Friday, December 5, 2014

Social Media Marketing: It's All Been Said Before

I find it difficult to get inspired to write about social media marketing any longer. Where others see ongoing brand difficulties in social media and claim "we're still learning," I see a marketing channel that is fully mature (and by some measures in decline).

As you review all of the inevitable blog posts this month that list 2014's top PR blunders and Social Media #Fail examples, ask yourself if these mistakes were ones caused by an exploration of untested strategies in a new medium or an inability to apply (or perhaps believe) the available data and lessons learned? I think you will find yourself agreeing with me--this year's crop of social media errors and disasters are no different than last year's--same causes, same mistakes, same outcomes. It's all been said before.

The same can be said for this year's success stories in social media. Thousands of brands ran social media promotions, shared content on social networks and maintained blogs and podcasts. How many can claim demonstrable success and offer repeatable examples for others to follow? And for the rare ones that can, did they get there with some wildly innovative strategy or by the same customer-focused, data-driven, omni-channel process that worked in social media in 2013 (and pretty much every other medium before that)? It's all been said before.

Some may argue that the rise of Instagram was a new and exciting development this year for brands, but is this really true? I mean, sure, your brand can chase the higher engagement presently available on Instagram, but by this time next year we will be talking about how paid media is pushing aside organic content and griping about the declining engagement rates on that platform, just as we are about Facebook today. It's all been said before.

If chasing weary, disinterested and distrusting consumers from one new social network to another sounds like effective marketing strategy, feel free to pursue it, but you will need to pardon me for not sharing in your enthusiasm. I aspire to be a brand and business builder, not an engagement hacker.

The news about the higher engagement rates on Instagram is hardly the only recent instance when I saw some newsworthy social media situation, considered sharing my perspective on my blog, and ultimately rejected the idea. The reason is that I can no longer find a way to cover this space without resorting to cutting and pasting words and messages I have already shared before. For example:

The secret to social media success (and failure) is no longer secret. Companies need to stop talking and start listening. They need to stop broadcasting and start responding. They need to stop posting to people and instead encourage people to start talking with each other. They need to stop promoting new products in social media and instead use social to collaborate when developing new products. They need to stop publishing content they hope people will share and instead give people product experiences consumers actually want to share. They need stop trying to be entertaining in social media and instead offer great customer care in the channel. They need to stop counting fans and tallying engagement and start creating advocates and measuring business value. And finally, brands need to stop positioning themselves as more caring, more transparent and more committed to the customer and instead be more caring, more transparent and more committed to the customer.

If you find yourself nodding your head with that last paragraph, take a moment to parse the first part of each sentence from the second. The first part describes marketing activities (broadcasting, promoting, publishing content, being entertaining, tallying engagement, positioning) while the second part describes activities outside of marketing (listening, responding, product development, customer service, earning advocacy, being better corporate citizens).  Therein lies my growing weariness with the topic of social media marketing--marketing is literally the least interesting thing brands can do in social media.

To me, that describes the big shift underway (both in the world and on my blog). Social media remains a powerful force reshaping our lives and companies, but that does not mean it is a powerful marketing tool. So, as I have in 2014, I will continue to focus on how customer experience drives great results (in social and elsewhere) and how social behaviors and technologies are reshaping consumption and business models in the collaborative economy. But whether some brand did a cute Vine or got 500 shares of its hilarious Instagram picture is no longer very interesting to me (and I am frankly unsure why it would be interesting to anyone else).

I said I hate to repeat myself, but here are a couple of things that bear repeating: Social media is not a megaphone for brands; it is a mirror. It does not give your brand "a voice"; it gives consumers a voice they can use to share their good and bad brand experiences. It does not allow you to fashion messages that change minds; it reflects what the brand is and does in a way that changes minds (or, more likely, not).

If you want better brand results in social media in 2015, do less marketing in the channel and find ways to treat your customers better. The brands that will succeed this coming year will not be the ones developing content and leveraging Instagram but the ones developing better relationships via product and services in consumers' real and digital worlds.

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