I'm asking because technically, it really isn't.
Let's take a step back and think about the strong word in the term social media. We've had all kind of media for ages - print, then the novelty of radio, then video that supposedly killed the radio stars (they also said that sound in movies would never take off, oh my), then the Web.
Well, there have been many technologies in between and now plenty in continuous development (and fashion), I'm just skipping through this.
The progression is easy to see even within each medium and format. I remember when television commercials had their own time slot, then they became more intertwined with the programming, to the point that now you Tivo them (imagine a language plastic enough to make verbs out of product names).
We're seeing the same devolution online where media companies sell more and more interrupting ads because ads online do not really deliver the same results as they did and still do in print - not even close. But you can measure your lack of results with ever increasing levels of precision.
That's why you integrate off line and online and advertising with many other tools in your marketing communications mix.
Why do we ignore the ads better online? It turns out that to be effective, online ads need to be by companies and products you want to notice in the first place. Amazing how everyone is noticing the online Apple ads at the New York Times talk to other ads now, for example. We ignore the others because when we're online, we're there to be social.
Sure, we're social animals offline, but online amplifies our behavior. We expect to talk back or even initiate a conversation. And in the case we are just sitting on the fence or observing, we want to find out what our friends or peers are saying about a product or service before we go to the company's Web site or we take action in any way.
Why do people go online in the first place? For many reasons - self-expression, loneliness, intellectual curiosity, networking and relationships, narcissism, entertainment, community, intellectual stimulation, peer pressure, collaboration, globalization, common interests, modern life demands, to feel human. I could go on. In social media people want to share. If you want an example of that, look at what happened after the death of Michael Jackson.
While people want to share, marketers want to sell.
Indulge me on a lateral example before we get to the crux of this post. Think about the other sexy and trendy topic - that of green and sustainability. Companies focus their attention on things - namely their products and buildings - rather than the effects that their policies have on people. Jeffrey Pfeffer (hat tip Mark Earls) writes:
As a few examples, companies in the United States have cut health insurance to both their active employees and retirees, causing problems in accessing health care. Many organizations have either curtailed completely or diminished their contributions to employees‟ retirement, and have thereby shifted the financial risks of having enough resources to retire to their workers.
Such actions have increased financial stress. And the waves of downsizing and economic insecurity created by wage givebacks and involuntary, part-time work have had profound affects on both psychological and physical well-being.
Human nature doesn't change, but human behavior does.
This social media thing is not just about a series of tools that whomever you hire needs to be more or less proficient in using to help your business. There's an awesome discussion on job titles and skills led by Olivier Blanchard (read the comments).
If you did approach media as new channels, then to gain a presence there, you need a team. Let me say that again - this is not the job of one person. Even with a team, without the support - or alignment - of the whole business, you are like the company that slaps a coat of "green" paint and checks the box on sustainability.
Because it is direct to customer and prospect, social media can help you in many areas:
- customer service - gathering information and recommendations in addition to real time support
- research and analysis - tracking new trends, gathering feedback
- marketing - bringing ideas back into the business and products to a market that wants them
- public relations - communicating efficiently with stakeholders
- product development - R&D, finding problems to solve
- innovation - collaboration, inspiration, influencing
But it won't do those things for you. Before you have a culture where sharing is not only possible, but encouraged, you need to a have qualified and experienced team of people leading the organization there. People who are able to analyze issues, problem solve, recommend, implement, learn, and give you the business results you seek along with the proof of return on your investment. Your returns will be proportional to your ability to align the organization behind this team.
Depending on the challenges your organization faces, you may look to hire marketers, communicators, customer service reps, and public relations professionals (exemplary list), who understand the dynamics of social media and have used those tools for business. There's a big difference between using these tools to just hang out and to generate conversions.
My colleagues responsible for SEO and SEM know and understand marketing, for example. It's important that you stay grounded in that because SEO is but one sliver on Web and online presence. You can be optimized all you want, if the content has no value and does not map to your buyer's needs, you get a lot of first dates and no game.
The true spirit and message of The Cluetrain Manifesto was not that companies would learn to market in new channels. If I cannot persuade you to read the book (it's free), Geoff Livingston will, so read his post. Geoff quotes Locke:
We long to be part of a world that makes sense rather than accept the accidental alienation imposed by market forces too large to grasp, to even contemplate. And this longing is not mere wistful nostalgia, not just some unreconstructed adolescent dream. It is living evidence of heart, of what makes us most human. But companies don’t like us human. They leverage our longing for their own ends… Our role is to consume.
There is a lot more going on here than meets the eye. This is about people re-adjusting and rebalancing the very idea of business. Building a sustainable company should consider the human as well as the physical dimensions of company actions. Social media tools have brought this conversation to the fore.
Best practices for utilizing the tools are being developed as we speak.
There are professionals out there who are broadening the scope of their business knowledge by researching, and observing, and doing. If we look at a group of prominent names in social networks at the moment we can see that these professionals are grounded in business skills.
Amber Naslund has experience in fund raising and brand building, Olivier Blanchard has built brands, CK is a marketer with more than ten years in solo business in NYC (if you can make it there...), Frank Eliason has deep experience setting up and managing customer service support, Chris Brogan has built his practice learning part time - an overnight success years in the making, Peter Kim joined the conversation from the research and analyst side after being in marketing. I could go on.
Your applicant should be excited about your business if they want a job in your company.
They should know marketing, understand communications, have worked in customer support, or have been in the trenches with public relations. Those are the foundational knowledge, experience, and skills that will guarantee your programs and dialogue with customers and prospects will make business sense.
Plus, these newly created positions that incorporate the digital space in social networks are the work of a team, not of a lone ranger. As I said in on Twitter just last week, depending on your product and service needs, you may need a content curator, a community facilitator and a team of experienced product development conversationalists.
Just to take one of the points on Olivier's list:
Applicant actually knows how to use Twitter to help your company build brand equity online and offline without having to DM people for help.
You need to know not just how but what building brand equity means in the first place.
As for those companies looking to hire professionals who understand how to use these tools - you need to first figure out what your objectives are, then hire someone who has extensive experience solving problems in that area.
If you come across a really good candidate, he/she will be all over social media. She/he understands this is a game changing thing and has taken steps to learn, integrate, adapt, even coach the team, and get results already.
We will talk about how you get there in a subsequent post. Questions?