when to open it.

So what should we do about those corporate types that are so very far behind the curve? I’m not advocating we ignore them. Their desires are genuine and objectives sound. They also hold the positions of power and got there because of an impressive track record. They’re smart, so we must convince them. Consider this.

  • Create a monitoring tool to help you listen to the groundswell. The community knows all. Shouldn’t you listen?
  • By listening you will learn. Learning makes you smarter. Smarter increases your chances of success.
  • Think like a media company. ABC TV has a Lost Facebook page, not an ABC Facebook page. Identify pockets of passion in your companies’ products. What resonates? Why?
  • Resist the standard marketing dribble.
  • Tap your internal research or insights team. BTW, they are the ones that are closest to the truth about consumer intent and behavior.
  • You must connect the somewhat abstract community world to stock price or other profitability measures. The sooner you can get that on paper with sound business metrics and projections the better. Safety tip: don’t even think about skipping this step!
  • Build a mother ship community on your web site. That’s the center of your universe. You must have this or you will spend lots of time and money chasing the influencers who are already visiting your web site and waiting for you to launch a place for them. Duh.
  • Don’t try to build this internally. Time waits for no man and funding is a premium.
  • Make real estate investments with the big community players now. Facebook, My Space, etc., those are the planets that will orbit within the solar system of your company.
  • Focus on the products that the community is passionate about. Remember it’s about people not the company.
  • Watch what others are doing with community. Look outside your vertical. No one knows all. We learn by doing and watching each other.
  • Create an internal community on your own intranet. Harness the power of all the people who work for you who are already participating in the groundswell.

It doesn’t matter how large or small your company is today. Online community is a level playing field. But it must be architected for the people. It’s not traditional marketing. The benefits will come if you do it right.

View and download the full PowerPoint presentation, Culture Flow: A Social Influence Marketing Framework from here.



Participation, Power and Social Influence Marketing

So much talk about social media. It can’t be ignored by firms who want to find more effective ways to market. Everywhere pundits are saying that advertising, as we know it, is dead. That social is the next thing. If we create an environment or community where customers can help each other and in the end your product, you will save money and get great ideas. Win, win. But how?

Senior executives of companies are understandably shy about going all in on this social thing. They see it as a potential loss of control. As a strategy that could easily backfire. Customers may say bad things about their products or company that just aren’t true. In some cases the customers may have an irrational grievance, or just didn’t understand something. Happens all the time. It’s happening right now in social networks everywhere. That’s the point. It happens and we don’t pay attention.

It’s dead simple. Firms that don’t participate will fall behind the ones that do.

I came across Ross Mayfield’s Weblog the other day. It’s really good. He posits a concept called the Power Law of Participation, and illustrates it nicely in this graphic.

Graphic Credit
: Ross Mayfield

The tail defines the low threshold activities and represents the network’s Collective Intelligence. The community identifies their likes and interests. Some of this is tracked by web analytics tools inside companies, or on broader site-spanning networks, while others manifest themselves in the communities at large in the form of links, videos, posts and subscriptions. Once an individual or ideally individuals (and lots of them) reaches collaboration, moderation, and leadership, they are in the high engagement category of Collaborative Intelligence. They process what the low engagement citizens are doing, sharing, and subscribing to, then take it up several levels. Potentially all the way to the point of producing content, even product ideas. This principle maps nicely to Forrester Research’s Ladder of Participation concept of Internet users.

We know that Google allows their engineers to spend 20% of their company time on pet projects to help foster innovation. Now that is a scary thing for mainstream company executives. And it has been said that Google is the best beta company ever, but they need to finish some things in order to grow up. There is certainly proof they have done both. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO has said.

Virtually everything new seems to come from the 20 percent of their time engineers here are expected to spend on side projects. They certainly don’t come out of the management team.

This gives us a different way to think about social networks. As an equivalent to the 20% Google grants it’s employees, except much better. Firms should start off by working the tail of Mr. Mayfield’s Law of Participation, by leveraging content they already have, or can aggregate without much effort. This will pull consumers to their site. Further up the curve it will be necessary to create influencer marketing programs that will push vs. pull. No one can say for sure where it will go, so trying to have a 5 year strategy doesn’t make any sense. Most companies don’t have the skills in house right now anyway.

By developing strategies and campaigns for each phase of this curve, companies can begin to shape and measure the practice of Social Influence Marketing.

It’s a convergence of publishing, product development and service in a social network of prospects and customers. More to come.

Social Influence Marketing – Learn or Burn

Everyone is a buzz about social networks and the impact they will have on marketing. As a marketer myself, it’s something I have been thinking a lot about lately. The world is changing, converging and seems to be getting smaller. As a result the market size and opportunity is getting larger. The science and practice of marketing will have to evolve from the tried and true (tired and flawed) linear approach that dominates today, into something very different.

Most brands are not ready. They are not organized for it, don’t understand it, lack the necessary skills, and are not courageous enough to even try. The situation is further complicated by the fact that new technologies underpin everything related to this dynamic new sphere of marketing.

Here is some of my recent thinking boiled down into everyone’s favorite medium, powerpoint.

It will be challenging as well as interesting to create new, innovative strategies and marketing campaigns over the next few years, in an effort to operate in and monetize this unique opportunity. If you are a marketer and not thinking about this, you run the risk of becoming road kill in less than five years. Not kidding. Learn it now.