Opening the social media can of worms seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve never been someone good at being as tactful as I should be. Honesty is more my forte with enough marketing mixed in that I won’t call someone a liar to their face, I’ll just suggest that the truth might be exaggerated at this particular circumstance.
A Twitter conversation occurred the other day, in which I interrupted (which can be the case when you’re publicly conversing) as two debated social media experts and their reluctance to contribute to the bottom line. So the conversation went (edited from the multiple 140-character segments into an easier to comprehend conversation):
Mr. Hillstrom provides an excellent point, for which I agree, with some caveats. And the social media expert with whom he spoke has got some explaining to do. He or she has failed to represent the industry sufficiently, for which I am not surprised.
This leads me to some assumptions that I think have arisen from social media — from all sides, fueled by social media, marketing and business. As we enter into a booming micro-economy when it comes to social media with investor angels heaving cash upon interesting concepts, we approach the fork. One leads to prosperity and moderate growth. The other leads to rapid expansion and bust.
These assumptions or, if you will, myths about social media, need to be explained.
Myth #1: Social Media Offers an Extensive Track Record
Mr. Hillstrom, rightly so, wants to be able to put his finger on an amount to be attributed to social media. With such, you should be able to break it down further — how much came from Twitter and how much from Facebook?
Hold on a minute. It would seem like that would be the case with an exception. Social media came into the day-to-day business consciousness in 2009. Maybe — just maybe — early adopters considered it in 2008. But we are talking about the sum total of two years. Would any long-time business man getting bullish on any new investment with a two-year track record? Has any industry worked out the kinks?
Mr. Hillstrom speaks of e-mail marketing — an excellent comparison. But e-mail first arrived in 1973 and the public at-large started getting e-mail addresses in the early 1990s, so e-mail marketing is an industry that’s matured over at least two decades. A comprehension of what works and what doesn’t work along with best practices and even laws governing the use of e-mail marketing exists.
Nonesuch exists for social media.
Interestingly enough, some job listings will call for people with five years or 10 years (and everything in between) in social media marketing. Really? Should you have found a soul prior to 2008 promising social media marketing for business, they were a genius or a psychic or both.
When I started at Mohawk in 2007, I attempted to convince management that choosing flooring was a social decision and that websites needed to support consumers sharing information with family, designers, friends, etc. Facebook or Twitter wasn’t even in the equation. Just the suggestion of the consumer inviting others to share in the purchasing decision in 2007 proved to be too controversial.
Social media is a segment for business that has existed for two to three years at the most. Which leads us to the next myth.
Myth #2: There Are Social Media Experts
No, there are not.
I’ll admit to oscillating on this issue, having written about this and all the modifiers professionals use to describe themselves. I want to give myself an “expert” moniker, after all, I’ve actually had significant success (I’ve got a fake certification too … it was an April Fool’s joke).
Here’s why I’ve finally decided there can be no experts. It’s really quite simple. If social media marketing’s existence comes in at two to three years, can anyone truly be an expert yet? The answer is an unequivocal, “No.” I am certain people will attempt to argue, but no one except for recent graduates have been doing social media their entire careers. Every single “expert” comes from some other field first and social media is an “also did.”
And like Mr. Hillstrom would like, social media lacks the hard and fast numbers you need to confirm that it works. But how does social media work?
Myth #3: Social Media Should Be Segmented
Many companies put social media into marketing but some put it into public relations. Either way, the social media becomes this segmented part of the company. Policies are created. Ultimately, this silo runs with little integration into other divisions. More or less, social media runs on its own with no comprehension of what other parts of the business does and vice versa.
Look at it this way:
- If a part of marketing, much of the advertising efforts are “beat the company chest” awareness or one-way communication out to the consumer, urging a single call to action (come into a store for a sale, buy this item, be aware of our brand, love us, buy us, prefer us, etc.).
- If a part of public relations, the message is more targeted toward the press in hopes that they’ll write a story and convey it to the public at large. Again, it’s somewhat one-way to the public, but responsive only to the whims of the journalist(s) who might write.
So let’s take Mr. Hillstrom’s example. How do we begin to comprehend how social media has an impact if someone tweets about a problem with a product. If the social media manager is appropriately empowered at company, he or she will expedite and connect customer care with the tweeter and resolve the issue, tweeting along the way. A positive result occurs. There’s no revenue increase on the surface from this interaction. However…
- The tweeter may have become a “customer for life,” depending on the life-cycle of the product in question.
- All of the tweeter’s followers and followers of the company will have seen the result from the feedback, which might have generated more sales inquiries and sales opportunities.
- Moreover, the investors and public relations out of such an event provides positive brand awareness, again, feeding on improvement and potential for sales.
I’m crawling out on a limb here, but I’m going to suggest that social media won’t become the engine that drives e-commerce as much as it will be more of the ignition point, conversion point, tipping point or somewhere else in the engagement:
- Ignition point: Drives the initial engagement with a brand, company or product.
- Conversion point: Turns the consumer from a casual browser into a serious shopper.
- Tipping point: Pushes the shopper over the edge during the engagement into the purchase.
I have adopted a philosophy of integrated marketing — truly integrated digital and traditional. If you understand from my earlier customer service example, I believe marketing extends well beyond some traditional boundaries that some companies put into place, like after initial sales where sometimes customers drop off into an abyss of no service. If all forms of marketing are truly integrated, trigger points at the ignition, conversion and tipping would be in place and removing social media would show that 5 or 10 percent drop Mr. Hillstrom wants to see. I’d go so far to say it would likely be greater in an integrated model because one cog missing from a parts so interdependent upon each other causes much of it to break down.
Myth #4: Anyone Can Do Social Media
Don’t worry about hiring someone to do social media. I’ve got a Facebook page. I can do it.
I was up for a job at a known corporation with well-known household brand a few months ago. The job opening wanted someone who could program and code web pages, perform search engine optimization, manage IT resources, manage a staff, create an online strategy, manage budgets for online advertising, do social media, write content for sites, interface with the rest of marketing, work with retailers around the nation, etc. In other words, this company needed four different people, but it happens to be a skill set I could bring.
As with my opening statement, I sometimes can be a little too honest. In the course of the conversations with the recruiter, I stressed my social media capabilities — something most companies really want to hear about. But this executive solicited feedback from the rest of the marketing department and, among the responses was the quote I’ve paraphrased at the beginning of this section.
If there are no experts, why bother hiring someone?
Because those with experience won’t make rookie mistakes. I comprehend the strategies that will properly make for success both within social media and for the larger brand. Within an integrated philosophy, social media also successfully dovetail into boosting campaigns, sales and other efforts.
Oh, and keep this in mind: Social media doesn’t get turned off. It’s always on. So you think you’re hiring one person to do it, great. Understand that person now has a 24/7/365 job.
Myth #5: Social Media Should Be Ignored until Maturity
Looking at all the evidence so far, you might think investing in social media now might be a bad idea. Wait until the standards shake out, so to speak. Until someone decides on the Beta or VHS.
You couldn’t be further from the truth.
For what are you waiting?
It seems to me that everything Kevin Hillstrom and Ed Lee stated are completely reasonable and good, sound practices. But that said, put a strong VP of Marketing or Chief Marketing Officer in charge of the group and let that executive defend the choice of social media. A well integrated and oiled department with all the segments firing together would result in strong gains in revenue.
Once that baseline is established tweaking and adjusting, adding more to different elements, pulling back on others would best show how your company, brand or product best responds in the consumer marketplace.