Getting Started With Social Media

Emily Riley of Jupiter Research recently wrote a blog post titled Getting Started With Social Marketing. Among her suggestions: Start listening, tap your own databases to understand what customers think of you, integrate social media with existing marketing campaigns, align goals with measurement, and start small on your own site.

My take: This is good advice (although I would quibble with the last point) — advice that I don’t believe a lot of marketers are currently following.

As “innovation mania” sweeps through the halls of marketing, many marketers are looking to experiment with social media, lest they get “left behind.” While I’ve got nothing against experimenting, I am against experimenting for the sake of experimenting.

But this exactly what many firms seem to be doing. For example, one large bank put up a page in Facebook. Sure, after 48 hours it had about 125 “fans”. But by my count, about 80% of those fans were affiliated with the ad agency that works with the bank. Another bank implemented a capability on its site to allow site visitors to post reviews of the bank. The bank rigged it so the default view lists the reviews it wants site visitors to see (instead of chronologically).

Here’s my issue with these “experiments”: I’m not convinced that they were the right places for these firms to get started with social media or social marketing techniques.

Emily’s suggestions, though, got it right: The place to start is by looking within, not without.

Before putting up a Facebook page, and especially before monkeying around with your own site, the first thing you need to do to get started with social media is to answer some questions:

  • How are we doing in the marketplace? No — how are we really doing in the market? 
  • Which customers do we do a good job of attracting and keeping? 
  • Which customers don’t we do a good job of attracting and keeping? 
  • Which customers should we be attracting and keeping? No — which customers do we really need to be attracting and keeping?

And then after you answer these questions, then — and only then — should you ask: How could social media help us?

Not only do too few firms start off by asking these questions, but many often get started by hiring a consultant. Sorry to say this, but that’s a big mistake.

Social media gurus may know social media, and know what other firms are doing with social media, but that doesn’t mean they can answer the questions I’ve raised. That’s why Emily astutelypoints out that getting started needs to involve looking within at existing databases to ferret out customers’ opinions. Social media consultants probably can’t help you do that.

Nor can they really tell you which customers you really do well with today, and which ones you don’t do well with. For a brutally honest discussion of that, it has to be done from within.

I can already hear the objection: “But Ron, we really don’t have anybody internally with any experience with social media, so how can we truly understand how social media can or can’t help?”

And therein lies the next step in your social meda journey: Get some personal experience.

Social media is a highly interpersonal affair. It’s about people connecting with other people. When it’s people connecting with firms, there’s the strong potential for the firm’s communication to come off sounding like advertising. Advertising is great for building awareness, and maybe even preference — and if this is what your firm needs, then great, maybe you’re ready to jump in.

But the largely untapped potential of social media is how it can help firms develop and extend relationships with customers. And if the people who work for a company aren’t personally involved with social media — and building relationships with other people and firms themselves — then it’s going to be hard for them to understand how their own firm can use social media to further relationships.

Another reason why personal involvement at the employee level is so important: To break the own-site-centricity of so many firms (this is why I’m quibbling with Emily’s point about “starting small on your own site”).

This mentality — that you have to get customers/prospects to come to your site — has been around for a long time. The irony about Facebook is that the new mentality –“we need to be where our customers are, so let’s put up on our own page on Facebook” — only furthers the old mentality.

Smart bloggers know that the way to make a name for themselves — and ultimately drive traffic to their sites — is by leaving smart comments on other bloggers’ sites. A firm won’t really understand how unimportant your own site is unless its own employees are involved in social media.

Bottom line:
The irony about social media — a tool that can help a firm connect with the outside world — is that it starts with a critical look within, before looking out.

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