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The first ARF meeting on social media was held yesterday…and it was a masterclass.

Chris Andrew leader of Digitas Social said, “We must stop using the ‘C’ word” (C for “Campaign”).  In a broadcast marketing world, we think of brand communications as being chunked up into campaigns.  In a social media world, you are creating a permanent commitment to be present and part of the conversation.  It isn’t a campaign, it is on-going and self-perpetuating. He’s right–you can’t just pull the plug on conversation, access, and authenticity.  How about social media campaigns that you CAN pull the plug on? Well maybe those reflect broadcast advertising mentality ported over to social media environments—it “sounds” like social media, but it is really broadcast (or narrowcast—but it’s ‘cast for sure!).  BTW, Chris sees the value in broadcast campaigns as part of a complete marketing strategy; he’s just saying that is not the way to use social media.

Sam Ford, Peppercom, added that this isn’t about press relations anymore, it’s 1-1 relations; that’s the future.  He also hates the word “viral”.  We aren’t creating undesirable infections; marketers must create content and apps that people willingly share with their friends who they think would enjoy them.  In social media, peeps become the targeting engine!

Mark Studness from Verizon talked about their success with new customer care models based on peer-to-peer knowledge sharing environments they have created.  He admits he “lived in fear every night” when they first got started, exposing their brand and service problems like that, but now he couldn’t imagine turning off the spigot and, in fact, is making both peer-created and Verizon-created content simultaneously searchable.

Social media is on-going and self-perpetuating. Drop the C word.

Heather Maxwell from General Mills talked about the incredible levels of engagement that people have in their managed communities intended for sharing ideas and getting reactions that generate consumer insights.  She noted that when they end a research community, these people turn into ambassadors for the brand; they loved the fact that a big company valued what they had to say.  I can’t help but saying with a grin, “Wow, respondents loving research—imagine that!”

Social media is a way for you, the marketer, to open up your brand and commit that you will always be accessible.  Today, people respond to authenticity and the panel helped us to understand what that really means:

  1. tell the truth
  2. use language people understand
  3. Show the company is comprised of real people
  4. Be transparent—show you’re not hiding anything or being guarded
  5. Express what you are all about in a consistent way.
  6. “Authenticity” requires that you first understand the soul of your brand.

When Lynne d Johnson, the ARF’s head of social media (formerly head of communities at Fast Company mag.) asked our expert panel about ROI, it was clear that we don’t have all the answers yet.  However, the answer I liked best was Heather’s; “What is the ROI for you to send your mother a mother’s day card?”  So I might add, what is the ROI for authenticity?  Who cares?  What kind of company do you want to be?

The final big point is that you can’t jump into social media, you should listen first.  There are many wonderful listening platforms so pick one and dig in.  The ARF will be creating a “Foundations of Listening” document to help you with this.  Maybe start with just living social media—get a twitter account, start sharing ideas with people you want to follow.  Search Twitter, Blogpulse and Google trends for key words you are interested in.  Dip a toe.

Whether or not people will talk about you in social media is not the marketer’s choice; the key issue is whether you will become part of the conversation. Or, as Lynne d. Johnson asks, “Are you going to become the chief storyteller for your own brand?”

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5 Responses to “To understand social media, marketers must drop the C word”

  1. […] Moms Are the Mobile Power Users in the U.S. To understand social media, marketers must drop the C word Digital Marketing: The Betwixt and Between Phase 10 Sites to Learn Something New in 10 Minutes a […]

  2. Joel,

    In general, I would agree, but there are specific cases in which a specific product was promoted via social media channels. Latest successful one I can think of is Chris Brogan’s “Trust Agents” book release. Granted, this “campaign” leveraged Chris Brogan’s existing reputation and social media reach, but there were specific events, webinars, and blog posts targeted at selling the book. So, I think there are cases where the “C” word is appropriate.

  3. Thanks for the comments. Our feeling is that social media presence as a commitment to a relationship might be different from social media “campaigns” so it isn’t one big bucket of marketing activity called social media. BTW, Chris Brogan is speaking at our upcoming event in NY called “Winning with Social media”.

  4. Joel –

    Nice … good capture of ideas, thoughts, and strategy.

    I see social media marketing as the “macro” having continuous “micro” campaigns. I total agree that “Social media is on-going and self-perpetuating” … you can not just drop it. It is the equivalent of dropping a relationship (or multiple relationships) and no one wants that. But social media is a set of integrated campaigns that continue to reinforce the message of the brand, subject matter expertise, and/or delivery of valuable information/data to a target audience. The campaigns have a limited life (as in the example of Trust Agents by John in a comment above), but as one campaign ends, a new one should surface to maintain conversations and relationships and reinforce value of entity driving the social media endeavor. For that matter, multiple campaigns can overlap, so long as the conversations are continuous.

    Thanks for serving up a great topic,
    Social Steve

  5. I have an answer for Ms. Heather Maxwell from General Mills’s rhetorical questions – I am sure that among other things, General Mills wants to be a profitable company. Perennially unprofitable companies have a nasty habit of disappearing from business landscape along with the employment they provide to social media visionaries.