Google+ The Marketing Survivalist: Social Media - Start Here!

Social Media - Start Here!

This isn’t a blog about social media—there are enough of those already. However, I find myself writing about social media more often than not.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of power in social media and corporations are undergoing a transition in the way they communicate with the world. Marketing managers had better figure out how they can leverage social media now or they’ll find that they’ll soon have to play catch up with their competition.

So where do you start? As a marketing manager focused on the big picture, I’ll share my perspectives. I am sure that any of the experts in social media could make convincing arguments about why you should focus on a specific area – usually whatever they specialize in. However, as a marketing manager, you have to make a call based on your own assessment.
Here’s my take:

Your Corporate Website - Websites are not usually considered part of social media, per se, since there isn’t typically a two-way dialogue happening on the site. However, if you still have a one-way, static website, I’d say that’s the first thing to fix.

You need to give your prospects (and customers) ways to interact with you. e.g. useful materials they can download, newsletters they can sign up for, links to others sites such as a blog as soon as you have them. And, you need to give them fresh content.

Customer Portals – If you are a technology marketer, you probably have one of these portals already. It’s probably some sort of knowledge base and/or support center that customers can access.

Again, this is not social media in itself. The conversation can be two-way (sort-of) but the dialogue is prescriptive and automated. It’s not a “real” conversation between a company and the customer. Any real conversation usually happens off-line in an e-mail or by phone.

You need to have these sites to communicate with your customer, but don’t confuse these sites with social media.

Corporate Blog – Here’s where the fun starts. Ideally, the conversation is two-way and you are starting to have a real conversation with the marketplace. Many of the companies I work with have been reluctant to get into blogging because they are concerned about two things:

Time – No doubt good blogging takes time. You have to post regularly and the content should add value and elicit comment. Plus, you have to market the blog! It’s hard to have a two-way conversation if no one shows up. Tomorrow, I am going to write a post on some ideas I have for making Corporate Blogging easier so stay tuned for that.

Fear – No company wants negative comments made about them, especially on the web! I have news for you. You are no longer in control.

Social media took control of public perception out of the hands of the corporate communications people and put it into the hands of the independent bloggers, people who comment on other blogs, forum participants, Facebook users, Twitter users, and any of the other people that use the myriad of tools to take part in online conversations.

A corporate blog can give you some balance against any potential negative publicity. For example, if you find a misperception being spread on the web, you could certainly blog about it. Then when responding in other places you can point back to the corporate blog. Just make sure your blog post isn’t spin or you stand a good chance of compounding the negative view.

As the saying goes – If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em.

Customer Community Platform – The next step, which most companies have yet to reach, is to set up a company specific social networking platform. It’s a fairly new idea with lots of vendors popping up. Like with all things new, the best advice I can give you here is to do your homework.

What about Twitter?
Twitter is a tool that many marketers, including me, like to play with. My advice to you is play around with it if it fits your style. But, unless your market is made up of other Twitter users, it’s not very useful as a corporate social media tool.

I did a Twitter search once on a company name that sold IT training services and certifications. Many interesting comments on Twitter, but that’s a good example of an exception where the audience they targeted was already there. Actually, it was their end users and not the people who paid for their services, so for prospect reach the value was still suspect.

Even if these end users had significant influence, I would not have recommended this company work Twitter into their social networking plan anytime soon. It would be useful to hang out (lurk) on Twitter so they could get closer to the people using their product, but this company was too traditional to Twitter about anything that would be well received by the audience.

Same goes for personal social networking tools like Facebook. Many of these sites are set up for specific target audiences and lend themselves better to personal social networking. Some consumer goods companies have started using tools like Facebook (semi-successfully), but if your audience is businesses there’s a good chance you won’t be able to deliver the right message on a platform like Facebook - yet.
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