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How do you think brands are doing when it comes to social media marketing?
My friend, Chris Brogan (co-author with Julien Smith of Trust Agents and The Impact Equation), laments the state of social media marketing in one of his latest blog posts, The Bare Truth About Social Media Marketing. While Brogan paints the landscape with a wide brush and lacks any quantitative of qualitative data to back it up (beyond his own review of what some brands are doing in spaces like blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), it's easy to understand and relate to his frustrations.
Social media is not living up to its promise.
You don't have to go that far back in time. A little over ten years since the publishing of the momentous business book, The Cluetrain Manifesto, painted a picture of how brands could now conduct themselves. Everything was so bright and hopeful back then. Suddenly, all of this inter-connectivity and untethered consumers would lead us to a path where markets truly would become conversations and the promise of Don Peppers and Martha Rogers' one to one marketing world would and could come true. In a way, social media has over-delivered on certain aspects of the equation. No one could have imagined just how transformative these technologies and innovations have become. Nobody could have imagined how willfully consumers would want to connect and publicly share so much personal and contextual information. Nobody could have imagined a world where each and every one of us would become our own media channels, publishing our thoughts in text, images, audio and video to the Web... and to the world in real time. Nobody could have imagined the volume of data sets and information that now paint a very different consumer profile, which transcends the world of demographics and psychographics. Just look at what is happening today on Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine and more. The opportunity for businesses to connect in a much deeper, richer and more profound way could not be easier. Brands truly can have real interactions between real human beings.
So, what is so wrong?
For my dollar, people like Brogan (and I count myself in the same camp as him) simply wants brands to become more personal and more personable. In short, brands have passed the social media marketing test because they are using it as an added way to communicate. I would argue that communications is not the point... creating true connections is the point. This is not a debate of semantics, but a much larger corporate conversation that brands are simply not eager to have. If you surveyed the vast majority of these brands, they will not understand the gripes of Brogan, Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, Nilofer Merchant, Avinash Kaushik, Joseph Jaffe or me. They will point to the amount of people who are following them on Twitter or how many likes they have on Facebook and push it further by showing the level of engagement they have with consumers in terms of speed-to-response or resolution in regards to a customer service issue as the barometer for success. They will demonstrate how often their messages are shared, liked, promoted and retweeted. They will highlight individual consumer feedback as a metaphor for the direct relationship that they now have with consumers, but they are still missing the point.
So, what could be so right?
Using social media to communicate a message is the obvious stuff. To this day, we have all-too-many brands who don't even know how to nail down that very elementary component. What brands are missing, when it comes to social media is the true connection. The trust that is built out of real interactions between real human beings. And, quite frankly, they're missing this point because social media marketing is simply seen as any other form of corporate marketing and communications. It may even be agency-led or outsourced to a company that specializes in community management. Brands aren't internalizing the power of how to be social, so the act of social media is simply an extension of the communications and not a true connection between brand and consumer.
Getting social media right.
It's not easy. It's not perfect. It's not fast. It takes time. There is not one set way for all companies to engage and connect. Because of this, brands look at social media marketing much in the same way that they look at their campaigns or their quarterly goals. And, if we're going to honest about this, that just won't cut it. Social media is organizational and it's not a vertical within the marketing or corporate communications department. Social media is the horizontal that runs across the organization, much in the same way that the culture, brand and human resources should. If we benchmark social media by campaigns and quarters, we are relegating it to a world where its efficacy won't be about how to build a better brand through better connections, but rather a world where its only role is to augment and supplement the communications of a brand. That sounds like more noise to me.
That would be a shameful waste... wouldn't it?