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Social Media Marketing &The Challenge of Herding Cats

Sure, social media –1:1 marketing and communications–sounds glamorous.

It’s like the romance, the freedom, the adventure of the old West.  It’s just you and him (or her).

Long hours in the online saddle, what could be better?

Ask the folks who have been doing it for years – customer/tech support – it’s a lot like the EDS herding cats commercial —

According to Digital Brand Expressions, less than 41 percent of companies have a cohesive, strategic social media plan.  Fewer yet have policies/protocols for handling/managing the activity.

So anyone who can swing onto the keyboard/touchpad saddle declares that he/she is a social media expert.

They’re not really a herd of cats.  They’re a collection of individual cats.

And as any cat lover knows (we’re not one of them), cats are independent thinkers/players.

They can do what you want or they can turn on you in the flick of an eyelash; and gawd, are those claws sharp!

Social media is where people got together to:

–        share advice/assistance with people of like interests

–        talk to each other about their experiences in using products/services

–        chat, carry on, whatever

–        discuss common interests:

o      photography/scrapbooking

o      playing games

o      raising kids, family issues

o      boss/employee problems/solutions

As PC/CE/communications products/services got more complex and converged, they became indispensible.

It has also become more difficult to separate fact from fiction, hype from reality, blind love/lust from true satisfaction.

For producers, providers, the challenge is to:

–        reach, educate, influence, persuade prospects

–        efficiently/effectively provide product/service application/support information

–        produce happy customers who influence other prospects

–        keep customers/prospects involved in the company, its products/services

–        encourage favorable reviews, testimonials

–        obtain application/market inputs, proactive product/service improvement ideas

–        quickly, effectively solve customer/product issues to retain proactive customers

–        build a solid backlog of customer loyalty/goodwill for the dark days

And they must do all this efficiently, cost-effectively.

The Web’s social media watering holes have made it possible for people to get more purchasing assistance beyond their own reading and the geek next door.

Suddenly, guidance, assistance — more than you ever wanted to know — is only a few clicks away.


Figure 2 – Growing Choices – The world of social media just keeps expanding, enabling people to connect with their online communities.  They are also prime opportunities for companies, products, staff members to connect with customers and prospects/suspects.  Source – Internet Retailer

Information, recommendations – good, bad and ugly — are everywhere.

Right now, hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide are using social networks, blogs, microblogs, online forums and video-sharing sites.

The growth and influence of social media over product reputations/purchases hasn’t escaped the watchful eyes of corporate, marketing and communications management.

But a Digital Brand Expressions worldwide survey showed that 50 percent plus of the firms – large and small – didn’t have a defined social media strategy.

“Everyone” wants to have authority over social media efforts.  Marketing, PR, sales, HR, customer relations, IT all have their ideas on how they will manage the social media activities. But few want to be responsible/accountable!

Figure 3 – Independent Assistance – Good and bad recommendations, ideas, assistance is available on the Web to help people choose just the right product/service, use it and when necessary get real user and “expert” advice/assistance.  Source — Buzzlogic

The benefits of social media and the marketing/sales leverage for firms is pretty obvious.

Figure 4 – Being Involved – Social communities provide plenty of opportunities for marketing organizations to learn more about customers, find out what products/features they want next and strengthen relationships with customers and partners.  Source – TNS Market Intelligence/Cymfony

The challenge is that there are probably 3 billion people online, 3 million plus social media options:

–        blogs

–        micro-blogs (Twitter, Yammer)

–        Wikis

–        Public consumer Nets (Facebook, MySpace)

–        Private social net tools (Lithium, Mzinga)

–        Public news, information, fun sites (DigitalMediaNet, YouTube, CNet, etc)

–        Consumer websites (AllBabelTech, JocGeek, BitYard, more)

There really aren’t any best practices or established business models for social media activities, so companies just need to get some experience—and quickly.

Most of the social media landscape is of little or no interest to producers/providers unless …

Figure 5 – One-to-One-to-Many – Social media enables experienced professionals to build sound relationships with individual customers who spread the word to their contacts.  This grassroots network will also spread negative information about companies, products, services just as rapidly…if not more rapidly.  Illustration — IDC

And since it’s been labeled media, it’s only logical to give the task to the kids who went to school for that sorta’ stuff.

That’s okay, as long as things go smoothly.

Figure 6 – Firestorm – If lightning can spook a herd of cattle (or cats), negative comments about companies, policies/programs, products/services can hit just as quickly and with more devastating effects.  It costs time and money to win back customers and many never return.

But…one social media complaint lightning bolt can cause a stampede.


That’s why it’s important to be proactive in the social media arena.

Figure 7 – Busy Landscape – While every company agrees they have to be involved in the social media landscape, most firms don’t have organization-wide policies and programs on what can/should be done by staff members, how the efforts will be monitored/measured and who is responsible for the social media activities.

Social media includes everything the company does in reaching out, touching, working with people in the firm’s many/varied publics.

The company’s product information and support Web site areas are good – albeit less glamorous – places to start.

Here is where consumers visit to:

–        discover products, services

–        refine choices

–        decide on a product, service

–        gain assurance, inspiration

–        execute, find where to purchase

–        get support, answers

Until recently the information was provided with words and diagrams but as people go online to watch videos, progressive companies have been able to add content to their Web sites.



Figure 8 – Show Me, Entertain Me – The number of people who turn to their computer or smartphone for their video content is growing rapidly.  Online and on-the-go video includes news, information, entertainment, education and business.  Source — eMarketer

Short videos — product demonstrations, applications, installation, troubleshooting, technical discussions – are finally being added.

In addition, they’ve gone viral and are being used by channel partners, linked by blogs and other social media sites and shared by viewers everywhere.

Figure 9 – Sharing – Companies are finding that their corporate videos – product discussion, use, problem solving – can go viral across the iNet as quickly as the latest video joke.  Community members are finding it is faster, easier and more reliable to send or distribute a complete video or link to others in their group.  Source – Lightspeed Research

New compact cameras like the Flip can be used to produce real-people mini-stories quickly, easily, economically.

Products like muvee’s Reveal 8 do most of the work automatically.

Figure 10 – Business-Grade Consumer Products – For departments on a tight budget, low-cost cameras, simple business environment locations, homegrown talent and automated video production software can be used to produce interesting, informative product/service videos that can be uploaded to the company’s Website and social media locations.   The key is to tell the story quickly, effectively … then stop.

muvee and similar products analyze photos and video, style and choice of music and automatically create a video synced to the beat of the music with transitions and effects built in.

Interesting, informational, short videos – even with minor mistakes — are more believable than polished ads.  The software helps you explain products, develop SEO (search engine optimization) links and visually assist customers in efficiently, effectively using your products/services.

Using staff members taking viewers through the product/service story not only adds credibility, it encourages people to share the videos and links with others.

Viral videos not only quickly tell the product, application story, they also reduce customer frustrations when they’re trying to explain their problem on the phone or online.

They are also finding their way into interest area blogs where authorities want to highlight a solution or respond to an application/support question.

Since the digital environment is changing rapidly, there are no “best practice” social media models you can follow.

But you do – or should – know that pushing messages at the consumer doesn’t work.

Product explanation, how-to, technical videos helps the consumer feel connected to the company, the brand because they allow person to share information, ideas, rather than being advertised to/pitched/sold.

Monitoring the consumer’s feedback/inputs on the videos and the information presented is all part of the changing social media environment.

Explaining the whats, whys, hows of the company’s products and strategy/direction – and listening to inputs – should be your first small step in social media engagements. It’s only a small step forward but it’s a start in build reputation equity.

Herding cats and the social media community have a lot in common.

Ride slow, watch/listen to the herd, be ready for the unexpected.

It’s a tough, long, rewarding trip.

Most people aren’t up to the challenge.

But at the end of trail, you get a warm bath, good food and a few hours to rest before there’s another herd to round up.

By Andy Marken

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