Getting Started With Social Media

Emily Riley of Jupiter Research recently wrote a blog post titled Getting Started With Social Marketing. Among her suggestions: Start listening, tap your own databases to understand what customers think of you, integrate social media with existing marketing campaigns, align goals with measurement, and start small on your own site.

My take: This is good advice (although I would quibble with the last point) — advice that I don’t believe a lot of marketers are currently following.

As “innovation mania” sweeps through the halls of marketing, many marketers are looking to experiment with social media, lest they get “left behind.” While I’ve got nothing against experimenting, I am against experimenting for the sake of experimenting.

But this exactly what many firms seem to be doing. For example, one large bank put up a page in Facebook. Sure, after 48 hours it had about 125 “fans”. But by my count, about 80% of those fans were affiliated with the ad agency that works with the bank. Another bank implemented a capability on its site to allow site visitors to post reviews of the bank. The bank rigged it so the default view lists the reviews it wants site visitors to see (instead of chronologically).

Here’s my issue with these “experiments”: I’m not convinced that they were the right places for these firms to get started with social media or social marketing techniques.

Emily’s suggestions, though, got it right: The place to start is by looking within, not without.

Before putting up a Facebook page, and especially before monkeying around with your own site, the first thing you need to do to get started with social media is to answer some questions:

  • How are we doing in the marketplace? No — how are we really doing in the market? 
  • Which customers do we do a good job of attracting and keeping? 
  • Which customers don’t we do a good job of attracting and keeping? 
  • Which customers should we be attracting and keeping? No — which customers do we really need to be attracting and keeping?

And then after you answer these questions, then — and only then — should you ask: How could social media help us?

Not only do too few firms start off by asking these questions, but many often get started by hiring a consultant. Sorry to say this, but that’s a big mistake.

Social media gurus may know social media, and know what other firms are doing with social media, but that doesn’t mean they can answer the questions I’ve raised. That’s why Emily astutelypoints out that getting started needs to involve looking within at existing databases to ferret out customers’ opinions. Social media consultants probably can’t help you do that.

Nor can they really tell you which customers you really do well with today, and which ones you don’t do well with. For a brutally honest discussion of that, it has to be done from within.

I can already hear the objection: “But Ron, we really don’t have anybody internally with any experience with social media, so how can we truly understand how social media can or can’t help?”

And therein lies the next step in your social meda journey: Get some personal experience.

Social media is a highly interpersonal affair. It’s about people connecting with other people. When it’s people connecting with firms, there’s the strong potential for the firm’s communication to come off sounding like advertising. Advertising is great for building awareness, and maybe even preference — and if this is what your firm needs, then great, maybe you’re ready to jump in.

But the largely untapped potential of social media is how it can help firms develop and extend relationships with customers. And if the people who work for a company aren’t personally involved with social media — and building relationships with other people and firms themselves — then it’s going to be hard for them to understand how their own firm can use social media to further relationships.

Another reason why personal involvement at the employee level is so important: To break the own-site-centricity of so many firms (this is why I’m quibbling with Emily’s point about “starting small on your own site”).

This mentality — that you have to get customers/prospects to come to your site — has been around for a long time. The irony about Facebook is that the new mentality –“we need to be where our customers are, so let’s put up on our own page on Facebook” — only furthers the old mentality.

Smart bloggers know that the way to make a name for themselves — and ultimately drive traffic to their sites — is by leaving smart comments on other bloggers’ sites. A firm won’t really understand how unimportant your own site is unless its own employees are involved in social media.

Bottom line:
The irony about social media — a tool that can help a firm connect with the outside world — is that it starts with a critical look within, before looking out.

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10 thoughts on “Getting Started With Social Media

  1. That has certainly been our experience. But a bank that has trouble understanding social media externally, unfortunately, is *completely* unable to deal with the internal issues it generates. It took us more than a year to get our internal social media experiment working, and we are *still* dealing with nay-sayers even now.

  2. @James: Are those “nay-sayers” active social media participants themselves? If they are, then maybe their opinions are warranted and worth understanding? If not, then I would challenge them as to what basis they have for holding their negative opinion.

  3. Very good post…Killer quote for me is ‘Another reason why personal involvement at the employee level is so important: To break the own-site-centricity of so many firms’ without an actual human(s) voice communicating with customers then the whole point of social media is lost i.e. its sociable. So even if you do actually manage to get the prospects/customers to your own site if the message is provided by nothing other than market speak or nameless users/moderators you will struggle to build a relationship.

  4. The four questions mentioned here should really be a part of any marketing department’s conversations before pursuing their next marketing initiative – whether it involves social media or not.

    Successful social media initiatives aren’t successful simply because they connect with the outside world – it’s because they connect an institution/company with a specific group of people – their target markets. That being said, I think the most important question here is the one that many institutions would find most difficult to answer:

    “which customers do we really need to be attracting and keeping?”

    Without a solid answer here, the choice to incorporate social media into your marketing initiatives leaves a lot to chance – and could prove to be northing more than a drain on resources.

  5. “Smart bloggers know that the way to make a name for themselves — and ultimately drive traffic to their sites — is by leaving smart comments on other bloggers’ sites.”

    Absolutely correct (and since I never leave smart comments…). This is why I have some doubts about social media’s fit into large corporations’ marketing mix. Let’s face it – consumers distrust large corporations. How, then, do you expect a communications vehicle that prides itself on honesty/transparency and authenticity to be successfully utilized by an organization that (maybe through no fault of their own) simply will not be viewed as a trustworthy source of information?

    To me, there are only two ways: 1) Become such a topic of conversation that you become a default topic of social media (Mac comes to mind); or 2) Make sure that the message is 100% consistent with consumer experience, employee base make-up, and your product offerings and that top-and-bottom your organization 100% buys into the tool. This means delivery of important news is made immediately available (preferably by your chief executive), executives and peons alike are actively involved, and are honest to a fault in all writing (without fear of repercussion).

    1 is a hell of a lot more possible than 2….especially the bigger the organization becomes. The problem is social media as a corporate tool is being embraced primarily by marketing people and those on the lowest levels. The former cannot be trusted The latter doesn’t have the information access or freedom to disclose necessary to make them a viable resource for information.

    So, want to know the secret to succeeding in social media? Hire great people (of all levels) who are already involved in it (I mean seriously involved) and give them the freedom (responsibility) to continue being connected. Make consumers respect your organization because they respect your employees. Get them excited about your organization because your employees are excited about it.

  6. Great post Ron. I think everyone in Banks considering ‘social media’ should be required to read that annoyingly written yet accurate book, The Cluetrain Manifesto.

    Basic premise is this ….
    1. employees need to be connected to each other
    2. customers need to be able to talk to each other
    3. employees and customers will then talk to each other, as people

    1. is nowhere. 2. is happening despite Banks. 3. cannot happen without 1. and 2.

    I hate to be annoyingly pedantic on blogs, but if your Bank cannot get their mind around operating a blog for at least a year, and honestly allowing the blogger(s) to chat to people on the Bank blog, AND comment on other blogs freely. Anything less means the Bank has not got it, and is culturally not able to move to the next level.

    As you say sticking a page in Facemeebo social network de jour is not social media. It merely perpetuates the old fashioned bring them to my site mentality. The physical equivalent would be …. Mr Customer – we cannot speak to you unless you attend at our office. If we meet in the street/ coffee shop/ around town, we cannot talk – HQ won’t allow it!

  7. Ron:
    They are not users of social media themselves. The negative opinion is around the loss of control they have over the message. It is dated thinking, but a current issue none-the-less. However, we must cater to everyone, so a carefully carefully approach is the best we can do. Anything else will get social media shut down.

  8. @James … key point in your comment is the loss of control. How do we get Banks to understand that there is greater control available to them, with a pro-active approach, as opposed to loss of control.

  9. Great post Ron.

    Banks certainly need to know these things before starting with Social Marketing.

    However I strongly believe that learning in the field than off field in the marketing area. There are multiple challenges and the positions that comes and play, and many a times its the egg and the hen game.

    My experience says, employees and customers are part of the company’s ecosystem, and they will take part if company initiates it.

    While I was in Global Analytics, CEO Krishna used to start various discussions on statistics and mathematics, and director Nikhil used to counter him with business logic. This lead many people joining the war, and huge knowledge base was created. Everybody learned and everybody enjoyed too.

    So just jumping off is not that bad idea either!!

  10. And believe me, educating people on social networking is very difficult, be it employees or customers.
    The only thing that can be done is initiate it and let them consume. Some or the other time, they might join.

    Might be wait and watch. But it is worth!!

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