You can’t do social. (It can only do for you)

April 18, 2013 — Leave a comment

Why are some brands and agencies struggling with social, despite (or perhaps because of) a visible enthusiasm for it as a marketing approach? Even once they master the jargon and the etiquette and the technical wizardry required to ‘go social’, and then resource it properly and secure executive sponsorship – social seems to, well, just…

It could be the curse of the newly-converted, or perhaps it’s FOMO*, but whatever the motivation, it manifests itself similarly each time: the team becomes overly-focused on social. Not as a tool, or as a channel or as a technique, but as a ‘thing’ in and of itself, with it’s own raison d’être. It’s dangerous, but not uncommon.

When social becomes the objective.

It tends to happen with most shiny new technologies, usually once the technology gets enough media coverage and certainly once the Vice-President’s kids start using it on a regular basis. Happened with digital. It’s been kind of happening with mobile, in fits and starts, for a while now. It’s about to happen full-throttle with ‘content’. And it’s in full swing with social. We’re all doing it, but we’re not always entirely sure why.

Here’s a simple test: replace the shiny new technology (social) with a trusted, reliable, commonplace technology (say, telephone). Would some of the briefs or programs or even job titles we’re pursuing make as much sense? Would you consider hiring a Vice-President of Telephone? Would we build up a Telephone Team, with dedicated Telephone Experts? Would we unleash a 65-page deck detailing our Telephone strategy? Prolly not.

Make social behave like a channel.

(image courtesy Martin Ollman / BugLogic)

(image courtesy Martin Ollman / BugLogic)

I’m not suggesting we don’t need expertise in new technologies. In fact, we need expertise in all of our technologies – that’s how we get good at profiting from them. But what we need, most of all, is purpose: a reason to put these technologies and expertise and resources to use.

Here’s how you find one for social in your business, or brand or agency:

  1. Find a business objective.  Or even a business unit or a department, because they will usually (not always) have an objective, or at least a role to play within a business.
  2. Describe how that objective is being tackled right now. Who is working on it? What resources do they have? What are the results like? Are they getting better at it over time, or less-better**?
  3. Ask ‘social’ how they would do that tackling. Does it sound like they could support it? Augment it? Improve it? Replace it altogether? Make social ‘play its way’ on to your marketing team and earn its position through performance. (BTW, does anyone know why I, of all people, am using a sports analogy? Really, I’d like to know what’s gotten into me.)
  4. Give social a run. But not on its own. Invite it to meetings, let it join existing teams and projects and departments, either as resource or skills or training. Make sure it has a defined role, a position to play and results to deliver.
  5. Rinse (the data) and repeat. It’s the fastest way to get better at discovering what social can do for you.

In a nutshell: social can’t be an objective, it has to have one.

Placing bets vs making investments.

The reason I used ‘Telephone’ to replace ‘Social’ is because it’s also a good way to think about the investment we make in social – and not about the size of the investment, but rather its consistency. If we set up a phone number for our audience to reach us on, we wouldn’t follow that decision with a series of quarterly meetings to decide whether we’re going to pay to keep that number connected, or to have someone pick it up when it rings. As the use of social normalises (just like it did with phones) we’ll have to normalise our investment in it, too.

* Fear Of Missing Out.  It’s a real thing, apparently.

** A polite way of saying “Starting to suck”

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