STOP LOOKING FOR EASY ANSWERS WHEN IT COMES TO SOCIAL MEDIA

by Shannon Paul on February 11, 2009

There. I said it.

Should YOUR company blog? It depends.

Should YOUR company have a Facebook page? It depends.

Should YOUR company be on Twitter? It depends.

If YOUR company IS on Twitter, should it be a person or a brand? It depends.

ANYONE who says they know the answers to these questions without taking a look at your business model, goals and objectives and listening to your customer base should be taken with a very large grain of salt.

There are no easy answers.

Francois Gossieaux put it very well in a comment over on Aaron Strout’s blog:

Social media marketing is not about doing marketing using social media tools it’s about enabling the social, with all its messiness, in all marketing processes…

Stop doing marketing: The messiness is the thing.

Social media technology is not upsetting. The old guard is upset by social media because the mechanized approach to marketing and communications is going away. The technology only facilitates the social element in the communication process  — but only usually.

The social element is more than any single platform; it is an ethos that can also transcend any technological interface to impact the offline interaction with your brand.

Get a high tolerance for ambiguity or get out, but stop trying to fence in this process with the old rules and mechanized procedures.

This messiness Francois references, should eventually carry over to other types of communication as well, elevating the human element of every aspect of business.

Rest assured the transactions will still be there, but instead of feeling like transactions, they’ll feel like welcome experiences. Real. Human. Messy.

These are my thoughts, but what about you? Are you bringing more humanity to your business, or do you long for the days when all the difficult questions came with pre-determined, hand-me-down answers?

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{ 29 comments }

February 11, 2009 leahmcchesney

First 6 lines are simple, perfect! Also, the same shoe does not work for everyone.

February 11, 2009 Todd Smith

I love the title of this post and what you say here.

Time to roll up our sleeves and meet people once again… automatic communication is losing its edge. In fact, it can never compare with real human interaction.

February 11, 2009 Rich

Social Media is the water cooler and tiki bar of the past, but now the companies have the chance to be involved with that conversation, but with great power comes…. wow, I did go there.

February 11, 2009 Stuart

Sometimes All Caps is a good thing ;). Totally agree with your point here Shannon. It isn’t about finding a one size fits all for your company. It’s sitting down with your marketing or PR team and really hashing out a strategy that makes sense for YOUR company. Things often work for some companies that don’t work for others all the time. Social Media is the same way. Thanks…this annoys me when I have to tell people this.

February 11, 2009 davidmullen

And, this is why you are my hero. Somewhere in my head Bette Midler is singing some sappy song with the word “hero” in the title. Too bad you can’t hear it, too. Well, maybe it’s better that you can’t.

Not only is this a problem on the client side, but it’s only going to get worse as more agency folks jump on the social media bandwagon and decide to start selling services tomorrow that they’ve never really contemplated before.

February 11, 2009 Ryan Stephens

@Shannon – Thank you for putting this down! I’ve said this so many different ways to so many people, but some people still want the easy answers, and some companies still insist on the hard sell. EVERYONE needs a blog, Twitter, etc.

The truth is I can make a great case for BOTH for MOST things, but you can bet I want to know from your company what your culture is like, what your business model entails, etc. so that I can cater all that to best fit in as a PART of your entire marketing strategy.

Real.Human.Messy = A whole lot of fun for me, and I want others to join, but like you said, they have to stop trying to fence it in with all their old-school approaches.

Thanks again for sharing this, I think I’ll print it out as a manifesto to share with others!

Ryan

February 11, 2009 Matt Batt

You bring up an issue that each of us utilizing various social media platforms is faced with every day. In fact, I just wrote a blog yesterday, “How Do You Leverage Twitter for Your Business?” While I believe there are right and wrong tactics, your point about “It depends” is well taken.

This messiness you keep talking about reminds me of a book by David Freedman called, “A Perfect Mess.” The book claims that those engaged in moderate messiness use resources more effiently, spur creativity, yield better solutions and are harder to break than those who are “neat.”

After reading this book…and now your blog, I feel much better about my (organized) mess:). Thanks for starting this conversation, Shannon!

February 11, 2009 Ari Herzog

True that social technology is not a panacea for all, but if a business is even *peripherally* involved in specific media, it should be using–or seriously considering using–tools for that medium.

When I come across marketing, advertising, or web design firms not on twitter, for instance, a red flag pops up.

When I spot human resource recruiters not on LinkedIn, I wonder why.

When I talk to professional photographers who’ve never heard of Flickr, my eyebrows raise.

Nothing is the answer for everyone, but something is usually apropos. When I don’t see it, I ask questions.

February 11, 2009 Brandon Chesnutt

If social media was easy, every company would be “doing it.” I personally just hope it never comes to that. Isn’t the looming threat of failure what makes it so much fun?

February 12, 2009 Jaculynn Peterson

“Get a high tolerance for ambiguity or get out, but stop trying to fence in this process with the old rules and mechanized procedures.”

Amen – to the whole post. Clients always want easy answers. But it’s up to us – as marketing and communication pros – to do the tough work, ask the right questions up front, and not be tempted or persuaded into supplying “easy answers.” I never did it with traditional Marcom and I don’t take this path now with Social marketing. Every business/org is different and will have different needs and require different strategies for sure. Another thing that gets me: I regularly see / hear about speakers, educators, presenters making “blanket” recommendations about one SocMed tool over another. Or dissing one tool over another. And of course, I often don’t hear any mention of how the tools are supposed to fit into the big picture. It all ends up sounding very easy. Indeed.

Thanks for the wonderful post. The world needs it.

February 12, 2009 matt lawton

I agree that the impact of social media is wider than conventional marketing. But it’s also wider than marketing as a function within a business. What’s interesting to me is how many of today’s corporates will have the balls to install a social-media-literate CEO before it’s too late. Tech’s aside, there’s maybe only a handful of companies that have leadership appropriate to this new age. What will corporations of the future be like with more social-media-articulate CEOs? Pain awaits. Good pain.

February 12, 2009 chuckhemann

I’m really happy that somebody wrote this post. We encounter clients all the time who hear about a colleague using Twitter, or blogs, or Facebook and wonder where can I sign up. Nevermind that their brand really has no offline following, let alone anything online. Similarly amazing are the number of companies that do actually have an online following but embark down the social media path with no concept of the conversations taking place.

February 12, 2009 Nick Kwiatkowski

Personally, I think that any company or marketing professional that wants to get into social networking NEEDS to read the book “The Cluetrain Manifesto” before even signing up. This book, written nearly 10 years ago, explains why these forms of communication have become so vastly popular, and why people are shunning the standard practice of simply using them as an advertising platform.

February 12, 2009 m7levels

Very well stated. Funny, I was in that dilemma just 3 days ago…discussing those specifics questions with a client. They kept pushing me to give them a list of Social medias they should join or not. They couldn’t understand the need to know them better, assess as it were. :) Ahh the beauty of Marketing 101 from as recent as 1990 is so different than the beast we call Marketing today. Loved the copy

February 12, 2009 Steve Woodruff

It would appear that you are in the habit of making sense. That is good.

February 12, 2009 Katy

Shannon …

Love following you on Twitter, and this is a great example of why. Amazing insight, and I’ll be passing this on for all the people that ask me about the social media secret.

Ha! If I only knew! The real answer is, there is no secret — there’s hard work, and if you’re lucky, you’re passionate about what you do and the SM doesn’t seem like work at all.

Katy
Executive Producer, GrowingBolder.com
twitter.com/kwidrick
twitter.com/growingbolder

February 12, 2009 Todd Schnick

The messiness is the thing, well said. I am experimenting with a Twitter account for a restaurant client of mine. Asking questions about what folks look for in a joint like this. Getting interesting dialog and feedback – and intense menu questions via DM. Have no idea where it will lead, but we are creating relationships with people who have indicated they want to be there at the Grand Opening!

February 12, 2009 Paul Baiguerra

In a meeting last week and I heard the exact reason why SM can be upsetting to there people:

“It’s not always commercial to be honest with the marketplace”.

That came from a Marketing Manager.

I don’t agree. But what I think doesn’t matter when those with the pursestrings are really struggling to get beyond that mentality.

February 12, 2009 Chris Nadeau

Great post Shannon! I will definitely refer our customers to this post. In the end, wouldn’t it be easier if people were willing to give up control? Jump in, get your feet wet and make sure you keep your promises, be transparent and have fun.

Keep up the great work on and off the ice :-)

twitter.com/cnadeau

February 13, 2009 Francois Gossieaux

Thanks for mentioning my definition Shannon. What most companies do not get is that this social messiness “invasion” is happening whether they like it or not. And it is not just happening outside their company, it’s happening inside their corporate walls as well. Even if they attempt to control the access to this platform of participation called social media, people access it from their own devices – be it their iPhone, G1 or other full functional portable device that people use these days.

February 14, 2009 Shannon Paul

Everyone — I’m glad so many people really liked the tone of this post. I feel like there’s so much rhetoric around this that I felt the need to break it down simply. Francois’ comment on Aaron’s post helped to inspire me — along with some other annoying things that helped raise my ire. :)

@Stuart – It’s funny you mention the ALL CAPS, because that sort of thing usually annoys me, but I felt it was appropriate for this. You’re right to point out that customization needs to be considered when creating strategy, but we also need to remember that social media strategies and traditional marketing strategies often look very similar on the surface… where things get tricky with social media is with the selection of tactics and execution. That’s when things REALLY get messy.

@davidmullen You crack me up. Singing in your head? Bette Midler? Thanks sir for the kind words. I have a similar regard for you. :) I agree that things will probably get worse before they get better. I just wish people would stop *pretending* to understand because they went to some webinar on social media and start trying to do some real learning.

@Jaculynn The blanket approach gets me every time. All I can do is share what works for me and hopefully help you find what will work for you.

@Matt Lawton – I think many are dreaming of a social media literate CEO. Those days may be far off for many companies, but the good news is that a willingness to learn and grow can overcome even the steepest of learning curves. I’m hopeful.

@Nick Kwaitkowski The Cluetrain Manifesto is certainly an essential read — still very relevant. :)

@Todd Schnick – Sounds like a very interesting and creative use of Twitter – I wish you well.

@Chris Nadeau – Yes, but I also think it would be easier if we lived in a world where jumping into new things wholeheartedly and experimentation were always safe. Jumping in has risks. It’s up to us as professionals to help companies mitigate and prepare for the risks as well as preach the benefits. Oh, and thanks. :)

Francois Gossieaux – Thanks so much for stopping by. Obviously I am a great admirer of you and your work. The social messiness “invasion” is definitely happening. The walls — both literal and figurative are coming down whether we’re ready or not. Great point.

February 16, 2009 Beth Harte

“The old guard is upset by social media because the mechanized approach to marketing and communications is going away.”

Brilliant Shannon!

Social media is also pointing out that so many marketers and communicators really don’t know how to, ah, communicate. [Ouch!]

‘Messy is the new marketing.’ That will have heads spinning for sure. As a marketer (traditional and new), I agree with messy, but I still think social media can be somewhat organized. Of course, this only happens once you let down the guard and accept the messiness. ;-)

February 16, 2009 Michael Calienes

Love that. Everyone’s out there just jumping in without really thinking about goals and strategies. It certainly can feel supremely messy without a plan. Good luck to the old guard. We’re moving on.

February 17, 2009 Shannon Paul

@Ari, I’m sorry I didn’t reply sooner to your comment. I think you raise an interesting point, but that the perspective is a dangerous one. There is still a lot of work to be done outside social networks, and honestly, I’m more bothered by marketers who seem to spend every waking moment on Twitter. I can’t help but wonder when these people are ever utilizing social media for actual businesses or for anyone other than themselves. How can help people learn how to adapt to this new type of communication if we’re too busy looking down our noses at them? Just because some of us got on board early doesn’t make them late to the party. We can all add value.

@Beth – I love when you stop by. Truly. I think strategy can be organized, but the life cycle of an issue or a blog post or even a promotion can resurface in social media channels unlike more traditional channels. Also, the implementation and execution of some strategies will ultimately get messy. For instance, they will be more time consuming and simply not stick to the script. We, as a company or department may be ready to move onto the next order of business but the public may not. The blueprint should be sound, but we can’t get offended if the public doesn’t go along. That’s the messiness I’m talking about. :)

@Michael, even with a plan, social media will get messy — especially for the individuals on the front line. This is because as much as we like to think we have accounted for everything, the people we’re interacting with may simply not always go along with the program. In many ways it’s like a dance, only sometimes we have to dance with a partner that has his or her own plan… Then, do we resist and try to control, go with the flow, something entirely different and possibly even better than what we had planned? I hope so.

February 17, 2009 Francois Gossieaux

Well – quite a threat this is becoming :)

It’s not just social media that will get messy. It is “the social” that is infiltrating all of our business processes that is inherently messy in comparison to processes, hierarchies and other ways by which we are evaluating businesses.

Being social comes with a ton of unpredictable behavior – think gossip, just to name one.

What social media enabled is for the social human to scale. No longer are we limited in communications with people within our line of command, and mostly with those who are within 30 feet of our desk. We can now connect and form tribes with anyone within or outside our organization. No longer can customers or prospects be isolated and spoon fed the corporate line, they will now affiliate with others and get their information that will lead to their buying decisions outside of your channels.

And that is messy…but also tremendously powerful for those that know how to live with it.

February 18, 2009 Chris Nadeau

Shannon, yes it is great to prepare, but sometimes to much prep. makes the conversation less real. I think the “big guys” should focus on being more real and not so prepped. The ones that figure that out, will be the ones who rise to the top using social media.

February 22, 2009 Heather Rast

Hi, Shannon. As always, your writing never disappoints, always enlightens and inspires. Thanks for tackling the “hey! this stuff is different! don’t put the same ‘ole dress on it!” announcement. I really hope your message reaches those that want to take a short cut and use a SM tool to solve a marketing problem without doing some serious due diligence first.

I think the most powerful part of your post, for me, was “The social element is more than any single platform; it is an ethos that can also transcend any technological interface to impact the offline interaction with your brand.”

Call me crazy, but I think social media is really a philosophy or mindset enabled by a growing number of tools. But the mindset must permeate throughout a company and manifest in internal communications as well as external (off- and online). *That’s* the company that’s prepared to innovate, cultivate authentic responses, close the feedback loop to drive better customer experiences, and whether any negative PR storm that may arise.

Looking forward to meeting you in Austin! Heather

February 23, 2009 Margaret Rogers

I love this message. That’s been my feeling more and more as I’ve been navigating this for clients. I think people want to send out an email newsletter with a Facebook link and be done with it. Tsk Tsk Tsk.

June 9, 2011 Karla Morales

As the saying goes, “this revolution will not be televised”. For the last few years big companies have been complaining about the amount of competition they face and the limited amount of channels & budget they have to express their difference. These companies spend all day talking about efficiency, streamlining and maximisation. I’m sure many of them recognise the need to embrace social media, but doing it is not so easy. It may take a long time before we hear the board at FTSE 100 companies saying to their staff “what we need is more ambiguity” :)

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