Social media is not your marketing strategy
Yes, I’m saying that as someone who runs a social media agency, but I have a point. I’d consider myself to be fairly immersed in the world of social media and so from my perspective, it is all that the world ever hears about or writes about. I often wonder what people talk about who aren’t already active in this online world and are outside the ‘tecchy’ circle. The type of people who would give you strange looks if you said “Would you mind if I just twitpic my dinner? My followers love to know what I eat” .Ã‚ My answer came at a recent conference I spoke at : it’s still social media.
The conference was billed as internet marketing and different speakers covered areas such as social media (myself and Niall) , email marketing, analytics and web design. During the panel discussion at the end however, I think it’s fair to say that around 80% of the questions focused on social media, with a good 50% of the conversation centering on Twitter. To put the conference in context, I spoke to people in the break before the panel session and there were quite a few who had never heard of Google analytics, alerts or adwords. Yet there we all were having a discussion about social media. This is clearly where the curiosity is and I’ve noticed from other discussions that social media is, unfairly or not,Ã‚ hogging the limelight.
This doesn’t mean that it’s bad, it doesn’t mean that the benefits of social media don’t far outweigh more archaic marketing practices. But lets be clear on something : social media is not your marketing strategy, it is one part of it. Social media does not operate in a vacuum and you certainly can’t expect it to meet all your marketing needs. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of having a joined up strategy where all your marketing channels are working together. You can’t expect social media to do all the work for you, because itÃ‚ doesn’t work like that. If I’ve just built a Facebook page for a client for example, I know that it needs external promotion as well and should be a part of a complete branding strategy. I’m going to want the url on flyers at events, I’ll request the badge be added to their email newsletter and I’ll want it going on to press releases from their PR company.
This is not a concession that social media just doesn’t cut it on its own, it’s simply smart marketing. If you’re coming from the client side and you’re using a social media agency to run your online presence and a PR agency to take care of the traditional marketing, sit them down together. Share your marketing calendars. Make your marketing work for you, don’t make social media do all the work. I’ve noticed an increasing tendency to focus all your efforts on social media while neglecting others that are equally as important. There’s no point for example,Ã‚ in focusing all your time and effort in building up an external community on social networks then leading that community through to a site that isn’t user friendly or doesn’t feature fresh content.
Remember that your other marketing channels are still central to your business, only now you have the added benefit of using social media to enhance these. Remember this when you’re planning your next campaign or allocating your next budget. I don’t want to do myself out of business here, but I can tell you first hand that you need offline channels to work with your online channels and vice versa. Sure, we’re pretty much all online now, but we still walk down the street, we still read papers, we still love a free sample outside a shopping centre. Remember where your audience is and focus on making that work for you.
I want to make it clear here that I am also not advocating the approach of forcing social media into traditional marketing models. Try and apply a 6-point plan to your social media strategy and you’ll be lucky if you make it to point 3 without crying or throwing the whole thing out the window. Social media is a new way of communicating, so it requires a new way of thinking. Fundamentally, the future of communication and marketing models are being determined not by the client, not by the budget holders, but by the agencies. It is our job to challenge traditional structures and explore new methods of integrating marketing channels to ensure they are working together and talking to each other.
This is something that Forrester explored in their report on ‘The Connected Agency’ where they argued that agencies need to become consumer-centric, as opposed to channel – or client – centric. This is putting the community first. I’d recommend you listen to this podcast with Mary Beth-Kemp , co-author of the report for an interesting discussion on this. There’s one point in particular that I find fascinating. Mary explains that as a new consumer-centric agency, you are facilitating a community and that you get to decide which brands to let in to this community and which brands to keep out. This places a significant amount of trust between the consumer and the agency. The agency in a sense becomes a gate-keeper to information, always placing the needs of your community above the needs of your brands. I’m not quite sure if agencies will willingly adopt this model when we all know who’s paying the bills at the end of the month.
To successfully become a consumer-centric agency you need to move away from ‘campaign’ thinking. This is a hard step to take, it is essentially what marketing has always been built on. But there is no point thinking in terms of campaign timings, when what you’re hopefully creating is a loyal community online. That community is not there to receive your your campaign messages when you’re ready to throw them. You have to keep the conversation going and, most importantly, be responsive to what’s happening.
So what now for your marketing plan? The future of marketing strategies is in the holistic, organic model. To come back to my earlier point, there needs to be a happy medium between throwing all your eggs in the social media basket and running marketing channels that are acting in isolation. Your marketing model essentially needs to more closely resemble human behaviour itself, since people now control your messages and your brand online (you can try to steer them but you can’t control them). Think about your consumers, how they act both offline and online and how you can reach them in a way that makes them want to speak to you. If you’re focused on social media, remember that real-life conversations are okay too. If you want to run a promotion in magazines, remember that the conversation you’ve started might end up on Facebook. People are talking to each other, they’ve always done this. Only now they’re doing it in more places than ever and the whole world can hear what they’re saying, so make sure you’re listening.