Back in 2009, I wrote a piece about a post at Inside Higher Ed. Basically, they were trying to warn colleges of the dangers of getting mixed up in social media marketing and ran down a series of risks associated with marketing on Facebook combined with a nice “horror story” about an inept attempt by some college-oriented youth marketing group to trick kids… Check it out for yourself if you want the background.
(Note: Once upon a time I was in the “data” business. What the authors of this now dated piece cover is pretty blasé by most lead gen standards. Someday, I’ll write up some posts about how most lead data in the commercial world is generated.)
Anyhow, I think that it might be time to update ‘debate’ about the value of social media, web sites, and maybe marketing in general and clarify what the genuine, no-foolin’, real risks of any new marketing activity might be with special attention to things like Twitter, Facebook, and whatever other web place has caught your fancy. As is the case with some of the older pieces here, this was originally written with colleges in mind. I’ve updated it to include the more global concerns of our commercial sector clients. Apologies in advance for any lingering educationisms.
You are boring and/or irrelevant.
This is the primary risk associated with any and every marketing endeavor. Especially in a world with movies as awesome as Iron Man 3, free games like League of Legends, and fun stuff to do like Mountain Biking. As a marketer, you are not only competing with other products and services in your marketplace, you are competing with a real world that is pretty damn awesome. (I believe that it is a profound, subconscious awareness of this fact that causes so many businesses rely simply on sales and never deploy much marketing at all.)
Marketing is about a story or a narrative that will place you in the consciousness of the buyer. Period. That’s all it is. You want to be there mentally when it is time for them to make a purchasing decision. The marketing message must stand out or provide a powerful emotional connection in order to be effective.
If you don’t have enough interesting stuff to say, then there’s no story there worth hearing. (Forget the concern about whether or not your story is true — we can talk about that later.) So, if you want to succeed in marketing (especially on the web), then you simply can’t afford to be boring, irrelevant, or both.
How does this translate into a clear and present danger in the world of social media? Simple – if you are boring and irrelevant, then at the very least, your time (and therefore money) spent on promoting your services or institution is completely wasted. And trust me, four or five facebook posts per week ads up – like to the tune of three to five hours of work. You do the math.
The even scarier alternative is that you spend all of this time posting boring and uninteresting material only to find that some of your potential customers have actually seen it – and come to the conclusion that you are unutterably lame. It is better not to be seen at all, than to be seen to be a loser in your chosen vertical. (Well, unless your brand is all about being the underdog kid who everyone thinks is kind of creepy. Then it’s a win.)
You’re lazy or lack discipline.
This is a real problem that we all struggle with. In fact, corporate and departmental meetings were invented for the sole purpose of making the little voice in our heads stop yelling so loudly about how we should quit goofing around and actually get something done. In fact, a sufficiently packed agenda of meetings can allow us to simply tell ourselves that we are ‘overstretched’ and have no more bandwidth.
That’s cool. I understand and I embrace my inner sloth. He likes to sit on the porch and watch the sun go down over the mountains most nights. Sadly, he sucks at paying the mortgage.
In the world of marketing — especially in the current era of relationship heavy marketing with lots of feedback — you can’t afford to be lazy about your projects. Nor can you afford to think that someone has a ‘magic bullet’ out there. Basically, marketing is hard work. Not because it requires brilliance, but because it requires discipline. If you’re going to be on Facebook or Twitter or whatever, then you need to be active on a daily basis.
Note, I do not believe that most businesses need to post on a daily basis. (Heck, most businesses could really stand to outsource much of their social media marketing to someone who has a system in place, understands their goals, and gets the work done.) But at the very least, if you are doing this stuff in house, you need to spend time on it every day. Most businesses or schools could stand to do about two really good posts per week. From there, they need to be thinking about ways of generating more page views, looking at successes from the past, finding new people to follow and link to, participating in relevant discussions, etc. etc. etc… In other words, social media is like fitness: In order to get positive results, you need to work on it pretty much every day.
So, take on only those marketing projects that you, or a sufficient quantity of minions, have the time and discipline to execute.
Let’s face it — all this talk about how marketing is so different these days and how much power the consumer has is basically nonsense. The consumer always had the power. And marketing has always been, well… “challenging”.
What’s new is that it’s easier for you to hear what consumers think about you/harder to hide than in the past. And frankly, lots and lots of places (certainly colleges and universities) are inherently conservative institutions in that they really don’t like to change what they do and they don’t like hearing about how people think they should change. Worse yet, most schools and businesses spend time arguing with people when they do get feedback about positive change.
The status quo is a super powerful force (so powerful that we still refer to the original concept in Latin — think about it). And next to sheer laziness, nothing preserves the status quo like fear of being found out. When you market, you’re inviting people to find you out — and insecure companies don’t want the feedback.
When you market on Facebook or Twitter (or even LinkedIn to a certain degree), you open yourself to real-time feedback. People can comment on your work, service, or products in a very public way and you need to be actively involved in the management of your properties in order to respond to this feedback (or delete it where appropriate) in a timely fashion. The need to stay on top of things is even more pronounced with properties like Yelp or any of the myriad review sites that people rely on for unbiased opinions about your stuff. (I will confess to being a “4.5 star” shopper at amazon – I shop reviews almost more than actual products.)
Many organizations take one look at this potential hotbed of drama and unrest and say, “Forget this. Let’s just turn off comments.” The problem is, consistent bad comments are a signal that you have emergencies way more pressing than whether or not your Facebook Timeline image is cool enough. And as marketers and business owners, you owe it to yourself to listen to this feedback and make appropriate decisions.
Beyond that, interacting with customers via social media can, in many cases, provide you with both communications and product development breakthroughs that you simply cannot get elsewhere.
So, in order to succeed, you need to be committed to being involved actively with your audience – and be willing to hear the good along with the bad. As my freshman year writing professor said, “You’ve got become a junkie for criticism.”
Don’t get me wrong. Using social media can take a lot of effort and requires some new ways of thinking. But the real dangers are the same ones that have always been there. They’re just a little easier to see.