Your 2013 Social Media Strategy: Grow a Pair.


grow a pairFirst I would like to explain this strange headline to my international readers. “Grow a pair” (not to be confused with “grow a pear”) is American slang for stepping up to be tough and bold. Now, on with the show.

There is an infection overwhelming social media strategy development and the virus is fear.

I just read a number of reports all showing how CMO’s are still confused about what to do about social media.  Really? It’s been on the table for at least 3-4 years now. Isn’t it time to figure things out?

I’ve had the true honor of working with some of America’s most beloved brands over the past few years. And I can report that the overwhelming reaction to social media by many successful companies is: “Can we please just make this go away!”

Once they learn that they can’t make it go away, they do the next best thing: Shove it off to an advertising agency.

The fact of the matter is, “fear of change” is always the biggest obstacle to progress. Many of today’s CMO’s did not cut their teeth in the digital world, have not immersed themselves in the social web, and simply do not understand it.

It’s time these business leaders stop whining about social media, shatter the status quo, and grow a pair for the new year.

  • Stop abdicating leadership to advertising agencies who just made Timmy from Accounting your community manager because he’s 23 and enjoys Facebook.
  • If you still have a firewall to keep employees from the social web, grow a pair. Are you shaking your employees down for crossword puzzle books when they punch the time clock?
  • Quit fighting over who owns social media strategy. It’s Marketing. Glad to be of help.
  • Stop hiding behind your legal department as an excuse to not do anything. If you help them understand what’s at stake, they will help you.  Lawyers care about your business too.
  • Quit whining about how much time it takes to do social media. Take a little of that newspaper ad budget you’re wasting and re-direct some resources to the digital space.
  • If you’re in pharma or another highly-regulated industry, stop waiting for guidance from the FDA or whatever agency and just figure it out. Whoever finally does that is going to have a remarkable competitive advantage.
  • If you’re in the insurance, banking or wealth management industries, grow a pair and stop treating your employees like idiots who could not manage to send out a tweet without violating a freaking SEC regulation.
  • Stop following a soul-less, cookie-cutter social media playbook devised by your agency.  Learn enough about this new channel so you can ask the right questions and be a real leader in this space.
  • If you are overwhelmed about social media and don’t know where to start, bring in help. If you want to find an advisor you can really trust, call me. I know a few I could recommend! Also, I recommend the Rutgers University CMD program (where I teach). In this remarkable executive program, you can get up to speed on the digital marketing landscape in one week.
  • And most of all, please, please, please quit asking about the ROI of social media when this is simply code for: “If I keep asking for spreadsheets I can stall this thing until I hit retirement.”

So there.  (Taking deep breath).

Please. Look around you. Which companies are creating new value today and achieving breath-taking business results?  Which companies are declining quickly, and why?  You’ll discover that if you don’t have a digital strategy, you are most likely on a path to irrelevance. Don’t go there.

In 2013 it’s time to do this thing. How are you going to integrate social media and digital marketing so that you’re not just checking a box. It’s time to master these platforms to make them work for you. Are you with me?

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  • Mark,

    I can speak to the insurance industry side of this thing. There are few Agencies (such as mine) that have embraced the social web, but with 36,000 agencies nationwide the market penetration of Agencies using these tools could be less than 10%…

    …and then independent insurance agencies wonder why we continue to lose marketshare to Direct Writers.

    Love the kick in the ass.


  • Mark, you will (I think) be pleased to know that I will be giving a social media presentation to the marketing and advocacy section of the National Association of Children’s Hospitals this March in California. They seem interested in hearing about how we are using social media to connect with the community. Interestingly, the theme of this year’s conference is “creating connections.” This is all thanks to you my friend. People in health care are still afraid of social media. But you are absolutely correct about how we MUST reach out and be bold. Patients want to be part of what we do. There is no other way.

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  • Seriously. So much opportunity. The pervasiveness of cluelessness and resistance is amazing to me. : ) Keep fighting the good fight my friend!

  • Amen (bowing to your greatness). Great job Alice. I’m energized by your success!

  • I love the part about which department owns social media. It seems so incredibly clear to me that it is marketing, but Iost a two year long battle with an organization I volunteered for about whether Twitter and Facebook should be part of the communications team of the marketing team. And by lost the battle I mean by the third year I stopped fighting it, left the marketing team and let them keep their status quo.

  • Sounds like you made the right choice Candice! It is weird how this continues to be a battle. I guess everyone wants to protect their turf. Everyone can and should be involved but Marketing has to drive Marketing. Thanks for your comment.

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  • Yes! Thanks Mark. I still come into contact with an enormous number of companies and marketers who don’t even use social media yet let alone understand it. This is not new tech any more and there are no excuses for not being involved. I agree that RoI is not something that can often be presented in an ‘old media’ format, but companies still need to justify spending resources in these areas. ‘Because it’s there’ will not (and should not) cut it.

    Chris Arnold
    Founder of Awedience

  • MrTonyDowling

    A clarion call for all marketers!
    Awesome post Mark, I’m all inspired!

  • Saskia

    Hi Mark, firstly let me compliment you again on your easy and humorous writing style. I laughed out loud a couple of times. Thank you.

    This article has come at a perfect time in the social media path of the company I work for part-time. The directorship is slightly older (and I use the term ‘older’ in todays standards, so between 32 and 47) and has done exactly what you recommend should not be done – hand over the reigns to a digital agency.

    I do see the benefits of this from a technical perspective like integrating fun apps for Facebook (this company is an illustration & design studio) and perhaps interpreting the analytics, but I do feel that the core essence of the brand (the creative directors) will be missed by their fans.

    I will forward this article and let you know what the outcome is. They have embarked on the social media journey because of an article of yours that I sent them a couple of months ago.

    High Ho Silver!

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  • You’ve got me laughing! It’s the laughter of recognition. I work in nonprofit, and it’s the same story: “Isn’t social media just a fad?” “Can’t we just get a high school intern to do it?” “Do it if it’ll be free and not take up any real time.” “Show me that it will raise money before you do it.” I’m one of those folks that did not cut their teeth in the digital world, and I’ve always been a late adopter of technology. Yet even I have seen that the 21st century is here! I’m definitely with you.

  • Agree. Thanks for contributing today Chris.

  • Great to hear. Thanks for commenting Tony!

  • Wow. That is really cool. Thanks for letting me know that!

  • Fad … intern … free .. (cringe). Sadly that is the mantra of many organizations today! Thanks Claire. Hang in there!

  • First, let me just say I about spit out my coffee when seeing the image with the headline! In a former job, I used the phrase “grow a pair” and my boss thought I said “throw a pear!”. Then, I had to explain the meaning. Oy.

    Anyway, love this post. It’s really puzzling to me that we still have to have these conversations. Social media is no longer new. It’s time to figure it out or get left behind. Granted, I believe that social media isn’t for every business, but it’s critical that you take the time to determine if it makes sense and what to do about it instead of burying your head in the sand.

  • Confused that the photo made you spit your coffee. It’s just fruit. Plump and delicious. OK, now I am cracking myself up. : )

    Thanks for sharing today Laura. I agree that companies need to at least learn enough to figure it out!

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  • mankul65

    Somebody once said,” No army in the World can stop an idea whose time has come.”

  • Jason Roberts

    Well said Mark. It confuses me how companies either ignore social media or when they do establish their channels they post for a while and completely abandon it.
    Alice has one of the toughest fields to handle social media with all the HIPAA regulations etc and she kills it so there’s no excuse no matter what field you’re in.

  • LOL!!!!!!

  • RLMAO!!!! What did you put in your Wheaties yesterday? Sounds like frustration boiling over? But Mark, really, if people couldn’t get the imagery of the heading and pic, how would you ever expect them to understand the rest of the post LOL!

    Seriously though, 3-4 years? You can’t change a generation (or two) of business strategy in a few short years. Things will take time as we all figure this out. As you so eloquently pointed out, even some of the marketing pundits still don’t get it? Is their lack of support because they are afraid of losing their business model or is it truly a lack of understanding or are they throwing bundles of $$ at it behind the scenes to do something about it (just won’t tell anyone until they are ready).

    There are so many dynamics at play here; it’s not really fair to just blame the brands / CMOs.

    So, I will leave you with one thought, part of the problem is that the Social Media industry can’t get its act together either. (Now this is a hugely generalized statement but) Everybody you talk to, every blog you read, every survey you see and every webinar you attend has a totally different opinion on how to interpret or execute on the value of social media.

    No wonder people are confused.

  • Here here!

  • I think that was me. I typically take credit for famous quotes. : )

  • There are so many success stories out there. In the field of healthcare, look at what Mayo Clinic is doing. If they can do it, anyone can. It makes me sick how fear of change is going to drive businesses into the ground.Thanks Jason.

  • OK, it’s time to disagree. Something we have not done in a long time, so this will be fun!

    Speed of change cannot be an excuse any more. I know businesses are big and bureaucratic but hiding behind that as an excuse will mean certain death. I’m passionate about this because I want to see established businesses succeed. So I don’t buy “it takes time” as an excuse. When leaders set a priority, things get done fast.

    Second disagreement: The social media field is in chaos. I think it is evolving and the people who know what they are doing pretty much are aligned with what works, what doesn;t work and why. The conversations are getting ever more sophisticated and moving things to the next level. This discourse is healthy and necessary but if you find the right people to guide your program (not Timmy from Accounting) you should have a clear path based on your business strategy.

    Always love it when you comment. Thanks for being such a loyal reader Steve. I appreciate you!

  • Mark! Onward, onward, onward! THANKS for inspiring me on a fresh approach to use on all my clients. We forget to be bold sometimes! WE know this stuff works and it pays to be more direct. I’m growing a bigger pair… Starting today.

  • What better way to start a week than with a Monday morning manifesto!
    Love this. You hit all the nails directly on the head.
    I’m feeling rejuventated and ready to go out there and kick ass! 🙂

  • Re: “Are you with me?” Absolutely…

  • Pictorial pun much appreciated. Thanks for explaining it to us non-natives… 🙂 Seriously, one of the best kick-in-the-pants posts I’ve read in a long time!

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  • This is fantastic – as a kick in the cahonies is desperately needed in many industries. Hopefully 2013 will be the year slow adapters and those wishing it will go away will give in and embrace social media.

  • “Are you with me?” Indeed, working hard to put everything together.., but it is a big puzzle, without an example… But, we’re getting there…

  • mankul65

    Glory be!

  • I love this: “Stop abdicating leadership to advertising agencies who just made Timmy from Accounting your community manager because he’s 23 and enjoys Facebook.” We run into this more often than you’d think. People assume that because some young-ish person (who grew up in the digital age and is clearly a “computer genius” because of it) knows how to text and post status updates via a mobile phone, that person is also adept at marketing and communications. That’s often completely opposite of reality. I don’t know if “grow a pair” or “grow a brain” is more accurate but either way, I’m for it!

  • Ha! That’s great. Victory through progress. : )

  • SO great to hear from you Ray. I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to comment today!

  • Hurray. Thanks for the support my friend!

  • *S*…… I’m so violently in agreement with everything you are saying from a purest perspective. But, practically, that’s not necessarily how things work. I do agree that leaders need to set this as a priority and need to bring in an “expert” to help them figure this out. But, I’d be willing to bet that a big part of the issue is identifying the “expert”. One who can define a rational reason to do this and identify opportunities to get started.

    So, as has been the case for a while,” finding the right people to guide your program” is likely the biggest bottleneck for many. Programs like the one you teach are certainly going to help fill this void in time. Hopefully these people will be able to translate this emerging opportunity into something business leaders can be comfortable with. But first we have to train them and secondly they have to execute and prove their value.

    Another part of the problem is that there is a generational shift happening here that will also take time. Many of the business leaders you are speaking with just cannot grasp what is happening or why. They grew up in “old media” and to a great degree don’t even use social (or realize they do) media. Another part of the problem may be our focus on specific “properties” as key areas of focus rather than the overall notion of what social media really is. This is the “expert” issue I have. So many consultants, vendors and “experts” have a singular focus driven by their own business objectives. This breeds confusion because who do you believe?

    Another issue that drives executives crazy is the “Chicken Little” argument. This by itself likely does more damage than any other single factor. Threats like this make business leaders dig in their heels! So, as an industry, we need to accept the fact that just because a business doesn’t socially enable themselves this week doesn’t mean they’ll be out of business within a year.

    I just think that adopting this approach of paying attention to customers is going to take some time. It’s not easy and needs time to gel.

    Finally, we need to all remember that we are currently in a state of “Social Media 1.0 (or earlier). This trend is in its infancy. What will be in 2-5 years likely will barely resemble what we are seeing today. Although we are all “early adopters” many businesses have had great success waiting for things to mature before jumping in too quickly.

  • Too funny. Love that comment. Last year my 20-something daughter wrote a guest post asking us to stop asking the Millenials what to do. “We just play on Facebook” she said. There is some truth to that. When I go before classes very few students blog or are in LinkedIn although Twitter is picking up. They can get around Facebook but can hardly devise a strategy. Thanks for the comment Carol Lynn.

  • Sometimes I think the companies still saying this are simply the ones that won’t exist in 10 years, because it’s only going to get worse (from their perspective).

    I do think one of the problems is companies being told that it’s all been figured out and that, therefore, if they’ve “ticked the box,” they’re covered. Too many of them just don’t have it in their DNA. It’s a radically different way to do business than corporate America has practiced for the past 50 years.

    Keep at ’em, Mark. You may still save a couple of these fence-sitters, and it’s definitely an inspiration to those who have already begun. It is a slow process of transformation, and people lose focus when change isn’t instantaneous, so it’s great that you’re keeping it front and center.

  • `Just want to second the thread that you and so many others here have mentioned: That cutting costs never saved anyone from their demise. What saves companies is seizing opportunities creatively. People used to ask me to prove Facebook was worth looking at. And I’d say: A billion people, 500 million of whom spend an average of an hour a day on the site. If you don’t want to figure out how to use that, someone else will be more than happy to. And that’s one little sliver of this world.

  • nancy a. locke

    Lovely to see a nod to folks who might not understand anglo slang. And it’s such a useful expression to propagate. 🙂

  • Dr Heidi Maston

    My life’s motto: Stop whining and DO something! A most excellent post. Kudos!

  •! And I’m laughing out loud, especially at your last bullet point:) And the “Quit fighting over who owns social media. It’s Marketing. Glad to be of help.” Reminds me of this old Abbot and Costello “who’s on first” clip (and no…I wasn’t around then:)…I envision this as how some companies deal with the “who’s job is it?”, haha!

  • It’s a slow process. The spreadsheet comment is hilarious.

  • Hi Mark. Liked this post a lot. As u know we’re one of the marketing agencies that “gets” social media. Question, why do people LOL? I just laugh! On another note we welcome Rutgers to the Big 10 or Big 12 whatever they are going to call it. LOL!

  • I have been so amazed at the ink about troubles in the C suite. Is this all of a sudden after marketers realized ROI was part of their responsibility? When I present to corporations there still is an amazing gap in knowledge as well as how to launch or sustain.

  • Love the title, the image and the message. ROI can be estimated and tracked for Social Media and I agree that ROI and the inability to agree on how to calculate and track for Social Media should not be an impediment to getting it done. Thanks for sharing.

  • Great points. There are no excuses. Can you think of any great company that became successful by avoiding change? So get comfortable with being uncomfortable because we will continue to see digital consumption grow. Or grow a pair :).

  • I often say this to customers: Cutting costs is not a strategy. That is not a point of differentiation. Now, if you re-engineer the system, that might be a strategy. Thanks for the great thinking (as always!). Look forward to seeing you in Feb!

  • Comes in handy in many situations : )

  • Thank you.

  • Thanks for sharing that Kaarina.

  • Sheesh. No comment from you about marketing owning social media. You’re slipping! : ) Thanks Jayme. I appreciate you!

  • I think we are obligated to measure but too many companies overlook the qualitative benefits of social media. And often, we don;t know what the results will be until we do it. The founders of Twitter never imagined how it would ultimately be used. Thanks Rick.

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment Mana.

  • I honestly don’t like all the football readjustments but it is an economic reality. Go Scarlet Knights!

  • Thanks John.

  • Huge puzzle! Thanks Rogier.

  • We can hope : ) Thanks for caring enough to comment Karen.

  • Knew I could count on you! : )

  • Thanks Robert. Hope you and the family are well.

  • Agree with all your points. Darn it. : )

  • Thank you Mark, my family is doing very well. I hope yours is too. Have a wonderful holiday season!

  • There are lots of other situations where the way forward isn’t clear and there are lots of experts. Are you advocating hesitation as a strategy on all those fronts?

    I agree that it’s hard to find experts, but what CAN be done? Is there someone INSIDE your organization who is a passionate advocate? Could you empower them with a small budget to do some experiments and see what works for YOUR company in YOUR marketplace?

    I think folks are waiting for the “experts” to prescribe a universal solution. Social Media is personal what works for you isn’t going to work for everyone else. What DOES work is getting out there and doing something. That’s what I hear Mark saying in this post. Don’t remain a spectator, get into the game and figure it out.

  • “Please. Look around you.” Mark, what a great and simple idea. It is not a crime, black hot etc to look and see what is working for others. I would be willing to quite a few never stop and think about that. Great, love the simple and obvious…

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  • Congrats Alice!! Your passion is amazing. Props.

  • Barrett Lombardo

    Awesome. Though I would prefer not to have viagra and allstate posts/ads all over social networks and blog posts. 🙂

  • I am SOOOOO with you, Mark! We are officially and forever “besties” now 🙂

    I work for a company in the medical field and a little over a year ago we decided to go “all in” and, as you say, “grow a pair”. Marcus Sheridan helped us conduct a 2-day content marketing retreat (we called it a reTweet) and involve every single employee teaching them how to contribute content. We taught everyone how to participate with our company blog, what to write about and how to make it easy and less scary for everyone. In less than 48 hours, we ignited a culture of content in our small business. That was a little over a year ago and to this day we now have 50+ employees contributing blog articles and content that drives sales.

    We figured, if we’re going to go social, why not go big and utilize everyone on the team? Best-decision-ever.

    So, YES, I am 100% with you and totally passionate about inspiring social business transformation. I got your back, good buddy!

  • The firewall one kills me. I ask business leaders who do this if they think their employees aren’t accessing the social networks with their phones at work. But the bigger issue is it’s up to us advocating the use of social to help business leaders understand the business value in it. Too many don’t know how to translate what they love to business value so it goes unspoken.

  • Thanks for commenting Gerry.

  • Do you think this is an ad for Viagra? It’s just fruit right? : )

  • Well of course we’re BFF’s. That was confirmed at Social Slam!

    I got to see your folks in action at Content Marketing World. Very inspiring and I have even mentioned them as a best practice in some of my classes. You are being a great leader there Krista! Congratulations on your success.

  • Agree Mrs. D. Ad that is such a very difficult job when there is built-in institutional resistance. The change really needs to be actively embraced at the top. Always an honor to have you come by!

  • All ways! ; )

  • Wow, if you’re this frustrated with the marketing aspects of social media (which is just the tip of the iceberg is far and away the most established use by organizations), we can only imagine how far behind organizations are with respect to other applications of new digital technologies! As someone who’s been fighting the good fight on other fronts for the past 3 1/2 years, I find your aggravation oddly comforting. 🙂

    You know I’ll quibble about your third point: Marketing doesn’t – and shouldn’t – own an organization’s social media strategy. They may own the social marketing strategy, but the social media strategy and associated tactics are much broader than that.

    Another point of clarification: I’ve tried to limit my use of the term “social media” for a host of reasons. Although it seems a bit clunky at first, I prefer the term “social and digital technologies.” Not only does this minimize the knee-jerk “social media is stupid” reactions, it also better reflects the fact that organizations need to think about hardware as well as software, especially mobile devices and cloud computing. As these technologies have converged, organizations must develop integrated approaches that incorporate “all of the above.” That may seem to make the way forward more daunting, but in fact I think it may make it simpler by creating clarity around the idea that how and where we do things are being completely revolutionized.

  • Hey Brad, thanks for the clarity! I’m not ADVOCATING any approach just trying to identify the corporate reality. We early adopters tend to work in a world where failing is OK and urgency is everything, as long as you learn and progress. But, in the big corporate world it unfortunately doesn’t always work that way, for a miriad of reasons. One in particular that is designed to protect investors and consumers is government regulation. This could be a lengthy discussion all on its own *S*.
    Unfortunately, although we’d all like to see it happen, you just can’t boil the ocean.

  • Thank you very much for the quibble!! And actually i think you make a good point about ownership — there are many applications across the organization. But that seems so far in the future to me (unfortunately!) I think if we can just make some inroads into marketing I would be comforted. Thanks for the superb addition to the conversation Courtney!

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  • You’re welcome. I’m still smiling about the post – not in a “misery loves company” way, but because I’m reassured that the “upside potential” is still huge. We just have to figure out how to hit leaders “upside their heads” in just the right way. ; ) I’m looking forward to 2013…

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  • Yet another good post!

    I am 101% agree with your point “Fair of change”. To be honest this fair identifies lack of entreprenurship skills because entrenurship demands to take the risk. Moreover CMOs have to understand that social media is not a bet, its a unique way to approach to the targeted audiance, No matter their is any numerical figure determining ROI or not, Social media will definately allow businesses to improve other aspects such as brand awareness, customer care, feedback collection and lot of others.

    Thanks for the post once again Mr.Mark Schaefer

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