There are many who will claim that social marketing is the future, some will claim it is the now. I believe that being social is part of the human condition and we have being ‘doing’ social marketing since we could communicate. Just as some people claim that communities have just appeared, idiots.. There are a lot of frauds who call themselves social media specialists and few really good ones.. I do not claim to be either.
The real change that, is/has happened in the online environment, is the movement from propaganda marketing i.e. one way, to dialogue marketing i.e. two way.
This did not start online with facebook or other ‘social networking tools’ but with chatrooms and forums in universities, where conversations have been going on, since the early days of computers. I feel that it was geeks and nerds (like myself) who wanted to talk about a particular topic e.g. Unix or shell coding who started this online journey. Years later, instantaneous and global communications has fed the human addiction need for fast, quick and scannable information. And I personally hope one day we care about quality and depth again…
Really two way communication..
Marketing Communications has taken the long journey from one way ‘preaching’ of the religious leader to two way conversations or dialogue of a Townhall. Consumer rights groups and Bloggers were the leaders that eventually broke into the general public consciousness and encouraged ‘consumers to state their opinions’ and than web 2.0 gave us the tools to do this easily.
Political Marketing/Campaigning has probably been at the forefront of dialogue marketing for sometime. Obamas’ campaign was certainly not the first to combine both ‘real world’ and online dialogue marketing, but clearly is the most famous (well at least for North America’s). The Liberal Democrats in the UK have been doing for the last 5 years, and examples can be found in other areas of high internet penetration and large numbers of technology people.
From a corporate perspective Facebook and LinkedIN company pages followed, which gave us even more access to information and conversation, beyond the corporate website.
The same journey can be seen in market research (MR). With MR in the online environment, first we had survey tools and then ‘Panels’. Online research panels is where the business asked the questions to specially selected consumers and consumers answered. Now we have ‘Online Communities’ in which consumers can talk to each other, ask questions and answer them. This is, of course is more than just dialogue marketing but moves from one to one conversations to many to many conversations adding an addition dimension (*I will cover this in another post – Townhall dialogue).
Is dialogue marketing expensive?
It definitely costs money, both in terms of content producers and responders to ‘consumer posts’. People often underestimate the amount of time so called social marketing content production takes. Writing a good blog post is not just based on time but inspiration and good writing. Next time, you hear it will only take 30 to 40 minutes per post, I would suggest you give them THE look or a ‘verbal’ slap. Good writing is not always that predictable. And lets not forget people may respond (if you write interesting and engaging copy), and you should respond to their response. Its worth pointing out they may respond in another environment or platform e.g. their blog not yours. The point that I am making, is not that it is bad, but there is a real cost in staff time. I personally think good writers are rare (I count myself in the category – who has the imagination to write but yet not the writing skills to go with it). Of course blog posts are not the only way to go, there are webinars, podcasts, videoinars (I have yet to have seen this done well yet), whitepapers, etc. All great stuff for honey pot (inbound marketing) e.g. bring customers to your website to sell shit. In all cases you still need good content producers. Often they are not in the marketing department, they are the specialists in your business whose bottom line is often driven by short term goals (cash now), thus they are not rewarded by the business in the short term to take time out of their ‘real job’. So there is some political or bureaucratic work to be done here. If you want regular quality content you need to create a good content strategy. This has be done in partnership with senior leadership, marketing and the content producers.
Is the leadership ready for it?
Some yes, some NO. However, if I was to give you a segment that I am cynical about ,it would be the old guard of baby boomer CEOs. I believe that a vast majority are still in the era of propaganda marketing. In some cases their chief marketing officer (CMO) will be out on a limb, trying to prove its worth. Than again the CMO may not understand this form of marketing and may delegate it to the youngest member of the marketing team (Gen Y) because they live and breathe it in their personal life. But portraying a company is very different from a person, so I would suggest that the CMO should ensure that training/development is given to help this team member and the marketing channel succeed.
So what do I do?
- Allocate people and time
- Build a strong content strategy – who will your providers of content be – what do they gain from this?
- Ensure strong relationships with other parts of customer facing departments/people.
- Choose the right tools for you.
- Be ready for abuse, challenge, the occasion thanks and good ideas.
- Prepare your senior leadership.
- Open up the channels .
- Respond to your customers/clients and ensure the comments get passed to the right people in the organisation. Follow up.
- Learn and evaluate – Show how you are learning, to your customers – Its after all a two way dialogue.