Wednesday, March 18, 2009

You Could Spend Your Life Listening to Gurus

So you just left SXSW and you're down in the dumps 'cause now you have to actually go to work and pretend to apply all the fascinating things you "learned" at the conference? Why bother going back to work? There's another conference going on right now in NYC! (And look! They used the tired old "silhouetted young business people doing business in a take charge, business-like way" image. BONUS: The take charge business-doers are reflected in the floor in a very serious Web 2.0 way.)

Your average social media guru has 15,000 followers on Twitter. (Thankfully, I'm not following them.) But he is, in short, a bullshit artist. He's got his hands in every new thing that comes around, but I don't think he could show you a single case study of how any of it has "worked" for a client. He was one of the first to tell everyone they needed a blog. And then corporate blogging failed. He was early on the podcast bandwagon. And then corporate podcasting failed. He thought everyone should create their own branded social networks, until it became obvious that not too many people wanted to join a brand's "community." Undeterred, he created numerous fake profiles and spent his days "seeding" comments on forums and blogs. His clients employ him for as long as it takes to uncover his game, or until his iron-clad three-month contract is over. He is adept at making himself look important and in another time he'd have been the perfect carpet-bagging seller of Dr. Swindle's Cure-All Tonic.

Now maybe there are some people out there selling social media consulting services who are actually telling clients stuff that their teenage kids couldn't tell them. Maybe there are "strategies" that aren't obvious to the average Joe, Jim, Khalid and Britte. (Actually, I can think of a couple of practitioners who are on the right path. They don't create the illusion of mystery and the're upfront with their audiences.)

Those of us who deride the consultants and their magic shows are branded "old-school" or "resistant." But I've seen nothing from the new school that warrants four conferences a month and a growing army of "experts."

There is no old vs new in this. It's just new packaging for an old product. The principles should remain the same: treat your potential customers with respect; make them laugh or tug their heart-strings as you're getting their attention; don't hide behind a bunch of fine print; and if they become customers and then complain, resolve their problem, refunding their purchase in full if need be.

Call it "the conversation" if you have to, but it's nothing more than old-school customer service.

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  • Old School Customer Service still wins. I got a card in the mail yesterday from my vet checking up on my dog after a recent surgery. It made my day. I would highly recommend my vet to anyone now.

    I know customers expect a lot from companies, but I just learned that I also have my own set of standards on what I would like from a company that I trust. Whole Foods didn't answer an email I sent last week and it made me really frustrated. Maybe they didn't know the answer. My point: sending an email back even if you don't know the answer right away, makes a difference to your customer. I'm going to continue shopping at Whole Foods it's not a huge issue, I just would have appreciated hearing from someone that my email was received. Old School customer service would have been great!

    By Blogger Kelly, at March 18, 2009 at 3:48 PM  

  • Nice post. I consider myself a marketing generalist. What I'm finding is that old school marketing mentality doesn't line up with new media technology and what's happening is companies are wondering why everyone hates them when they get online and try and broadcast in a one-to-one kind of medium. While old school customer service still does win (every time, BTW) it can be done in a social media environment. In fact, social media can help us reach and have those conversations with our customers who never would have brought those concerns to us.

    Have you ever tried acting? Calling it just 'customer service' in a social media environment is a little like telling someone 'just act natural.' Most people are as awkward as they were in their 10th grade school play.

    I think there is plenty of room for people to make a business of helping companies avoid public embarassment while increasing customer service interactions.

    By Blogger Michelle Mackintosh, at March 18, 2009 at 4:50 PM  

  • Michelle: That's exactly what I meant. The new platforms lend themselves even more readily to customer service. But it's not rocket science, as some would have you think. Yes, get on Facebook and Twitter, by all means - engage the people talking about you. But you don't need a conference to tell you that. Or a consultant.

    I used to act, btw.

    By Blogger RFB, at March 18, 2009 at 4:57 PM  

  • Excellent post!

    Guru Recipe: Get yourself invited to enough conferences and seminars, preach the latest tech trend article in Time magazine, present a lot of example and viola, you are now a tech guru and don't forget the really cool business card.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 18, 2009 at 6:41 PM  

  • Fantastic post!

    Some companies currently need a little help with education/guidance, eg "WTF is Twitter?" / "I want a blog!!!" but then, after an hour or so, they should be off doing it (or not, their call). As for conferences around this stuff, *sigh* ...

    By Blogger Mike Riversdale, at March 18, 2009 at 7:28 PM  

  • Old School Customer Service also takes TIME! I think the businesses that make it through this economic "downturn" will make the time to teach and inspire their staff to go waaayyy outta their way to take each customer seriously....OSCS weeds out the greedy, the weak, and the stupid companies...the ones that remain standing will have taken the TIME to show their customers some love. Good conversation on this.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 18, 2009 at 9:42 PM  

  • Sanity ... finally.

    I am "old School" and when DR print was new we used it to sell 1,100 European Luxury Automobiles in 1986. Those same 1,100 purchasers then became VIPs in the CRM cycle and as a result became "the new influencers of 1987". It was the rage then and if you used it right it worked.

    Social is just another channel that has been elevated to messianic heights by the hive intellect (Please read Jaron Lanier's Digital Maoism – true intellect).

    In a recent webinar moderated by 3 experts (all were very honest) here are the nuggets of wisdom.

    Expert 1:
    "ROI depends on the unique objectives of each client." ... Uh, ok.

    Expert 2:
    "I can't tell you what to budget but it should be a 2-3 year program and it should come from traditional media ... if I were to guess you'll spend 10% of your budget on content"

    ... You just need to be faster than the slowest client in the room.

    Expert 3:
    "What I'm going to say could be regarded as heresy - social isn't for every brand." … Thank you Expert number 3.

    Social operates on the fundamentals you so eloquently outlined and if we would truly like to get messianic they were originally called the golden rules.

    Don’t bore me with what you had for lunch in five different channels the same way because “technology can do that”.

    Give people a compelling message in any medium, respect them enough to take the time to create a thought provoking message, and you will have followers.

    Have a soul.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 19, 2009 at 5:23 PM  

  • It sure would be nice to be employed as a guru (sigh). In the meantime... Yes, finally, some common sense! Social media is the online arm of plain old networking and socializing. It's great but it certainly is not the be-all and end-all--I totally agree that emails need to be answered even if the answer is not immediately available!

    By Blogger Diane, at March 20, 2009 at 3:30 PM  

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