To succeed in social media, set aside your marketing plan

Forget your marketing PLAN?  Have I gone MAD??

Every good social media plan STARTS with a solid marketing strategy but social media efforts are sub-optimized if a company is too wedded to long-term plans and can’t respond to sales opportunities happening RIGHT NOW in front of their noses. To succeed, let’s put the long-term plans aside for a moment and consider a new way to think about and organize around the social web called REACTIVE MARKETING.   Let’s look at some examples …

Where’s the beef? A large restaurant chain was frustrated that the only thing that generated Facebook traffic was coupons.  And why not?  They had conditioned their customers to expect discounts every week!  Wait a minute. They were giving the customers money. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

I showed them a way they could tune into conversations through a simple saved Twitter search.  Immediately, they found hundreds of real-time needs from people looking for recommendations, or the best pub in town, or a place to take a date.  The chain had been too worried about planning next month’s promotion schedule while ignoring the real money-making opportunities of listening and responding, listening and responding.

Un-clog your blog. A B2B company has a content marketing plan that extended out for the next three months. Meanwhile, they had ignored a major market shift caused by a regulatory change. Instead of grabbing this opportunity to establish a voice of authority and educate their customers on the implications of this ruling, they adhered to this traditional mindset of sticking to a marketing plan while the real world passed them by.

Bring the heat. A local heating and air service company discovered a significant opportunity when they saw a series of tweets complaining about their largest competitor.  Responding to complaints that their competitors ignored opened opportunities to create loyal new customers. They are thinking of reducing their newspaper ad budget since this customer acquisition strategy worked so well.

Listen to me NOW. I sent out a tweet mentioning that I was in the market for a video camera. Within 20 minutes I had three tweets back offering specials on cameras.  While that seems like a good example of reactive marketing, none of the companies followed up with me after the first tweet.  Nobody closed the deal.  These companies organized their marketing efforts around the real-time opportunities of the social web but didn’t provide employees with the authority to go out there and actually sell me something.

Foursquare is still Bore-square. I’m still messing around with Foursquare although after several months I have yet to find any concrete value as a consumer.  But some day, I am going to “check in” at a retail location, an employee is going to address me by name, shake my hand and offer me a special deal for just checking in.  This would represent “reactive” marketing right at the point of sale. The social connection is not between me and somebody in a corporate office, it’s between me and the college student who is the department manager at the local retail tore.

Can you begin to see the opportunities?  The chance for connecting with new customers on the social web is not coming through a strategy document you just prepared for your CEO. It’s in connecting with people who need you RIGHT NOW!  It’s all about being reactive!

This presents dramatic implications for a sales and marketing department.

1) There’s a need to develop a culture with a discipline to tune-in, stay tuned, and react to market shifts and new competitive opportunities.

2) Here’s the big one.  You need to drive the authority to sell and react to the people on the front lines and establish appropriate goals and rewards for their reactive marketing efforts.

3) Every successful marketing tactic starts with a good strategy. I’m not advocating tossing out a marketing strategy. I’m suggesting that you adjust your plans to adapt to the real-time sales opportunities of the social web.

The largest brands understand this but I think this is an enormous opportunity for small and medium-sized companies. What’s your take? Have you seen much reactive marketing in your part of the world?

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  • OK, the opportunities are there, but what’s the cost of 24/7 prospect monitoring?

  • Excellent stuff Mark. I would respond here with a snappy comment … but my Public Affairs Group, The PR Dept, my Law Firm, the agency and the CEO forbid it.

    Happy Halloween!

    Mose (dressed up as himself scaring all the kiddies)

  • Mark,

    I read something interesting the other day, I rad that giving too much coupons away doesn’t get you customers. They get you cheap people wanting discount.

    I agree with you on the search. That is where the gold nuggets are at. A simple twitter search helped me find two people who might be attending a social media event that I might be attending (wanted to know some people before attending).

    If I was in charged of the event I’ll tweet them or ask if they wanted more information regarding the event or other ways to build more interest. They were already in the “interest” state of mind. All the need is for the company to make them feel welcome.

    I love the “listening to me now” I think what happened was they were monitoring people talking about “camera” and replied straight away without plans to follow up.

    The foursquare marketing is interesting. It will make everyone feel so welcome.


  • @Kimmo Linkama: I did some research the other day, I followed two companies to check their twitter customer service.

    They monitor twitter every 1-2 hours once. Bigger companies monitor them once every hour or more often. So I am guessing the cost might not be very high.

  • Mark

    @kimmo — depneds on the size of the company and the market, but it can be a lot!

    @mose — Wow I din’t realize your company was so big : )

    @Aaron — All very good and relevant points. With some of the small companies I have worked with and the Twitter search has really opened their eyes to some possibilities.

  • So true, twitter search is where companies should start.

    Mark, in your opinion. What would be a suitable approach. Lets say you’re tweeted that you’re looking to buy a camera. What will be the best way to approach you?

    I notice some marketers mentioning that they should approach you with a more aggressive way like going for the “sell” but my way is more like asking you what type of camera you’re looking for then going for the sell. What do you think?

    What is the best way to approach Mark if I wanna sell to you 🙂

  • Aaron, How about you approach Mark’s video camera tweet from the perspective of asking him what he’s going to use it for. Kids sports he needs one set of features. Vlogging – that’s another set of features. Once you know the results he’s looking for you can tweet back how your product (or which of your products) best fits his outcome. A week later tweet him and see what he ended up with.
    Just my 2 cents.

  • Mark

    @Aaron — This is an extremely good question and I think Carla contributed some good thinking here. The answer would be different for every kind of product. I think a big factor here is customer acquisition cost.

    The cost of sales activities — online or otherwise — is not free. So you have to be smart about how much you’re spending versus what the opportunity is.

    I am working with one company right now who is in a high-end business and the customers are very loyal. So the lifetime value of a customer represents tens of thousands of dollars. For this business, spending $1,000 on average to acquire a customer makes good business sense. So lots of follow-up and personal attention is justified.

    However, if I am in the market for a $2 greeting card, the selling cost better be very low. Maybe the only thing you can afford is an automated DM on Twitter.

    The camera example falls some place in between. I would have appreciated a follow-up tweet, an email or perhaps somebody offering to call me to talk through the options.

    There are many other factors of course, but customer acquisition cost is probably the one factor I would consider first when thinking about an appropriate online sales strategy.

  • For me, the best thing about Social Media is it’s a great place to research and listen in to learn about your customers needs.

    But I do want to throw out something for those who (no one here, of course) might not understand how to approach potential customers…

    Two weeks ago, after undergoing an unplanned, impromptu surgery, a friend and I were discussing our experiences with early detection and breast cancer awareness.

    I was awaiting my biopsy results and tweeted about my itchy stitches and nervousness. I was amazed at how many well wishes came through immediately…it was AWESOME!

    But one business woman tweeted to my friend and I that we should buy her pink ribbon totes and $5 would go to breast cancer research.

    I’ve supported the cause for years, it was sort of relevant to the conversation, but it’s imperative that people ALSO learn to identify when trying to make a sale is (in)appropriate.

    Maybe if she joined the conversation first, she could have interested us in her products, but instead, she just came off as totally opportunistic.

    That’s why I believe listening before speaking is so critical to success with Social Media and you don’t need a marketing plan to do that 🙂

  • Mark

    @Chandra – Oh that is such a great point. That happens to me all the time. Last week somebody was trying to sell me on something — they got my address of the blog — and I had to stop them and say, “who are you?”

    Hope everything is Ok with you. I will touch base and check in on you today!

  • while they have not welcomed me with open arms, I did get $10 off at a Sports Authority bringing my total purchase to $2.36. not bad. The value will come when businesses see the value in social search that fact that I am shopping there gives credence to my friends and followers.

  • 3 word response “yes, Yes YES!!!!!” This blog speaks specifically to the reality of social media and the value it can truly deliver. The catch is companies and users alike must begin to understand the power of the conversation.

    @chandra, I hope everything’s ok. And I’m sorry to see such a perfect example come through such a nasty circumstance but as you said, it typifies so much of what is going on. Basically, it seemed to show that the individual promoting to you had no interest in the condition, just making money from it. You should send her a link to this blog……

  • Good morning everyone! The wisdom in this post is relevant to so many aspects of life.

    The Executive Producer of So You Think You Can Dance last season shared this critique with a fantastic dancer who was starting to slip in the rankings: “Sometimes you forget to dance because the steps get in the way.”

    Taking a larger whole and zeroing in too closely on just one of its parts warps the overall perspective and impairs all actions going forward.

    True connections and loyalty are established when you see people as people, and not through the filters of ‘customer’, ‘prospect’, ‘target’, etc. While we all are those things at certain times, as Chandra so beautifully illustrated – speaking to that role when that role is not present can result in more harm than good.

    May I also say how happy I am that Halloween is over? I quite hate Halloween …

  • Mark

    @Dave — Cool! Thanks for sharing.

    @Steve — Well said. Thanks Steve!

    @Sally — You always come through with the most awesome examples. Love the way your mind works.

    Sounds like you had your fill of Halloween. Did anybody notice the Twitter bird dressed as a Steeler football player? : )

  • Mark,

    This is spot on as usual. I call this analysis paralysis, and it’s oh-so prevalent in larger organization. Responding to something in realtime, off the cuff, when it’s not part of the “plan” seems to be beyond the comprehension level of many. I actually think it’s not comprehensions, it’s how we were all wired. I think the more degrees you have (I have an MBA :), the more indoctrinated ypu become into planning, then finalizing the planning, then having a meeting about a meeting about the plan to plan something. Social media moves far too fast to be able to plan for everything, and we all know how quickly people expect a response, especially irate ones.

    That being said… I think you absolutely need a plan. But your plan needs to allow you to go off plan. Listening and engaging should be part of the plan. The reason you need to plan them in, is because although they do happen in realtime and somewhat unplanned, you need to allocate resources (yep, social media people like to get paid just like everyone else) as well as set an objective and metrics. Then you need to benchmark against those metrics and trend them over time.

    Re: engagement — I often say that if listening and analysis of social media is a science, really hearing and engaging in social media is the art of it. Social media is actually nothing new – it gives you tools to do what you were doing all along — you wouldn’t interrupt a conversation and start spamming people at a party (well, some do 🙂 — and you shouldn’t do the same in social media.

    Re: foursquare… yeah… we are a ways away from businesses really getting with it. It’s a lopsided market. Too many users and not enough businesses even know what the heck it is.

    – Maria Ogneva

  • Got me. Saw the tweet for this blog post and I say WTF – I thought Mark was a sharp marketing guy. What was he drinking last night? But you’re right. These are great examples (and there are many more) that show the must reactive-side to social media.

    The analogy I would use is a CNN model (or any other news program) … They may be working on a very applicable story on the economy, but if a tsunami hits, your programming changes immediately.

    What I will say is that continuous solid marketing planning and post analysis provides excellent conditioning for the required real-time actions.

    Bottom line – practice BOTH.

    Social Steve

  • @Mark – I bet due to your high visibility it does happen to you ALL the time. These experiences always make for great lessons, huh?

    @ Steve – Great idea! So many people on Twitter would benefit from these conversations on this site. I don’t think the woman in my example intended the negative outcome…but you’re so right, there is so much of this going on, people might mistakenly think it’s the right way! YIKES!

    I should have added…that my results were negative. No malignancies. And stitches come out today. HOORAY!!!

    Hope everyone has a WONDERFUL week.

  • Mark

    @Maria — Your point about planning – Certainly true for me. I guess I’m old school when it comes to that stuff but I have also learned that I need to be flexible and go with the customer flow. Just see the need for that so many times!

    I also think company culture gets in the way. The plan that brought them to the dance might not be dancing any more : )

    Foursquare would catch on if they gave people a reason to do it. Some people love the digital badges, but that is a very small part of the population.

    Thanks for all your insights!

  • Great post and excellent examples, Mark.
    This is just another case where balance is key. Following a plan too rigidly without taking a look around you is certainly foolish. On the other hand, you can’t respond or react if you don’t have the plan and systems in place to do so.

    The bottom line here is to train employees or clients how to set up the system for listening so they can jump in the conversation when warranted. I agree with Steve. Ya gotta have both.

  • Mark

    @Steve — I had the most difficult time with that headline and first paragraph. Spent WAY too much time on it and I’m still not 100% happy with it. But at some point it just has to be “good enough.” At least it got your attention I guess. Always learning : )

    Thanks for taking the time to comment Steve!

    @Chandra — Thanks for sharing this. So glad everything is OK!

    @Laura — I had the pleasure of talking to Social Steve about two weeks ago and believe me, he GETS IT! I definitely recommend his blog too. Very insightful.

  • This post makes me realize how thin the line is between reactive marketing and proactive customer service. Social media is where these two departments meet (or collide). I think that organizations that can successfully meld the two will have happy and loyal customers.

  • Mark

    @MIke — Superb point. We need to adopt those customer service best practices in marketing. In fact I heard somebody say that marketing needs to take their lead from customer service!

  • I had a written response plan and I tossed it all out. Can I sell you a Video Camera?

    Not everyone can be this way sadly. We as humans have different personality traits. Some need structure. Some love to wing it. Often the wingers can use more structure and vice versa.

    Thus the reason Social scares so many in business.

  • Mark, thats fresh marketing idea when you out aside the connotation of “Reactive” paired with marketing! I thought about and went right out to test this idea. Works for me and may land a client…just like that!

    Thanks for the reminder and also to be social with the social media for those that leave that out of the strategy.

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