Monday, April 26, 2010

#142 - Too many "cooks" in social media's kitchen

Someone referred to me this morning as a social media guru. Yikes! Never fear, I was, of course, quick to correct them. I had to since I don't honestly believe there is such an animal. Of course, you try telling that to all the bloggers, Internet and Affiliate marketers, MLMers, and speakers calling themselves experts and gurus. The real truth is that we are all (technically) new to this burgeoning communications medium.

Let's get real. Honestly, there is no one right/wrong way to approach Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, location-based-advertising, SEO, blogging, or even social networking. When it comes to social media, we're all figuring it out as we go - by the seat of our pants for the most part. Certainly, a few professionals have achieved a certain "level of expertise" by using social media for commerce. And, those who are achieving real results right now may have the right to speak. But, to see so many legitimate "experts?" I think not. What works for one person, product or company will not...does not...necessarily work for the next.

Each page, profile, presence, audience, objective, product, person and company is uniquely unique.

Sure, you can find any number of pros who hold strong opinions about the "new" media and marketing (which is reminding me more and more of the "new math").
The so-called experts go on and on (as they sell and upsell their wares) about the mysterious techniques and systems but they never quite show or tell you how to actually use them for your company or product. In my opinion, the charlatans are (once again) making it tougher for genuine educators to help convey realistic lessons to those who are interested in moving forward.

Many of the so-called social media gurus have little real-world social media, public relations, or even marketing experience, although they do seem to be able to sell pure fluff as genius. I call it all virtually pointless.

Search for authentic teachers

Real world marketing and PR practitioners, media agencies and departments, groups of hard-working marketing directors, publicists, small business owners, and their key personnel need actual tools and the background knowledge to work effectively within social media, yet few are finding what they need in the overwhelming array of Webinars and conferences.

The best way to learn social media is through using it, and watching how those you admire are using it. You will need some basic instruction and a few guidelines going into the fray. There's no need to reinvent the wheel and you certainly should learn from the mistakes of those who went first.

There are a few of us who aspire only to help. We're not selling our latest book, e-book, download or white paper. So, before you hire that social media "expert," ask why he/she feels he has mastery over this topic - exactly. Request a discussion of track record - in detail. Find out what the results are based upon - what type of metrics, ROI, and what was the overall increase in sales or traffic?

As someone who creates and monitors social media for successful clients, who reads hundreds of blogs, and who participates regularly in online commentary, I am sick of hearing all the talk while so few can walk the walk. Most of the so-called "experts" are just parrotting back the same speeches from the same handful of seminars we've all attended by now - and many are mangling the message. I do see a few genuine thought leaders, pros who are showing and telling and guiding, explaining clearly which buttons to click next.

Don't fall prey to jargon
Where are the magic strategies we are teased with in all the Webinar sales pitches? I've attended 83 sessions in eight months. What I know, what I have truthfully learned and am now using, has came from personal exploration, experimentation, trial and error. Before I fully shoot myself in the foot here, let me disclaim that I call myself a Media Strategist, a trained professional who is assisting a number of companies with their strategic planning related to media - both social and traditional

I can proudly say that I am no expert. I've been using all the tools and techniques, reading everything I could find, studying, and applying what I've learned for more than three years - with measured success. To some extent, so has every 25-year-old with a Facebook profile. I am the first to say that I won't be the right consultant for every industry or client. I approach potential new business with a long list of questions about what the company needs and wants to achieve before I even consider taking it on. I am a trainer/planner and I implement social media campaigns professionally. That's not the same as claiming to be someone with all the answers in a field that is changing and evolving on a daily basis.

Quality Printing for Less

The real question each business must ask right now is how does social media fit in terms of reaching organizational goals? Then, do they have the right guidelines in place to deal with all the internal issues? Do they have the resources necessary to focus on traditional advertising, PR, and marketing while also integrating a well-conceived social media plan?

Just staying current requires commitment
After 30 years working in mass communications, so much has changed in my chosen profession. Nothing, however, compares to the way it has changed in the last 3 years. I've met some admirable professionals in recent months, all of whom are under enormous pressure to deliver better results while spending less on advertising and marketing. Top brass is convinced that social media is the panacea to bolster recessionary sales while cutting the marketing budget in half. That's just wrong thinking.

There is far too little discussion of the reality that faces industry out here in the blogosphere. There is far too much self-aggrandizement with not enough context, and no real content.

The Reality of Social Media Marketing
Many people today lack understanding of social media's tools and channels. Just as soon as the world embraced MySpace, Facebook came along. Then, well,Twitter came along, and so on and so on. The number one problem for communications professionals is time - finding time to learn, time to plan, time to implement, and time to monitor. There is serious confusion about how to balance the workload and resources. Many struggle just to figure out where social media fits in with existing campaigns, plans and activities.

Have I taken too much precious time here already? Quickly, in a nutshell, consider a few more points as you contemplate where social media may fit in your plans:

Ask yourself:
1) What is the ultimate marketing goal?

2) What are the objectives which will lead you toward that goal?

3) What is your strategy for achieving the objectives?

Your answers will give you a starting point. As any marketing "expert" can readily attest, this was the starting point long before social media was a blip on the radar. So, as much as everything has seemingly changed, that's exactly how much sound marketing principles can continue to guide your efforts. Remember, social media isn't really about the technology; it's about what you can do with it. It's about you and it's about the audience.

Grow slowly, grow surely
Integrate social media tools and programs with traditional marketing and PR. It should not be an isolated or one off activity. If you’re working with a large company, make sure that your social media efforts and properties are in line with each other and integrated with other efforts already in place at your company.
  • Take baby steps – You don’t need to launch your web page, blog, Twitter feed, LinkedIn and Facebook Pages all at the same time. Set some goals, measure the initial results and then experiment.
  • Less may be more – All too often every division, department and group wants its own Page or Twitter feed. Sometimes this makes sense, but more often it does not. Don’t get stuck with too many under-performing online properties while you could be focusing your efforts and resources on a smaller and more effective number.
  • Social media isn’t free – This is a fallacy unless you have unlimited access to free human capital. Labor costs. Labor requires resources. In order to gain a following, you also need to leverage advertising in social media to drive traffic. If you build it, they will not necessarily come!
  • You are going to lose control – Control is a sticky wicket. Sometimes, you'll be stymied by the mere legal implications of working with your social media audience as co-publishers. Can you even post photos or videos without proper release forms? Everybody else seems to be doing it. (No. They are not.) Total control may well go out the window, but the reality is that the people are already out there discussing your brand or product online. You can choose to monitor and join in, or you can hide your head in the sand. Begin the journey in a controlled manner, employing sensible policies, and test as you go.
  • Social media is not easy, nor is it a waste of time – Building a successful social media program takes time, manpower and commitment. That’s the truth. Social media is subject to the same issues which faced traditional marketing, so treat it as you would any other marketing tool.
  • If you can't do it well now, work on it – Social media can help you tell stories in new and usually more engaging ways. You may be able to re-use content elements already in your marketing mix, but you may also need to think outside the box when considering what "content" means and is nowadays. If your material or post is not of interest to the audience, you may be spinning your wheels.
I'm sure you're just happy that I didn't have a strong opinion on this particular topic. (Wink, wink.) Hopefully, this post provides social media "food for thought." Perhaps you'll plant the seeds of your own social media campaign - personal or professional. The initial questions and the planning stages will be similar for both.

Do you agree or disagree with this take on social media "experts." I'd love to hear any opposing view.


  1. Elizabeth,

    Great post! I wholeheartedly agree with you. On ALL points. The only thing I would add is the importance of having some, however small, buy-in from the rest of the organization. The labor hours need to be spent working in the media, not convincing everyone of its worth and begging for information to share.

  2. Aleeah, you're so right. Getting the all-important "buy-in" of other players and departments - upfront - is a key to any successful social media implementation.

    Thanks for the astute comment, and kind words.