Tuesday, January 06, 2009

How to Use Social Media: Another Blogger Weighs In

Much has already been written on better blogs (and spoken about at numerous conventions) on the subject of social media and the marketer's place within them. My turn. Nothing said here will be anything that brighter minds haven't already thought about; I'm just giving my take as a marketer.
Let's start with: What the Hell is Twitter?

I was skeptical even to adopt it as a user. I've always fed my latest blog posts to it, but to actually "tweet" seemed silly. I used it as a one-way news feed: "Go here and read my blog." But as more people started to follow me, I started to follow more people. I've quickly un-followed the people who are using Twitter as a blatant marketing tool. The people I follow tweet the oddest things. Some are hilarious, some mundane, some informative and others as random as possible. It eventually occurred to me that this group of people, from Dave Matthews to Bad Banana to Daryl Ohrt, were on Twitter to be friends, to have contact, to share information and to just basically hang out. It's not unlike early Internet chatrooms. Daryl also uses it to communicate with colleagues and to occasionally plug his brand, Plaid. In the case of someone like Matthews, Twitter is a tool for maintaining contact with his customer/fan base; the Dave Matthews freaks who trade bootlegs of live shows or love hearing about snow in the Virginia mountains at Christmas via Dave's tweets.

The few I follow, (some 40-odd) will on occasion mention a product or a company. It might be a good mention and it might be bad, and it can even be neutral. "I just used Acme Instant Hole and it sucks," or "Anyone looking for a good instant hole, Acme is awesome," or "I'm looking for a good instant hole. Anyone know one?"

Here's the only place, as far as I can tell, where a marketer has any business being on Twitter. If you subscribe to any sort of Twitter alert, you can easily find out when Acme Instant Hole is being tweeted. And you can jump in when it is mentioned. But will anyone ever actually follow Acme Instant Hole? Very unlikely.

And here's where marketers fail: They don't see the revenue stream. And here's what they don't want to hear: There is no revenue stream. Corporate blogs failed for the same reason. No one wants to write a company blog (and even fewer want to read it) that amounts to nothing more than spider food, especially when you have the comments feature disabled. This is about customer service, brand management and the "taking care of the little things" that no one wants to do. You want revenue? You want sales? Good customer service breeds sales. It's foundational. Everyone knows that. Treat me right and I'm likely to be loyal to you.

In preparing this post (which is a painstaking process involving sitting out on the back porch with a glass of wine and thinking about this post) I was trying to think of a product or service to which I'm loyal. The first one that came to mind was Formula One Firestone. It's a garage just down the road where we take the cars if they need help beyond the routine oil change. They have never been unable to fix a problem, their walls are lined with certifications and they are straight with me. I'm sure I can find cheaper car service somewhere, but this crew has proven itself. Craig, Al and Pete lead the show down there. I'm not good with names, but I know their names, and I see them maybe once every five months on average between our two aging cars.

I saw a couple of tweets from Bill Green, a social media advocate if ever there was one, where he scathingly and humorously rips United Airlines three or four new ones for screwing up his flight plans and failing to help him resolve them. All within the allotted 140 characters. Now if I'm United, my TweetBeep goes off and I go find this guy. I reply: "Hey, Sorry to hear about your experience. Hit me back by DM and I'll give you my email addy. See if we can't fix this.(Yeah, I work for UA)" That was 140 characters exactly. Bill invited that discussion by dissing my brand and I responded. You can call that "engaging the consumer" at your next conference speaking engagement.

If you're Bill in the above scenario, you're freaking out that a giant, uncaring corporation just found you badmouthing them and is now trying to fix your problem. On Twitter no less. You are definitely DMing me and getting my email addy. Chances are better now that Bill might fly United again, even if I can't fix his problem to his utmost satisfaction. I was there. I showed him I'm listening. What does that cost United? Hell, I'll do it for you, United, as your highly-paid social media consultant. But the money I save you in salvaged customers might well offset the salary and perks (free flights for life, first-class) that you pay me. Will Bill now follow United on Twitter? Who cares? Numbers of followers is not the point, unless you're tweeting stuff like, "First five people to reply get free round trip tickets to anywhere in the continental US."

Twitter is the latest social media application that marketers will fast ruin. Look back a year or two. What happened to MySpace? It got overrun with tools and shills, getting in your face or spamming you. Where did everyone go? Facebook. And they'll be leaving that soon, too. Anyone use AIM anymore? Yeah, I didn't think so. All those "buddies" you kept getting who were really companies? Skype? Had its day. We run from the marketers - because they're always marketing; always looking for a way to slap us in the face with a banner or yell at us with some unsolicited blurb. Or worse, they pretend to be our "friends."

They'll find a way to find you. (We always do.) But until the marketer stops using social media to sneak up and pounce on the target, the target will continue to find new places to hang out, running from them.

You want to use social media? Look at them this way: social media are places where you can strengthen the ties you have, repair the ones that are severing and maybe in the process (but only by luck) build a few new ones.

And Twitter, you don't really have much hope of becoming a money-making operation in the traditional sense of selling ads. Most Twitter users don't even see the Twitter.com site; they're using mobile devices or second-party widgets embedded in their iGoogle homepages. You're going to have to "think outside the box" since you already blew your shot at making serious money when you turned down Facebook's $500 million offer. Whatever you do as you explore how to make money from this fast-growing application du jour, take a lesson from those who've blown it in front of you: Stay out of the users' faces.

Even as marketers, what do we always think of the marketer who is trying to force his way in? We think, "Get out of my face!" Here's an opportunity for us to do just that.

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  • Brilliantly said. And you're right to mention Alan's post. He's spot on with the idea that social media is mostly used by people to be social.

    That's it.

    By Anonymous Aaron, at January 7, 2009 at 10:27 AM  

  • You found a good mechanic! That, my friend, is total victory!

    By Blogger chuck rampart, at January 7, 2009 at 10:36 AM  

  • Great post. I actually had a fantastic brand experience with Sprint, through Twitter.

    Whole story here:

    I also hate that you can sit on your porch, drink wine and blog. Right now, the sky is crapping ice at our office.

    By Blogger darryl ohrt, at January 7, 2009 at 10:48 AM  

  • Well said, I just had a religious experience reading your post.

    JP, you are living the dream.

    By Anonymous dirtsister, at January 7, 2009 at 11:05 AM  

  • Careful there, Jetpacks. A whole legion of snake oil peddlers is dependent on the smoke and mirrors behind "social media strategy."

    Enough of this socialist-minded calling spades, spades.

    You trying to stunt the economy by making millions of Web 2.0 books and conferences irrelevant? Hippie.

    By Anonymous Eat Saladr, at January 7, 2009 at 12:05 PM  

  • Excellent post, JP. You've articulated stuff I was just starting to formulate in my own mind.

    By Blogger Andy Jukes, at January 7, 2009 at 12:20 PM  

  • Y'know, Tom Peters gets paid thousands of dollars to tell Executwinks what you just said. Where's the justice, jp? I ask you, where's the Justice?!?

    The Cluetrain folks said:

    we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings - and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal With It.

    Sounds so easy, doesn't it?

    By Anonymous Ripley, at January 7, 2009 at 1:04 PM  

  • United has still not contacted BG.

    I think I may have third-personed myself there. Sorry.

    By Blogger Make the logo bigger, at January 7, 2009 at 5:28 PM  

  • Yes.

    (Practicing for the next form of social media after Twitter is destroyed by marketers, which will be limited to only 4 characters.)

    By Blogger Ben Kunz, at January 10, 2009 at 4:15 PM  

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