Here’s vibrant proof that some folks still don’t understand social engagement: McDonald’s (@McDonalds) mucked up a social conversation on Twitter recently, and then their own social media director, Rick Wion, demonstrated an embarrassing lack of awareness, when he tried to explain the whole thing away. One particularly shocking phrase stood out for me: “…With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned…”.

How many times do I have to say this
?! Social Engagement is NOT a “campaign”, it is a commitment, and sometimes commitments require weathering rough spots in the relationship; forging through together; learning to listen as much as talk; and – should some control be necessary – controlling in an invisible manner that can never be resented. By admitting that (a) McDonalds continues to desire control of the social media landscape within which it operates, and (b) it considers Twitter conversations as nothing more than advertising campaigns, their Social team has exhibited a McRoyal lack of awareness, with cheese. That the brand thinks it can openly control social engagement initiatives, and then impose “contingency plans”, when the outcome doesn’t match their projection, demonstrates not only a lack of experience, but a mentality that will consistently fail to leverage the potential of social engagement, until said mentality changes. A good social strategy is a responsive and flexible one, not a rigid and controlling one.
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So, let me repeat: As I first said in 2007, and have repeated each and every year since: Social Engagement is a COMMITMENT to connection and bidirectional relations. It will not work to its full potential if it is treated as an advertising or product marketing CAMPAIGN tool. Gone are the days when you could blatantly push or pull the consumer in one direction or another, without any regard for their own instincts. The power of marketing has transformed in to one of influence, rather than impact. That’s not to say you cannot use social tools to support, and even push forward, certain marketing campaigns.  It’s simply that there are too many variables at play within the social ecosystem for a brand to want to control things all the time. How long would you stay married to a spouse who was *always* and obviously controlling? “Leveraged influence” and “moderated transparency” are the buzzwords today.
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“…All right stop.
Collaborate and Listen.” – Vanilla Ice

Moderated transparency
One must be prepared to let the consumer peek behind the curtain a little more than previously, and even fiddle with some of the levers. A smart brand will create levers with which the social community can interact:
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Leveraged Influence
A brand should always have a vision and an objective, and all strategies and actions should be manifest and pursued within the context of the brand objectives. Properly managed social engagement can help to strengthen the brand vision and more effcieiently attain the objectives, both internally and externally:
  • Inspire employee and consumer evangelism and sharing
  • Challenge dormant employees, distributors, and consumers to reengage
  • Educate and redirect potentially hostile influencers
  • Instill brand values without imposing them
  • Crowd-source creative opportunities at little to no-cost
  • Empower stakeholders to truly feel a sense of part ownership in the brand’s success
  • Boost ROI
  • Advertise incrementally (no need to invest tens of millions if there’s no pick-up whatsoever)
  • Blend resources (social brand engagement is not just about marketing, it’s about engaging (thus the term!) the whole ecosystem of stakeholders in a manner that brings them closer together, and able to more effectively enhance the brand value. It could be a matter of activating a previously dormant employee population, creating a more tight-knit community out of a global sales force, or bringing end-users closer in to the fold, so that an offering can benefit from their insights, and presell itself in the process.
  • Year-round presence – social engagement is a full-time enterprise, thus the need for commitment. However, while a conventional marketing campaign requires aggressive “full-bore” tactics, a social strategy can be far more leisurely, and thus far more manageable. The community will hold the brand up alongside the social team, so long as everyone is playing well together.

Oh, and one more thing…social engagement brings humanity and humor back in to the mix. That’s never a bad thing.

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Historically, small businesses founded during periods of market malaise grow to become behemoth multinational empires. At least, that’s what the track records of the likes of Microsoft, GE, IBM, GM, Disney, and even Apple would have you believe. Whether it’s because a recession throws a marketplace in to clearer and sharper relief, and identifies gaps that can be filled by innovators…or the simple possibility that it is perhaps less challenging (in the short term) to start one’s own business than to get a job when companies are reluctant to increase their workforce when their revenue projections are so shaky.

Whatever the reasoning, small businesses seem to appear by the legion during economic downturns, and the challenging economic times we are currently experiencing are no exception. Starting a small business is but the first step, however, in a very long and often unpredictable journey to success.  Advice abounds for these self-starters. Some of this advice is spiritual, some aspirational, some inspirational, most destined for the remaindered bin (or today’s e-book equivalent thereof).

It is refreshing, therefore, to come across a book that offers little by way of cheerleading, and a lot by way of practical and actionable advice. Susan Wilson Solovic and Ellen R. Kadin have recently co-authored a small biz startup guide entitled “It’s Your Biz” (Amacom, 227pp), and much of it is well worth the reading. If you are thinking of, or in the process of, starting up your own business for the first time, you would be well advised to skip all those feel-good tomes designed to raise your consciousness or karmic frequency, and instead study the experienced advice of these women, who will help you raise your eyes to see the road ahead, and guide you around many of the potholes thereon.

I have two quibbles with the publication:

a)      Resources are cited in a manner that leaves little room for the inevitable evolution of information sources in the 21st century. Sites come and go, new resource offerings crop up on an almost daily basis. The authors are handing out free fish, as much as they are teaching the reader how to fish. I would prefer if they would perhaps challenge the reader to find the resources for themselves. Perhaps providing pointers and search tips, instead of direct links; hints and clues that will not only yield resource opportunities, but empower the conscientious reader to seek out emerging resource opportunities not available at time of publication. Gamefication is a deeply embedded convention in today’s marketplace. Why not apply a little of that methodology to the book, and integrate a layer of interactivity in to the publication?

b)      Yet another “expert” has mistaken product marketing and sales support for strategic marketing. So long as marketing is seen as little more than a support activity, the sole purpose of which is to drive and support sales, organizations will only realize – at best – 50% of the value of this practice area. Marketing is a complex undertaking that –when successful – manages to connect an offering (product, solution, service, or brand) with one or more markets, in a manner that delivers exponential returns to all stakeholders. These returns are not purely fiscal, but also relational. Marketing has the potential to turn customers into salespeople, employees into evangelists, and brands into currency. Today’s social economy requires that business ventures recognize the new and very collaborative relationship they must foster with their clients and customers, in order to survive and thrive. Today’s marketing strategy is all about commitment, and far less about campaigns.

Extant these two quibbles, I am impressed with this guidebook, at least as a solid “get your head on straight” introduction to the basics of business building. This is not, as the book’s cover would have you believe, “the complete guide to becoming your own boss”, but rather the initial guide to the planning, preparation, and perseverance required to start a small business. Reading this book will not guarantee you business success, but it will assuredly get you in the headspace necessary to evaluate whether you are prepared to undertake the adventure.

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My friend, Mike Brown recently posted a short piece on his own blog, entitled “Who is creating social media content in your organization?”, exploring where the departmental responsibility for social media (or “social engagement”, as I prefer to call it) lies within an organization. I added a comment to the posting, which drew some very flattering responses via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and email – so I thought I’d post my comments here below (as much to remember what the heck it was I wrote, as to keep the conversation going!):

Perhaps above and beyond the obvious impact Social Media is having, in terms of offering new opportunities for brand evangelists to introduce and moderate their platforms in existing or new constituencies; for product and solution marketing teams to try and launch “campaigns” via new channels; for corporate representatives – be they CRM, legal, or otherwise – to try and cautiously bring their brand and offering connection closer to the end-user, in response to an increasing demand by consumers and clients to participate in the valuation of offerings, further up the value chain….above and beyond these and other immediately evident opportunities, benefits, or enticements (presented across the still primordial social engagement landscape), there is growing one even larger opportunity that has been only tangentially addressed here, and deserves to be directly examined:

Instead of attempting to qualify which existing department should or does own or lead social engagement activities, within traditional corporate infrastructures and silos, the real question of deepest worth may be “has the advent of social engagement, greater organizational transparency, transversal responsibility for failure and success alike, and deeper demands from every part of the process (including consumers) for collaboration in development, innovation, productization, distribution, and iteration (breathe here) created not just an opportunity, but a demand, for organizations to review their org. charts, and functional infrastructures, in order to best respond to and manage new models and ecosystems in customer and client relationships, product sales and management, and other aspects of B2B and B2C business?”.

Perhaps the answer lies not in shoving social media activities into one or the other pre-existing pigeon hole, but instead taking this opportunity to stir the pot more than just a little, and take some time to divest ourselves of 1950’s functional structures..?

This is the moment to loosen our grip on the past and present, and see this undeniably disruptive practice of social engagement as a chance to reinvigorate and possibly reinvent the way we manage innovation, human resources, market penetration, customer service, and so much more. Let’s not get carried away with a presently rather shallow tide, but let’s recognize that the tides have nevertheless shifted, and the currents are moving in compelling new ways which will certainly change the landscape. Where your ship lands depends on how well you learn to navigate these currents and tides, and how efficiently you reassign your crew.

My fundamental suggestion is that corporate and organizational models are ripe for transformation, reflecting massive evolutions in internal and external communications, operations, personnel management and education, marketing, and customer relations – to name but a few areas that are both deeply impacted by and – in turn – heavily influence hierarchies and processes within organizations. The way social engagement permeates an infrastructure could prove invaluable in effecting valuable transformation: watch the practice as it flows through the organization: something akin to a corporate blue dye (BDT) and modified barium swallow (MBS) test! Should Marketing and Communications continue to be lumped together (“MarCom”)? Is the skills set of Marketing best maximized as a Sales support function, or is there a more strategic opportunity therein? Should Communications really be a satellite support function, activated only whenever a Business Unit or other department determines there exists a need to “push” information outward, or is more potential just itching to manifest itself? The communal nature of social engagement gives organizations the priceless opportunity to move beyond legacy charts, developed to manage the 19th Century industrial revolution. Several revolutions have taken place since then, and this latest one – effectively disrupting how we connect, communicate, and transact with one another – presents an opening that should not be overlooked.

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The notion (and practice) of community driven consumer activity is, as with so many other things, cyclical.

For years, people lived in small microsocietal enclaves, relying on one another for word-of-mouth news and shopping recommendations, and sharing health and nutrition tips as they were discovered. Local gossip spread locally, and all was well in the Middle Ages.

As the world expanded, so did communities, becoming less microsocial, and more macrosocial. Urbanization supported mass technological, scientific, and industrial evolution, but at the cost – arguably – of social health. Social dynamics experienced a metamorphosis, from one reliant on group dynamics, to more individualized and self-centered ones.

In the latter 20th and very early 21st centuries, this self-centered societal infrastructure reached its zenith and, in keeping with the aforementioned cyclical nature of things, began to reverse its arc, affected by both internal and external influences.

Recently, driven both by personal impulses and available tools, platforms, and supporting business-models, individuals have begun practicing an exponential degree of community-thinking and action. No longer do all people rely so heavily on corporations for their information, news, and activity choices – preferring instead to rely on their peers for suggestions, and themselves for determinations. Admittedly, some corporations and agencies are attempting to co-opt this trend, but the most successful brands are those that have engaged WITH these new paradigms in media engagement, as opposed to those that have attempted to dominate them for their own short-term ends. Good case in point, Ford just posted record profits, and is the automaker with the most successfully manifest social media strategy (kudos to Scott Monty)…

We are cycling back, as a society, to an almost medieval microsocietal infrastructure of consumerism, wherein we form smaller enclaves, or networks, and assign to those networks values, depending on the context thereof. What used to be the medieval “guild” is now our professional network; the erstwhile “pub” or “inn” or street corner now manifest as our social network; and a slew of other networks have risen up to mirror, to one degree or another, the sewing circles/ curanderos/ mother’s groups/ secret societies, et al.

No longer can large corporations confidently “push” their products or services into a population, en masse. The population has become too diversified. While it may not yet be firmly evident, I believe that the world has become less homogeneous, as individuals seek out smaller communities to match their interests and skills, and become empowered to act as participants in the establishment of market trends, rather than followers. It has been a long time since Main Street Michael was invited to share his opinion about a major brand. Average Joe is beginning to get the hang of letting companies know what he thinks via Twitter and other feedback channels, and these companies are responding! Plain Jane loves the idea that she can be discussing her love (or hatred) of a particular product on her blog one day, and have the creators or distributors of that same product invite her to speak to their product development team the next day.

The quality of any particular demographic is now going to be as crucial a measure of its value, as much as (if not more so than) the size. It’s not enough anymore to rely on Nielsen numbers. While a certain audience may be smaller than another, it may practice a more intense form of brand evangelism, creating a wider grassroots adoption than can be tracked through conventional means. We are currently experiencing a “shakeout” period, wherein marketers are evaluating, through experimentation, to what degree it is advisable to bow before the consumer and listen more than talk. It is clear, however, that “brainwash” product marketing can only manifest itself if the target consumer is willing to brainwash him/herself in the face of a supremely well-positioned enticement (see “iPad”). It will be the consumer network that drives adoption, not the seller. The local guild will share their preferred mobile business apps, and your friends on FB will parse the news for you. Expertise will percolate by mass vote on Quora, Founders Space, and elsewhere, and – in the short period we are currently entering, when the advertiser has not yet fully determined how to manipulate the landscape to their advantage – we will enjoy a dynamic and somewhat tumultuous period of social behavior not unlike the marketplaces of hundreds of years ago, when we developed a stronger sense of what we wanted and needed BEFORE we went to the market; and yet relied upon our fellow citizens to recommend the best vendors, and turned to the recognized experts for additional guidance.

Communities are helping to clarify the value of marketing as more than just a product pushing mechanism for increasing sales figures. Marketing should never have been relegated to the status of “sales support”, “collateral creation”, and “Press Release spewing” that it was in so many companies. Identifying the nature and need of the customer, and connecting it with impact to the identity and value of your offering is far more than just sales, advertising, PR, or branding. It is these things and a panoply of intangibles, sprinkled with a big handful of common sense, and served upon a bed of freshly grown business acumen. It’s no longer about making sure that the customer gets it, but rather reaching that moment when the customer understands that YOU get it. Enlightened marketing today must engage and activate specialist communities to become evangelists for your offering. Today’s customer is too busy sharing their views to adopt something about which they have not had the opportunity to establish an opinion. I want to believe that most companies and marketing agencies will embrace the notion of sharing the responsibility of developing awareness with their target customers, but I’m afraid – in time – some agencies will find a way to manipulate customers one again, and where companies used to tell people what to buy, unscrupulous brands will find ways to tell people what to think, and the cycle will continue, moving in and out of moments of rightness, as the poet Wallace Stevens once put it.

For now, we should revel in the short period surrounding us, when marketing is able to exercise its full range of capabilities, respectfully connecting the offering to the market in a manner that reveals a relationship between brand and consumer more fruitful than has been evident for a long time.

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I may disagree with one or two of the recommendations made here below by Derek Markham (for instance, promoting a website as the number one green marketing solution is somewhat “last year’s thinking”, when one considers that website-based interactive communications is experiencing a fast rate of decline, as application-based (mobile, desktop, TV, etc) interconnectivity ramps up exponentially), but the overall message and insights are impressive and worthy of sharing. As ever, your thoughts and comments are welcomed!

25 Ways to Go Green Marketing, Without Blowing Up Your Marketing Budget

Marketing might seem synonymous with advertising, leading some green business owners to run out and get print ads in industry magazines or local newspapers, print up a bunch of postcards or flyers for direct mailing by mail, or perhaps even lease a billboard. While some of those might work for some businesses in some markets, there are ways for businesses to use green marketing to increase their reach without investing large amounts of cash.

 

Don’t Blow Up Your Marketing Budget, Green It Up Instead With These 25 Green Marketing Tips:

  1. Take your marketing to the web with your own website: The internet has radically changed the landscape of marketing by enabling business owners to have a virtual home for their paperless advertising – their own website. For only a minimal investment of money, your green business can have its doors open 24 hours a day.
  2. Use geolocation apps to reach local customers: Reaching the right customers at the right time is a key component of any green marketing campaign. Use popular geolocation apps like Gowalla or FourSquare to boost the effectiveness of your paperless advertising programs.
  3. Pursue social media marketing: With the huge surge in social networking and bookmarking, your business can take advantage of the new media landscape as a part of your paperless advertising efforts. Set up social media profiles for your business and start making connections to customers, suppliers, clients, and your competitors.
  4. Choose a green web host for your site: All hosting companies are not created equal. Does your web host use renewable energy purchasing? Do they buy carbon offsets? It might mean paying a little more to know that your web host is as green as possible, but any extra above the normal rates can be considered part of your green efforts and used in your marketing messages.
  5. Offer a digital mailing list option: If you use direct mail to reach current customers, create a digital version and offer that option via email to all new and current subscribers.
  6. Clean up your mailing list: How often do you update and clean your mailing list? With so many people on the move each year, you’re bound to end up with duplicate or wrong addresses, which translates to wasted resources during mailings. Use a service or software to regularly clean your list, and make it easy for customers to update their contact information with you. The potential savings here for businesses with large lists is quite high, especially when considered in conjunction with having a digital mailing list.
  7. Offer digital downloads of marketing assets: Make digital versions of all of your marketing materials and be sure they’re easy to find and download. An electronic version of your catalog can be easily shared by customers, and can be updated much quicker and cheaper than a printed one. Plus, it’s virtually cost-free if you already have the files ready to upload.
  8. Upcycle your advertising materials: Look into upcycling or repurposing your advertising and marketing materials, such as having your old billboards turned into shopping or messenger bags. Use those products as great green swag for events or contests.
  9. Green your giveaways: What kinds of gimme items do you pass out? If they are meant to be disposable or only single use, it just creates more waste. Products such as cloth shopping bags with your logo are not only a useful item for customers, but they serve as mobile billboards for your business. Consider the environmental effects of your promotional items before committing to them, and instead of giving away four throwaway items each year, focus on one quality free item.
  10. Use a green printing service: Going truly paperless isn’t really an option for most businesses, so when you have printing jobs, choose an eco-friendly printing service. What kind of recycled paper do they offer? What kind of inks do they use? Are they powered by renewable energy?
  11. Choose 100% recycled content paper: When printing promotional flyers, mailers, business cards, brochures, or other paper products, opt for a paper stock made from 100% post-consumer content. Not only is the cost only a little more than other paper choices, but recycled paper only uses half as much energy to make as virgin pulp. To make up for any extra cost, consider printing only what you need, or print fewer than your usual amount and make it clear that a digital version is also available.
  12. Go with green clothing: Do you have company t-shirts or uniforms? Make the choice to have them produced from organic cotton or an alternate fiber such as hemp, bamboo, or even recycled PET bottles, and let people know why it’s better for the planet.
  13. Get green certification for product: Does your product qualify for a green label? Get it certified and add the certification logo to your marketing materials, along with an explanation of what it means to your customers. Do some research to find out which certifications would be best for you, instead of taking on the cost and paperwork for labels that your customer doesn’t recognize and understand.
  14. Set goals and document your green progress: Public accountability can add loads of credibility to your green marketing, so assess your business’ current “state of green” and set goals to further your sustainability efforts. Track your progress on your website and in mailings to share with your customers.
  15. Rethink your packaging: Does your product even need packaging? In general, the less packaging you need, the cheaper it is on a per-unit basis, so losing the packaging might be a savvy financial decision as well. If it does need a package of some sort, can you continue to make it greener? Packaging that can be repurposed or recycled adds to your green credibility, and if you can use 100% recycled materials, you’re doing even better. Make a point of informing your customers of these points.
  16. Green delivery: If your product gets delivered to customers, how can you lower the environmental impact of the transportation? Alternative fueled vehicles or bicycle delivery are two ways to address green delivery of products. This may not be a viable option in some areas due to availability or a big cost difference, but for those with the option, it can become another selling point for your products.
  17. Send electronic proofs or use bicycle courier: Does your business have a need for sending documents across town on a regular basis? Bicycle courier service is quick, green, and usually cost-competitive with other delivery services. Or consider using all electronic proofs instead of physical copies.
  18. Eco-friendly business cards: Even if you choose recycled content paper for your cards, what happens to it when someone no longer needs it? Print your business card info on seed packets or paper containing embedded seeds. Print something extremely useful on the back, like a reference chart for your industry or niche, so it gets kept and used. To offset any cost difference, don’t print thousands of cards that will get tossed away, but instead print fewer ones of higher quality and impact.
  19. Feature your green efforts prominently: Use your environmental efforts as a selling point in your advertising, packaging, and other promotional activities by featuring them along with any green certification you’ve qualified for.
  20. Join eco-organizations such as 1% for the Planet: Partnering with environmental stewardship organizations and pledging a percentage of your profits to support them can help to further your company’s commitment to preservation and conservation. Joining one of these instead of the usual industry associations or chamber of commerce might be a better use of your money, especially for your company’s green image.
  21. Follow the guidelines for environmental marketing claims: Are your green marketing claims valid? Make sure you’re not trying to greenwash, and that you’re within the FTC guidelines for environmental marketing claims.
  22. Make the green aspects of your product easy to understand: By being clear about the eco-friendliness of your product or service, you’ll give customers another reason to choose your business over a competitor.
  23. Join a local living economy group: Band together with other local independent businesses through organizations such as the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) to help build lasting, profitable, green partnerships. Local networking can pump up your green marketing at the cost of time, not money.
  24. Use digital coupons: With the trend toward going digital in many media outlets, digital coupons are an eco-friendly way to give discounts and promote your products without having to print and distribute any paper products. Mobile advertising is also rapidly expanding with the rise in smartphones, so mobile coupons can give potential customers a reason to shop with you, right from their phone. And as with most things digital, the easier it is to share with others, the farther your reach will be with these types of promotions.
  25. Ditch print advertising: Do you really want your business associated with media made from dead tree? It’s also much more expensive than digital advertising, so try banner ads, PPC, or Facebook ads. These options offer better demographic targeting, with near-instant campaign metrics at a fraction of the cost of print.  Split & multi-variate testing allows you to fine tune your ads and landing pages. Don’t forget directory listings as another form of online advertising. Be sure to get listed in green business directories, as well as local directories, like Yelp, Best of the Web Local, and local search listings. This will boost your local SEO for your green business website.

Going green with your marketing isn’t necessarily about a huge change in your current campaigns – taking your marketing efforts green doesn’t have to be a one-shot approach. By implementing just a few of these green tips on a regular basis, the budget for your marketing campaigns won’t get blown up, and the cumulative effects on the environment can further be used in your marketing messages. Coupled with the huge leverage available to businesses in the digital sphere, going green with your marketing just might be the key to jumpstarting your business’ sales, no matter what the economic forecasts might say.

Derek Markham is a writer, a father, a WordPress addict, and social media butterfly who loves to share what’s new and interesting in his world in under 140 characters.

If you ask a CMO at one company what social media represents to her, she will likely provide a starkly different answer to that proffered by the CMO at another company. The difference in answer might be exacerbated if the companies work in different market sectors, or if one is B2C and the other B2B, of course. However, the largest source of differentiating interpretation would lie in the fact that social media marketing is perhaps the most abused instrument available to corporations at present (though in some businesses the employee may hold that dubious distinction), simply due to the fact that its potential value is undeniable, but its specific function and application is as yet unwritten.

Let me correct myself on that last point: the function and application of social media marketing is not unwritten, but rather so buried in the ink of prognostication and postulation, that it would suffocate even an arctic seal.

For my money, Social media marketing is NOT an exclusively online or digital undertaking, but rather a relatively recent opportunity that recognizes the influence and power of the end-user, as a partner in the introduction and evangelism of products, services, and solutions. This recognition can be manifest via myriad platforms and channels, including the Internet, mobile applications, WoM, and more. Successful social media marketing is a transversal commitment to manifest and nurture a brand valuation across multifarious sectors. In this way, one is able to both maintain the vitality of a brand, and also reinvigorate it almost instantly through the maintenance of carefully managed yet open dialog with the users of this brand proposition. The cost of such an undertaking are not, as some have suggested, greatly lesser than conventional marketing practices. They are simply transferred, from media to labor.

This factor, along with several others, deserves clarification, and I am pleased to therefore present the musings of my colleague, Tom Pick, below.

As an independent consultant and through B2B technology marketing firm KC Associates, Tom shares expertise in SEO, search marketing, social media, content marketing and interactive PR. In this article, he explores some of the myths surrounding social media marketing.

Though social media marketing is rapidly advancing in terms of adoption and sophistication, many marketers and business executives still struggle with it. They wonder if their organizations are doing enough, if they are doing things right, even if they should be involved in social media at all. This confusion is partly due to some still-common misconceptions about social media marketing…:

1. Social media is so easy we can hire an intern to do it. Because social media is fundamentally about conversations, the individual(s) behind your social media activities is often perceived as the public face of your company. This person is answering questions about your products and/or services, responding to or redirecting complaints, sharing interesting content, providing more information…you’ll probably want to be a bit careful about who gets this responsibility. ->

2. Social media marketing is really hard. True, there are techniques that work better than others, guidelines that are good to know, rules of etiquette to follow and common mistakes to avoid, but the general skills called for aren’t all that uncommon, and the specifics are teachable. It helps to be creative, curious, articulate, friendly and helpful. Okay, so not just anyone can do it, but it’s not rocket science either.

3. Social media is only for the young. Argh, no! On the consumer side, the largest cohort of Facebook’s user base is the 35-54 age group, and the fastest growing is the 55+ cohort. On the producer side, the most important attributes are interpersonal skills and industry knowledge. Age is irrelevant in social media usage, and life experience is a plus for social media marketers.

4. Social media is free. Um, no. While recent studies show that about half of marketers say that social media reduces their overall marketing costs, it is by no means without a price. The primary budget effect of social media marketing is to shift costs from media buying to labor. The tools of social media are (mostly) free, but the time, effort and expertise required to make social media marketing effective has real costs.

5. Since social media marketing is labor-intensive, we should offshore it. Ooh, not a good idea. While offshoring works well for tasks like IT consulting services and software application development, it tends to be less efficacious for market-facing activities. Thoughtful companies keep their SEO efforts local (to avoid link-spamming, for example) and after evaluating all of the costs, many are even moving call centers back onshore. And see myth #1 above.

6. Social media marketing success is all about rules and best practices. Not really. True, there are guidelines as to what works well (being sincere, helpful and knowledgeable) and what doesn’t (trying to use social media sites as one-way broadcasts of your marketing brochures), but the field is new enough that many of the “rules” are still being written. While there are some techniques that seem to work well and are worth replicating, and others that should clearly be avoided, there’s also a great deal of space for creativity in this rapidly expanding and evolving area.

7. Social media marketing has no rules. Now, just because there isn’t an established cookie-cutter approach to social media marketing success doesn’t mean there are no rules. Don’t be excessively self-promotional, don’t try to automate everything, be sincere, add value—there aren’t a lot of rules, but these are a few very important ones.

8. Social media marketing gets immediate results. Almost never. Sure, you may run across an example somewhere of this happening, just as you may hear about a couple who got married three weeks after they met. It can happen, but isn’t common and shouldn’t be expected. Social media is about building relationships and influence. It takes time, but the payback can be much more lasting than a typical “marketing campaign” as well.

9. Social media marketing is too risky. This fear is most common in the medical, financial services, and other regulated industries. And it’s certainly true that there are situations where a company has to be somewhat cautious about its social media participation and content (another reason to keep myths #1 and #5 in mind). By all means, be aware of your specific industry and regulatory environment and put necessary safeguards in place. But people in your marketplace—customers, prospects, analysts, journalists, shareholders and others—are talking about your company and/or industry across social media channels right now. The real risk is in ignoring those conversations.

10. Social media marketing is new. Not really. Certainly the tools are new: Twitter has only been around since 2007, Facebook since 2006, and even blogging has been popular for less than a decade. But social media marketing is fundamentally about participating in and influencing the direction of conversations about your industry and brand. Those practices are timeless, but social media has increased the velocity and magnitude of such conversations.

11. Social media marketing doesn’t apply to my business. There are isolated niches where this is true. For example, if you build weapons systems for the U.S. military, you not only don’t need social media marketing, it would probably be best to avoid it. And there may be a few other such situations. For virtually every other type of business however, someone, somewhere is discussing your brand, your industry or your competitors in social media. You’re missing out if you’re not listening and participating.

To read more of Tom’s articles, go to his award-winning Webbiquity site, where he covers B2B lead generation, social media, interactive PR, SEO and search engine marketing. In fact, he has an article coming out soon that I think will be especially representative of one of my biggest pet peeves: the very mistaken notion that social media marketing can be undertaken in much the same manner as previous, more traditional, marketing campaigns. I’ve said it before, as have several worthy business friends (such as the wonderful Paul Dunay), and I’ll say it again: Social Media is a commitment, not a campaign.

Ever since I began blogging about her innovative “in production” promotional strategies last year, I have been repeatedly impressed by the small but effective gems that Imogen Heap has produced, not just musically, but marketing-wise, and in terms of audience engagement. More than any other artist around today, Ms. Heap has embraced the power of UGP (User Generated Promotions), seeming to implicitly and explicitly understand how the offering must surrender itself to the power of the mass wave: we – as marketers of a product or solution – can no longer exercise an arrogant expectation of consumer devotion, based solely on the outcome of our “push” marketing techniques. We must truly OFFER our value to the marketplace, long before it is ready, and seek the partnership of our audience/customers/consumers, during the final germination of the submission. Imogen Heap’s latest campaign is her Cello accompanist competition. This follows on the heels of her invitation for Twitter followers to select her next single; her vlogs and blogs during production of her latest album, “Ellipse”; and her experiments with found objects as instrumentation. The woman is prepared to try anything, as she seeks to discover. Her willingness to accept the unpredictability of her exercise has resulted in a fan-following that eclipses the likes of Ani DiFranco, and promises to possibly show even the likes of Prince and Stevie Wonder a thing or two about self-producing one’s own work. It is no longer just about the music itself, but about the whole relationship that swirls around the music, the artist, and the listener.  What fun it is to witness, and be a small part of, this extraordinary artist’s explorations!

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