Questions about Social Media/ Implications for Marketers

Lee Odden has asked a couple questions, in advance of the MiMA event tomorrow night. He’ll be posting them on his blog in an edited form. I don’t mean to scoop him, but here are my answers to his questions.

1.
MIMA is having an upcoming
event
about social media in the enterprise, "Dual Reality: Who
Controls Social Media in the Enterprise". How did the event and your
involvement with it come about? What are some key topics?

 

Doug Pollei and I were talking in January about the social media,
how companies like General Mills were going to be changed by it, and how much
we had to learn. At the same time, he was looking into starting up a local
chapter of the Social Media Club. I though there was a clear synergy with MiMA,
suggested he approach MiMA about a joint program. He’s a driver, and he made it
happen. I’m happy to be part of it!

 

I’m looking for case studies in how other companies are handling
social media, how they’re working with agencies, which agencies they are using,
etc. I’m also really interested in learning about how to manage these efforts
across a complicated set of business groups (agencies, internal departments,
functions, etc.)

 

2.
How would you define "social media" to someone not fluent in
interactive or online marketing?

 

I’m going to rip off Dan Zane’s definition of folk music: Social
media is media for social people. Or, a
slightly more complicated version: Social media is the online content left by people as a by-product of
being social online. It’s the media that results when folks write, review, share, trade,
connect, etc. online.

 

A lot of people define it by the tools: IM, twitter, Facebook, etc.
It’s easy to look at the technology that delivers the media – like TV, radio,
magazines. But, the key in this model is that the media is more associated with
the behavior than with the to
ols.

 

 

3.
What are some of the common issues large organizations encounter when trying to
evaluate and adopt social media technologies? Are you seeing more internal or
external facing applications? (ex: building a private social network vs
engaging in existing/public social networks)

 

The
only stuff I care about right now is consumer facing. I don’t care too much
about Enterprise 2.0 (though I know that I need the same tools for internal
communications that I’m seeing take off in the consumer space).

 

The
phenomenon is just getting started, even though to those of us who are on
Twitter and compusively reload Techmeme it feels like it’s been around a while.
It’s still so early in the game! Big companies that have been historically
reliant on mass media are just now beginning to realize the extent to which
their worlds will change as a result of social media.

 

A
couple key issues:

  • Efficiency is elusive - Large companies have made a science out of finding
         efficiencies in media, and have been pretty successful squeezing most of
         the fat out of production budgets. But, social media, in a lot of ways, is the exact opposite of mass:
         Labor intensive, highly involved, non-standardized.
  • Agency Capabilities are Immature – Big
         companies are critically dependent on their agencies as a way to run lean
         internally. But 90% of ad agencies are still trying to figure out how to
         deal with display and SEM. Social media is going to be a total mind-fuck
         for them. And a lot of the "social media agencies" are making it
         up everyday, as they go along. No one has this figured out, and big
         companies aren’t really staffed right to figure it out themselves.
  • Evaluating success - What’s a
         good result? We all know home runs when we see them in other media, but
         what does a a successful social media campaign look like? How big does
         that success have to be to drive the business?
  • Velocity -By it’s nature,
         social media is slower than Mass. The Blendtec guys were at it for a
         while, before "Will it Blend" went big. Viral hits like
         "elf-yourself" don’t just happen overnight in most cases, even
         if it seems like it to us. Tv-centric companies are used to turning on the
         ad (or dropping the FSI, or starting the promotion) and seeing the results immediately. For
         companies that are used to the velocity of impact that comes from "mass"
         media, the slow, steady approach may be frustrating.
  • Branding vs. Advertising – Social media seems more appropriate for building brand equity than for advertising. There’s a nuanced distinction between branding and advertising that is easy to lose in the execution.

 

For
me, the scariest thing is the tension between wanting to move fast on this
stuff, and not wanting to make a major commitment too soon. I think the idea of
"first move advantage" is mostly bullshit in this space. Maybe it’s
because I’m getting older, or because my brands have more to lose, but I’m
really getting comfortable with the idea of being the smart follower.

 

Social
media is creating whole new communication patterns, consumers are learning new
habits and they’re inventing new ways of taking in information. And the
technology to make it all go is literally being invented right now. As an
entrepreneuer, I’d want to be right in the middle, creating the change. As a
marketer, I’m comfortable with the idea of watching things evolve for a while.  The last thing i’d want to do is go do something ham-fisted and get our brands burned as a result of haste or recklessness.

 

 

4.
Can you share a few high level tips for companies that are in discovery mode
when it comes to tasks such as deciding on social platforms and applications,
internal management and success measurement?

 

I’m
an unreliable source here. We’re still
sorting out this stuff, but I’ll let you know when I’m confident enough that
we’ve been successful. Here are principles we’re working from:

  • Fail fast and small
  • Pull the trigger slowly
  • Manage experimentation like a
         portfolio. Assume that out of 10 experiments, you’ll get one smash, 2-3
         qualified wins, one or two that seem like noble failures, and the rest
         will probably wash out.

 

One
piece of advice that I would give is, work really closely with the companies.
Facebook, Myspace, Google, Yahoo, Cafemom, Videoegg, have all been very willing
to work with us to create successes.

 

 

5.
What are some of the resources (sites, blogs, books, events, networks,
applications, etc) that you rely on for information on social media best
practices?

 

My
reading list is much more narrow than both it should be and it used to be. I
don’t think I’ve got anything unique to share here…

 

 

6.
I asked this question of Charlene
Li
in a previous interview about Groundswell, so you can’t use her answer
(RSS). If you were a social technology, which one would you be?

Twitter?
Short attention span, limited capabilities, impulsive, compulsive, flexible

 

7.
BONUS!  What question should I really be asking you? (and the answer of
course)

 

How
are you making decisions about where to invest energy and time in social media?

Where
are you placing your long term bets? (not telling)

Is
Facebook the next AOL? (yes)

Is
the web page dead? (Not yet, but it’s dying pretty quickly)

What
comes after the webpage? (the feed)

Is
professional, quality content dead? (it’s not nearly as valuable as it used to
be)

Draft: Social Media Definition

I’ve got an
engagement coming up on Wednesday, where I’ll be asked a bunch of questions
about social media, and how "big companies" are handling it. This
should be a good forum for a couple reason, not the least of which is that I
have no clue what I’ll say yet.

 

(For the record, I’m
not a huge fan of the title of this seminar, though I’m proud to be a part of
it. It’s an urgent question for those in the corporations that are trying to
make sense of it, but ultimately there’s no right answer, or any reasonable claim
to an authoritative opinion. It’s still so early, and no one has this figured
out; A discussion about this topic at this point is 98% theoretical. Anyone
who claims any different is a goofball. Thus, it’s a perfect subject for a
gathering like this.)

 

When I gave my last
talk at MiMA, about Web 2.0
and what it was and wasn’t, I had been thinking
about it for a while, had talked to some folks about it, and even had a deck
ready to go. The talk worked out pretty well, but I don’t have the same prep going into this next talk. And, to make it worse, I’m
going to take away the cliche crutches and forbid myself from using both the phrases "Web 2.0" and
"engagement". And, to make it even more challenging, I may forego
"dialog", "twitter", "the user is in control" and
"next generation". And, please splash a drink in my face if you hear
me mention Web 3.0 or the "semantic web".

 

 

Slouching
Towards A definition

I slouch because I
am not fully confident i can describe "social media" any better than the next guy, much less tell you how best to do it. I know it when I see it. But, not everyone does, so it
may be worth the effort to craft definition. There are plenty of folks who have tried to define
"social media", but most refer to the technology that underlies the media
itself (ajax, api’s, RSS) or the places that people go online (blogs, twitter, myspace, facebook) or in
place of some subset of social media, more broadly (e.g. – social networking,
micro-blogging).

 

I guess I’m a little
less concerned about how we define it, but here goes: Social media is the online content left
by people as a by-product of being social. Let’s unpack this.

 

"The online
content…" this one is simple enough. Social media, however we define it,
seems to require the "online" descriptor. Offline "social
media" is, well, just people being people. Without the internets mediating
the interchange between people, it’s just talking. And, online is where the
artifacts reside or are archived. And,
for corporate weasels like me, where we try to advertise.

 

"…left by
people…". Again, people seem core to being social, so ‘people’ seems
essential to a good working definition. Code generated media is always
possible, and god knows I love robots, but without humans interacting with
humans, it’s not really social. A key point is that "people" !=
"brands". While I think there’s a role for brands in social media,
it’s critical that the focus stays on real, breathing, emoting people.

 

"…as a
by-product…" The artifact of people interacting is, in fact, the evidence
that something happened, that some person talked to another person (or people).
The record becomes the media, the vehicle through which others can participate.
Or, that I can co opt to advertise on .

 

"…of being
social". This is where it gets interesting. There are tons of ways we can
define "social", but there are a handful of common behaviors that we
could all point to as examples of someone being social: connecting to others as
part of a group, talking to someone else, listening to others, sharing whatever
they have for the benefit of the larger community, creating something for the
benefit of the community. Whether its sharing a picture of your kid at a
ballgame (thinking that everyone will get even a little joy out of seeing your
beautiful child at a game), posting a new way to defeat malware on laptops in a
user-group, or posting a review or
rating of a recipe on a blog, other consumers will get some value out of the
exchange.

 

Next
Up: What is the Sound of A Brand Being Social?

As a marketer, my
focus is on what the rise of social media means to me, and how my brands can
thrive in a media landscape dominated by people powered
media (as opposed to media powered
media). In a broadcast world, the brand is whatever my ad tells you it is, at
least until you experienced it yourself. Now though, projects like Noah Brier’s BrandTags.net should strike fear into the
heart of every marketer.

 

Tomorrow night: What
does social media mean to a brand marketing team?

Link: Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association: Events.