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Jumping off the Social Media Cliff

Posted on Jun 8th, 2009
Written by Lee Odden
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    Of those that reach out to our agency at TopRank, most of the companies I talk to are intrigued and even excited about social media. The challenge for organizations is that they’re often not exactly sure where to start or what will happen if they do.

    For many companies, kicking off a social media effort is like jumping off a cliff. The question to consider, as asked at last week’s OMS event, is whether your company is jumping as a base jumper or a Lemming?

    What I mean by that is a question as to whether your organization is following others blindly into the chasm of social web participation or are planning and preperations being made first? Are the right people being educated and given the proper tools? Is there a plan with a specific objective?

    Chasing after the competition into Facebook, Twitter and blogging without a plan is the Lemming approach. You can almost visualize swarms of companies jumping off into the abyss following competitors, self serving social media consultants and momentum created by mainstream media hype, each yelling “weeeee, social meeeeeedeeeeahhhh” and then realizing (maybe too late) with wide open eyes that they’re not prepared (no social media policy, no roadmap). There’s no chute, and the ground is coming up fast.

    Photo credit: kgleditschAccording to Forrester Research, Using Buyer Social Behavior To Boost B2B Social Media Success, “Starting with social tactics spells disaster”. Why?  because social media puts buyers, not marketers, in control and “Build it, they will come” seldom works. Launching a company social media program by emphasizing specific tools rather than an understanding of the audience you’re trying to reach, goals or strategy, leads to wasted time, inefficiency of effort and in some cases, embarrasment.

    Capturing insight about your audience in a social media context can be accomplished through a variety of tactics ranging from social media monitoring to conducting surveys of existing customers to determine their social media usage.

    The base jumper approach is another metaphor that emphasizes having a plan: a goal and the right tools.   A good place to start is developing a clear understanding of what social media is and isn’t.

    I think it’s safe to say that social media is a set of technology and platforms that facilitate:

    • Conversations
    • Connections
    • Sharing
    • Influence – acquisition and exertion
    • Customer Relationships
    • Muliti-disciplinary: marketing, PR, sales, customer service, HR, research
    • The opportunity to listen, engage & be useful

    You could also say that social media is not:

    • Just like direct marketing
    • A replacement for other marketing
    • Controllable
    • A campaign with a defined start and stop
    • Easy to measure (in the same old ways)
    • Another place to publish offline Advertising media

    The idea of jumping off a cliff is scary as hell to many and exciting to others. The reality is that becoming an active participant on the social web isn’t like jumping off a cliff at all.  It’s perfectly fine to test programs at the product or departmental level before committing enterprise wide resources. With the right planning, tools, guidance and education, companies can equip themselves for a journey that focuses on meaningful social media efforts online that provide value both to customers and as well as growing the business.