Exploding the “It’s all about the conversation” social media myth

One of the most pervasive mantras of the social media hype circus is that it’s “all about the conversation” with your customers.  But if you look at what’s really happening out there I think you can conclude this is a load of hooey.

To understand the shortcomings of “conversation” on the social web, let’s look at what happens in the old-school format of the focus group.  The focus group is one of the most popular qualitative methods for determining consumer wants and needs because it’s a relatively inexpensive and quick way to get feedback and ideas.  There are many formats, but generally you get a group of consumer volunteers together and, with the help of a skilled facilitator, conduct a “conversation” about the company, product, service, etc.

The biggest downfall of the focus group is that is nearly  impossible to get feedback that represents the true views of your target consumers. First, a lot of people simply aren’t interested in participating in these groups and second, the feedback tends to center around the most dominant members of the group. A real danger is that feedback of an entire group can be influenced by the forceful opinions of the brash few.

In most cases, the social web does not represent a true “conversation” with customers.  It is, at best, an un-moderated, non-representative focus group dominated by aggressive personalities likely to complain and force their view on others. Are you really having a “conversation” with your customers and prospects  if …

a) It’s only in English?

b) It’s only with people who have time to be active on the social web?

c) It’s with the minuscule percentage of people who are likely to engage on a subject?

d) It’s with people who may not even be the core users of your product?

e) It excludes people who are simply shy or quiet?

Experienced marketers can see this trap. We can also look at the wonderful opportunities of the social web and put them into proper context.  But I’m afraid the “social media conversation” is another over-hyped sound bite from the new age gurus eager to play on the fear of somehow being left out. If I hear “it’s all about the conversation” one more time I think I’ll lose my cookies.

Look, there are TREMENDOUS opportunities presented by the social web and there are lots of ways to have social conversations that are meaningful. The {grow} community on this blog is an example.  Tapping into real-time sentiment is another. Every marketer should be immersed in this channel to figure out what really makes sense for their company and brand. But don’t check your brain at the door because you’re afraid of being left out of this “conversation.”

The moment that changed my life

It was a beautiful sunny spring day and I had just taken my nine-month-old son on a walk in his stroller.  He was a chubby, healthy, happy baby and I loved to make him giggle and gurgle. He was just getting old enough where it felt safe to let him crawl around in the grass and play around in the sandbox.  Every day was a new adventure as my little boy grew before my eyes.

When I laid him down in his crib for a nap after our trip to the park, he seemed to be acting strangely.  More than tired. Something else.

I checked in on him in an hour and he wasn’t sleeping. He was lying on his stomach just staring blankly. How very strange that he hadn’t conked out after our day in the park.  I asked him playfully why he wasn’t sleeping and he just stared.   I made a funny face to make him laugh. Nothing. I picked him up and he was like a rag doll. He was completely unresponsive to any stimulation.

My wife and I rushed him to the hospital.  The doctor looked very grave and said he suspected that my son had spinal meningitis and that they were going to do a spinal tap immediately. He took my baby from my arms and told me he would bring him back when he was “cleaned up.”

I was 27 years old.  I had been promoted three times in three years as I clawed my way up the corporate ladder. I was focused on being in the right places and meeting the right people and saying the right things to get to the next job grade. I had just bought my first home and was embroiled in a nasty lawsuit with my builder. My wife’s parents were going through a messy divorce that had cast a cloud over our daily lives.

But at that moment, all I wanted was my baby.  You could have my job. You could have my house. You could take my very life. Just give me back my little boy, safe and sound.

This story has a happy ending.  He didn’t have spinal meningitis … he didn’t have anything they could detect at all. In a few days he perked up again, the victim of some mysterious virus that never showed up again.

But that day changed everything for me.  My priorities shifted for good. I know I became a better man, husband and father after that scare.  I lived with less anxiety and fear because I knew nothing I ever faced in my life could be as bad as the moment my son was in danger.  When I face trouble in my life, I think, is it as bad as that day?  The answer has always been “no” and things settle back into perspective.

Today I see many of my young friends and students filled with the same piss and vinegar I had at that age …  life priorities determined by money, fashion, gadgets, and now, “followers.”  My wish for them, and for you, is that you don’t have to have  a life tragedy to re-set priorities.  My hope is you can just imagine what it would be like if the thing most precious to you were ripped away … then live your life with the grace, kindness, compassion and urgency of knowing that everything could change in the span of one, single heartbeat.

The most under-rated aspect of social media marketing

Translation: "Reading this blog makes us don native costumes and dance with exuberance"

Do you have an “in-the-moment marketing strategy?”

If you don’t, you could be missing one of the biggest opportunities of the social web!

I had lunch recently with a marketing manager for a major TV cable network and we talked about the evolution of social media marketing at his company. He had a couple of quotes that illustrate the importance of reactive, or in-the-moment marketing …

“When I started working in social media marketing, it was basically just me.  Now everybody wants a piece and there is a battle over ownership. I feel like I have three bosses right now.”

“I gather data on our social media activities and the executives want it in a nice shiny report they use to plan programming for the next season.”

“The lawyers are getting nervous about so many people participating. They are working on regulations on who can be on the web and exactly what they can say.”

“We have a huge Facebook following for the network and I’d like to create individual efforts for different programs but just don’t have the resources to address it.”

I’m sure some of these growing pains sound familiar, but there is also a common theme here and a potential storm cloud for my friend that may not be obvious to him.

One of the hallmark characteristics of marketing on the social web is the reactive, opportunistic nature of engagement.

Traditional media: Take out an ad and hope customers buy stuff.

New media: Watch real-time customer, prospect and competitor behavior and react as it is happening. This requires people to be tuned in and provided with the authority to take action as they see an opportunity. For example:

  • Authorize employees to solve a customer Twitter complaint on the spot
  • Watch for complaints about competitors and act aggressively and immediately to fill the gap
  • Listen for un-met and under-served customer needs and adapt accordingly

So let’s get back to that storm cloud at the cable TV network.   Sure, there are the inevitable politics at work — and they’ll sort out — but this marketing organization doesn’t realize that they’re sub-optimizing their reactive marketing system:

  • Fight over “ownership” of social media marketing will muddy accountability and authority.
  • A big shiny report will only end up sitting on a shelf someplace, and even if management actually reads it, the market could have shifted dramatically by then. Why not monitor progress and reaction episode by episode?
  • A social media policy is necessary but burdensome legal approvals could crush in-the-moment innovation.  Allow for some mistakes.
  • One way to have more resources for individual celebrities and programs is to deputize more people and get them involved to interact on their own without the marketing department’s intervention.

Is your organization still in traditional command-and-control mode or are they adopting to the new opportunities of the real-time social web?

A 3 minute lesson in traditional versus social brand marketing

I found this little animation to be entertaining and instructive and wanted to share with you.  I have no connection with the producers of this video, Scholz & Friends.  They just did a good job and I wanted to say so. : )  Three minutes well-spent.

Apologies for the annoying Google ads on this video.  Not my idea.

Don’t you think this makes an effective point about media noise?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...