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No BS Social Media: Ignore the Hype. Believe the Facts

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Jason Falls and Erik Deckers explain how social media marketing can help your business in measurable ways, if you can avoid the purists.
This chapter is from the book

But social media is not-so-slowly creeping into the business world. Despite some business leaders' attempts to hide from it, and lots of business owners and managers shying away from it, social media has arrived. Forward-thinking companies are not only starting to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blogging as a way to reach customers, those companies are surging past the competition to do so.

The ones who aren't using social media? They're choosing from myriad reasons why they're afraid of it.

Australian social media professional Jeff Bullas identified 28 of those reasons, and wrote about them on his blog:1

  1. It is detrimental to employee productivity.
  2. It could damage the company's reputation.
  3. Security risk.
  4. Fear of the unknown.
  5. We already have information overload.
  6. Don't know enough about it.
  7. So much of what's discussed online is shallow and we have real work to do.
  8. We don't have the time or resources to contribute and moderate.
  9. Our customers don't use it.
  10. Traditional media is still bigger, we will use Social Media when it is more mainstream.
  11. It doesn't fit into current structures.
  12. No guaranteed results.
  13. The tools to measure and analyze Social Media aren't mature enough yet.
  14. We are in B2B and who wants to hear about our boring product on a blog or Twitter.
  15. We will lose control of our brand and image.
  16. Upper management won't provide support.
  17. Waiting on ROI (return on investment) with facts and figures.
  18. We are afraid of making a mistake.
  19. Lack of experience.
  20. Ignorance.
  21. Unwilling to be transparent.
  22. Confusion.
  23. No money.
  24. No expertise.
  25. Lack of leadership.
  26. Terrified of feedback and truth.
  27. The "newness" of it, going to wait.
  28. High degree of skepticism.

If you're not using social media, how many of those reasons did you find yourself nodding at? If your company is using it, how many of these objections did you have to overcome to convince your boss to let you use it?

This book is called No Bullshit Social Media for a reason. We're not screwing around, feeding you a line, or trying to teach you how to use something you're not yet convinced will entirely work.

We're going to give you information about why social media marketing is important to your business. We're not going to couch this book in marketing speak or use business school jargon. This is the no bullshit book.

We want you to understand four things:

  1. Social media is the wave of the future. It's not going away.
  2. The companies that will succeed over the next 10 years are the ones that embrace social media marketing.
  3. The companies that will fail over the next 10 years probably won't embrace social media marketing—most likely because of the fear we hope to eliminate.
  4. Social media marketing can be real. It can be actionable. And it can be measured.

Social Media and the Hype Cycle

No single subject has exploded into society and the business world the way social media marketing has.

In 2004, there were no books in your favorite bookstore that even used the term social media. Only James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds even considered this soon-to-be-emerging niche of marketing.

Fast forward to 2008: You couldn't swing a dead laptop without hitting a handful of "social media consultants." Few people in the mid- to late-2000s could accurately describe social media properly, much less prescribe marketing strategies and tactics for it. It was a newborn environment, full of experimentation and exploration. There were no rules or best practices. Businesses were curious, but only a little bit. Small businesses were willing to try it because they needed any advantage they could get. But the larger businesses were unwilling to try it, usually for one of the previous 28 reasons.

With information explosions comes the inevitable hype cycle, first described by Jackie Fenn of Gartner Research in January of 1995. After the market is set on fire, with talk about this hot new thing, the "trough of disillusionment" hits: People remember the "dot-bomb" era, and wonder if the "next big thing" is just a fad. (Hint: Facebook, the world's biggest social network, is valued at over $50 billion; it's not going away anytime soon.)

But the companies that embraced it in the 2007–2009 time frame learned how to use the tools, and reached a plateau of productivity. These companies learned how to actually process the information (or product, style, methodology, etc.) and use it in a practical, sensible manner. These companies discovered it was real, actionable, and measurable.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 Gartner's Hype Cycle demonstrates the cycle of peak interest, followed by a dip in interest—the trough of disillusionment—followed next by the plateau of productivity.

We think the first domino in the chain of events that brought social media into being as a communications channel, not just underground forums on nerd websites, was the publishing of The Cluetrain Manifesto,2 the twenty-first century's 95 Theses nailed to Corporate America's door, declaring, "Markets are conversations." The proclamation in the 1999 work by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger insisted that companies must join the customers in these conversations in order to survive. Consumers were sick and tired of being talked at. They wanted to be talked with.

Social media reached its peak of expectations in 2009 and early 2010. Facebook exploded into the hundreds of millions of members and early corporate social media adopters such as Dell began sharing sales data from social programs. Companies and their marketing managers worked themselves into a frenzy, trying to grab social media's reins and hang on for the ride.

Many of those marketers who were frothing at the bit dove into Facebook to sell their wares, blasted links to their websites on Twitter many times a day, and set their unwitting PR teams on blog comments to promote, promote, promote. They did it old school, with old school results: They got spanked.

Their return on investment was either nothing—or a public relations nightmare when bloggers called them out for spamming their comments with one-way, blast marketing messages.

Unfortunately, reality and the trough of disillusionment hit those marketers hard.

Turns out, Cluetrain was right. The marketplace has changed. Customers are in control, not the marketers.

You can't treat social media like TV, newspapers, or billboards. More is not better.

Maybe you see the trough of disillusionment not as the next step in the hype cycle of social media, but rather as the first indication that the fad is over.

You would be wrong.

Businesses that will succeed in their marketing efforts in the coming years have turned the corner—not their heads—toward the slope of enlightenment and are moving toward the plateau of productivity. While the "hype" is quieting, it is not because social media is a fad that is going away. It is because people using it are starting to see it for what it really is and can do and are using it that way. People who ignore social media because they think the fad is over are just treading water while their competition swims by them.

The businesses that will succeed are no longer saying, "I want a blog!" or "We need a Facebook page!" Instead, they're saying, "I want to engage my customers using social media strategically."

Just by purchasing this book, you've identified yourself as someone who is ready to look at social media as a real marketing tool with real potential to improve sales and profits.

Would it surprise you to learn that social media marketing, as we know it today, isn't just some surprising development spawned by tech startups and Gen Yers reeling after the dot-com bust of 2000? Would it shock you to know that the era of consumer-centric marketing began in the minds of traditional marketers in parallel with the information and technology explosion of the last decade?

Philip Kotler, author of more than a dozen books on marketing, discussed several interesting precursors to social media marketing in his 1999 book, Kotler on Marketing: How to Create, Win, and Dominate Markets.3

In a decade-old comparison of successful business practices, he shows a clear transition from "be product centered" to "be market and customer centered." He says:

  • "Old marketing thinking is, fortunately, now giving way to newer ways of thinking. Smart marketing companies are improving their customer knowledge, customer connection technologies, and understanding of customer economics. They are inviting customers to co-design the product. They are ready to make flexible marketing offerings. They are using more targeted media and integrating their marketing communications to deliver a consistent message through every customer contact. They are utilizing more technologies such as video-conferencing, sales automation, software, Internet web pages, and Intranets and Extranets. They are reachable seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day at their 1-800 customer telephone number or by e-mail. They are better able to identify the more profitable customers and to set up different levels of service. They see their distribution channels as being partners, not adversaries. In sum, they have found ways to deliver superior value to their customers."

In 1999, Kotler also predicted that by 2005, every product, even business-to-business offerings, would be available over the Internet and that retailers would have to find, "imaginative ways to exceed customer expectations."

This is what social media marketing is: Exceeding customer expectations, often but not always, in the online world, through human connection and relationship building.

Social media, then, is simply defined by the channels we use to achieve that. Blogs, social networks, podcasts, question-and-answer forums, email, and more are simply the strings between the tin cans that we use to communicate with our customers. The channel is social because the technology makes it easier.

Certainly, much of our focus is on the Internet and online tools to achieve this communication. But a bulletin board (the corkboard type with thumbtacks, not the online forum type) is also a social medium if your intent is to use it as such. Just post a question on the bulletin board for those passing by; provide a pen, note cards, and an envelope for folks to respond; then post those responses with your comments next to the question sheet tomorrow and you have social media.

Even a conversation with a group of people over lunch is a social medium. The key is understanding how to use a medium that is primarily social for marketing purposes.

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