The Social Media Isolation Chamber

One of the great things about being involved in social networking is the robust – even heated at times – discussions we get to have. There are very smart people wrestling with important issues, not in a top-down command-and-control fashion, but in a creative level-playing-field manner.

Two rather noisy issues of late have to do with social media certification (check this post by Jason Falls and follow the links if you want to get the entire backstory), and the ever-present discussion of ROI in social media (see Olivier Blanchard for this material).

These are very important issues. But along with the many other discussions about social media, I think we have too much of a tendency (still) to put Social Media in an isolation chamber.

Social Media tools and approaches are a means to an end – or, rightly understood, to multiple ends.

Think about it this way:

1. What am I/are we trying to accomplish? (what is our goal – in this case, let’s focus on business only)

- Let’s say that our goal is to increase sales of our software service by 35% in 2010.

2. How are we going to accomplish that goal?

- Let’s say that we are going to build relationships with key thought-leaders who will influence others; along with making use of inexpensive ways of PR/Marketing messaging to our potential target audience; plus we’re going to add 2 key new features that are being requested often.

3. What are the methods we are going to use to make this happen?

- Direct sales calls; articles/write-ups in industry magazines; cultivation of key thought leaders by regular communication and relationship-building; attendance at 3 trade shows and sponsorship of 1; monthly webinars; exploration of Facebook and Twitter to build an audience/fan base; free trial program; etc. etc.

OK, so we have a business goal and a holistic plan. Now, where’s “social media”? Answer – all over the place! If you look at the methods suggested above, social media can be/is woven into the whole thing, because it’s part of a broad communications and promotion strategy. And using these approaches will likely help you shape your strategies going forward.

Done rightly, social networking is baked into an entire approach, and you can no more separate out the ROI of SM than you can separate out the ROI of, say, “print” or “e-mail.” You might be able to isolate out specific SM tactics and approaches (what is happening with our Facebook fan page, and can we trace sales directly from it?), but you can’t treat networked communications as some carved-out, independent piece – it’s not designed to be. And, it should not be treated as a short-term bit, but part of a long-term holistic strategy.

Did we achieve the 35% increase in 2010? How much time/effort/resources did we expend on the whole plan? Now you can think intelligently about ROI. Holistically.

The same line of thought goes with social media “certification”. What IS this “social media” that we’re “certifying”? To provide training, and a certificate that acknowledges skill acquired on a specific type of social media application (for instance, Facebook for Community Marketing – where there is a clear curriculum, a focused goal, and a competent trainer) – that’s great! But to say someone is certified in social media? It’s simply too vaporous.

Now, backing away from any of the particulars of the ROI or certification debate – should we not begin to move our THINKING and SPEAKING and WRITING about social networking out of the isolation chamber, and embed it in real and tangible – even holistic – applications? I guess, to put it simply – social media is not stand-alone.

As Jay Baer put it recently on his blog Convince and Convert:

Sure, social media has made incredible progress in a short period of time. But to reach its full potential – especially from an ROI perspective – social media needs to be a component in a larger marketing program. Yes, I believe all companies will “be” social eventually. But that’s not a marketing strategy, that’s a cultural initiative. We need to treat social media as a marketing ingredient, not a marketing cure-all.

What do you think?

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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

27 Responses to The Social Media Isolation Chamber

  1. Steve – Amen, brother. It’s a tool in the toolbox. You and I are on the same page; in my view, the only way to look at this form of communication is to evaluate its utility – its usefulness as a means to an overall end. Because you are so right – SM is part of something bigger. No islands here. Thanks for an excellent thought piece, my friend!

    Regards,
    Terry

  2. Ike says:

    Amen.

    The problem is NOT with Social Media, it’s with the way business has tried to wrap its head around it.

    Or — for want of a better analogy — it’s like the squid trying to wrap its tentacles around it.

    Which is exactly the wrong approach.

    Social Media is not a “thing,” it is a description of a class of activities undertaken by individuals. They don’t do it in the same way.

    You can’t get your tentacles around it because it’s not a tangible thing – it is a “meta” thing. People don’t “do” Social Media, they use it as a means to an end.

    “Let me round up all of my classmates for an impromptu reunion.”

    “Let me rally people around a cause I care about.”

    “Let me entertain a few people.”

    Social Media is tentacle-proof, not because it is slippery, but because it is a virus that will eventually permeate everything we do.

    Like the telephone.

    Like transportation.

    We don’t even THINK about transportation infrastructure anymore, unless there is a problem with it that prevents us convenient access from Point A to Point B. Because the infrastructure has become ubiquitous to the point of invisibility. The Scotoma moment.

    Eventually, it will cease to be, because it will be embedded within our DNA.

    And those who are flailing to grab are much like the squid – all wet, staring through a single eye at the inky black – and grabbing at nothing.

  3. Alan Wolk says:

    Nice post Steve.

    The problem is social media *becomes* stand-alone because brands tend to treat it that way.

    The partners they have who help them with advertising, PR, design, etc. are not able to help them with social media at all because it’s outside their area of expertise. (This is changing, but is still the exception rather than the rule.)

    Then they hire a “social media guru” to do their social media. And here again, they’re running up against a lot of people who are purely “social media” specialists: they have zero experience in Advertising, Marketing, PR, Design or Corporate Communications. So they’re unable to offer any help in those areas.

    Hence a silo is born.

  4. Don McCauley says:

    People have a decided tendency to segment all ‘parts’ of a process. This is fine during development of the process but we need to understand that, as regards marketing, the entire marketing effort becomes more than the sum of it’s ‘parts’. Much like a car, all the parts must be there but we cannot say that the tires got us there or the engine was responsible for the distance traveled. All parts work together as one.

    Social marketing is a buzzword. In fact, social marketing and the tools encompassed by the term is the oldest form of marketing in existence. It is one person speaking to other people. That produces an effect if the person speaking has credibility with the listener. If not, it is so much marketing noise.

    This is why social marketing produces results on a scale and of a quality that no form of intrusive advertising will ever touch.

    Marketing is nothing more than a study in human nature. Understand human nature and you will understand marketing.

    Don

    • And while we’re at it, Don, “social media” approaches also go way beyond marketing, into other areas of communication and community-building. It not only cannot be isolated from other aspects of marketing – it cannot be confined to one discipline (another reason not to “silo” it)!

  5. Alan – you’re absolutely spot-on. It’s our job, in the coming years, to “de-silo” social media (is that a neologism?)

    Ike – As Charlene Li put it, social networking will increasingly become like the air that surrounds us – a point I wholeheartedly agree with.

    Terry – see this amusing but spot-on example from Jason Falls about his Mom on Twitter: http://bit.ly/6j1XHA

  6. darryl ohrt says:

    Great post, Steve.

    Alan Wolk’s comment is spot on, too. And these silos aren’t always created because the social media agency isn’t capable of traditional marketing, but because the agencies handling the other components in the campaign are confused, scared or inexperienced with social media.

    We’ve been brought on to plenty of business because of our prowess in social media, while other agencies (without the social media experience) handle the traditional efforts. Clients want the best TV team for their TV, and the best social media team for that work. When done well, we can all work together and integrate individual tools into an overall campaign. When we remain in our silos, it’s can lead to confusion and missing the mark with an overall goal – which I believe is your point in the first place.

    Great post, great thinking.

    • I guess it’ll take time for the integration to occur, Darryl – I think we need to encourage people to think about it in a different way. We may be stuck with silos for some time, but let’s try to break them down as soon as possible!

  7. Amani says:

    Steve – Very nice post. I feel many of the companies out there embracing social media are missing the point. They must be genuine in their engagement and also consistently engage if that makes sense. It is one thing for a company to set up outlets on all the channels and just sit on them except for the shouting out part (specials, announcements, etc …). It is another thing for a company to engage with their audience and build a community which promotes trust with their brand and then they will see ROI. Due to the fact that many of the people behind the social media brain of companies do not have a customer service/marketing background, they are missing the point.

  8. Good stuff again Steve. The whole “certification” for Social Media thing seems like trying to certify someone as a “Grade A Business Networker”, a “Black Belt Persuasive, Articulate Human” or as a “Certified Common Sense Practitioner”. Or perhaps “E-Mail Ninja”…

    Nice-sounding things to say about people, but ultimately with very little value or meaning because they are human skills that are table stakes for doing business.

  9. Jay Baer says:

    Bingo. I appreciate people banging the drum on certification and social media staffing patterns and all the rest, the more we treat social media as different or special, the worse off we’ll be. We can’t create a marketing plan and then have a separate social media plan, with a separate budget and personnel. It just doesn’t make sense over the long term. Great post, loved it.

  10. Perhaps if more of us posted/shared/commented on stories like this, we can change the way most of our clients (as well as the rest of the general population) think re: social media…the more posts they see, the higher the chances of correcting their misguided view.

  11. Steve – makes so much sense to look at social media from a holistic marketing view! one of my challenges is unbundling to capture data points of ind’l tactics. difficult unless there is a direct link or coupon to track which is not always possible.

    • Well, you’re touching on something that’s incredibly important, Toby – how do we take something that has so much INDIRECT and LONG-TERM influence, plus is part (or should be part) of a greater whole, and quantify it? Much better minds than mine will have to crack that nut!!!

  12. Kevin Dugan says:

    This reminds me of when Web sites/Web 1.0 was still new. It was silod then and is now on the inside looking at social media. Perhaps it’s an issue of evolution? It’s definitely a problem. I share the Amen with the rest of the choir here. But first we figure out how it’s role is different and in that time we forget how it is similar and must fit into a larger picture.

    Does that make sense?

    • Lots of parallels with the Web 1.0 world – you’re right. Soon, it’ll just be an assumed part of much of what we do. But it’s still in early evolution, so that means a bit of perplexity trying to figure out where the square pegs and round holes all come together…

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    And I don’t mean for the link and mention. I mean for this:

    “Social Media tools and approaches are a means to an end – or, rightly understood, to multiple ends. Think about it this way:
    1. What am I/are we trying to accomplish? (what is our goal?)
    2. How are we going to accomplish that goal?
    3. What are the methods we are going to use to make this happen?”

    The isolation chamber syndrome is very much akin to separating the one element you want to illustrate or study from the more complex chemical compound you extracted it from. It’s an academic exercise more than anything. Learn how the cell works before you move on to how the entire piece of tissue works. Learn how the tissue works before you learn how the organ works. And so forth.

    Every once in a while though, we have to take the time to step away from the microscope and take in the big picture. Understand it. Savor it. Work out all of its fascinating complexities.

    There definitely seems to be a big tendency to marvel at what we see through the lens, often at the expense of the bigger picture. It’s part of the learning process, I guess. Easier for most people to focus on the one bit than the sum of all of the moving parts. Easier to digest.

    This post is one of the most important bits of insight into where to go next that I have read all year. Well done.

  14. Great post. “You can’t treat networked communications as some carved-out, independent piece – it’s not designed to be. And, it should not be treated as a short-term bit, but part of a long-term holistic strategy.” — absolutely true.

  15. @pbarbanes says:

    Steve – This is one of the best and most concise explanations of social media I’ve read. It dovetails right into Olivier Blanchard’s – and others’ – thoughts on social media in the enterprise: (I paraphrase) that social media crosses silo’s and does not exist solely in Sales and Marketing, but extends into “online reputation management, community management, business intelligence, customer support, human resources, etc.” (and that’s just in “execution”). I couldn’t agree more, and have little to add there.

    As to certification, there may in fact be good reasons FOR it. As an example: One writer recently called an entertainer a social media expert because she responded to each and ever tweet that is tweeted to her. His point seemed to be that she knew how to use social media (Twitter, at least) and so that qualified her to be an expert as much as anybody else. But calling her an expert based on that is like saying The Beatles were direct mail experts because they read their thousands of fan letters. There ARE direct mail experts who can assist businesses, and certification in that field might be a good idea, just as certification in social media – however it might be defined – could be a good idea. Let’s stay open to the idea, but with a critical eye.

    • Good point about certification – in some form, I’m sure responsible certifications will come, but they need genuine focus based on clear skills – not just “social media”

  16. This is a great post and the comments really nail it. These conversations remind me of the conversations about web sites/email back in the day. People were viewing web sites/email as something to do – not something to use. Business has to have goals to succeed, these tools like social media should simply help achieve those goals. We are in interesting times indeed. Thanks for the post – great discussion!

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