I’m sorry, but what the eff?

Social Media Madness
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When I started writing this, it was supposed to be a very professional, neutral perspective. But this evening, I had a – not exactly a conversation, but more of a highly surreal experience – that’s left my brain vibrating in my skull like a tuning fork.
Cut a long story short, I posted a social media / online marketing query, addressed to the SMO agencies that are cropping up all over the place. It was meant to do a brief check of capabilities and costs. It instead opened a vision into insanity. Some brief excerpts follow –
Me: I have a website and a Facebook page, and I want to build traffic for both.
He: I don’t understand. Why are you confusing online and social media?
Me: Wha-

He: Don’t do facebook advertising. You pay money for a lead, he joins your page, he unjoins, your money is lost. Go with our ‘Organic Fanbase Building’.
Me: How does that work?
He: We have (large number) fans across all the other pages we’ve built for (frighteningly high-profile list of clients). We blast them all a message them asking them to join your page.
Me: But, but… I want to target a specific audience… say, only men. (At least that, if not age groups, locations, and preferences / interests! For God’s sake!)
He: Don’t restrict audiences in social media. Go for everyone. Everywhere. Get as many as you can.
Me: Er. Ah. Um –  my service is only available in India.
He: No problem. Just restrict page settings to be visible only in India.
Me: But haven’t you already blasted an untargeted message to everyone (literally everyone) about this page?
He: Yes.
(and nothing further. No explanation, justification, or acknowledgement that this was a bloody stupid thing to do.)

Me: Do you set up and run Google Adwords campaigns?
He: No, but it’s a ten-minute job. You can easily run it yourself.
(point of interest – I’m reading up SEM material, and even to get half of the basics for the Individual Certification for Adwords Fundamentals has taken over a dozen hours of reading. Or, in this twilight zone I’m in tonight, ten minutes.)

Me: What do you do with Twitter?
He: Tweets work only with celebs. Do you have a brand ambassador who can tweet about your product? Write something entertaining, some gossip?
Me: Er… no. I don’t have celebrity brand ambassadors.
He: Oh. Bad luck, then.

Me: Can you set up a branded twitter page / account, and manage it?
He: Of course! We create custom Twitter pages and manage it for you. Only Rs. (steep figure) per month. We take care of everything. The only thing we don’t do, is respond to followers.

Me: You do lead gen forms and processes?
He: Yes. Rs. X (koffff) for simple, Rs. 2X for email verified – but we want a guarantee from you that all your mails go 100% into user inboxes, and not into any promo folders, spam, or junk. Give us this guarantee.

Me: What about mobile verification of leads?
He: Yes.
He: Meaning, we will help you set up the mobile system.
He: Introduce you to the mobile people… operators… there’s a lot of technical stuff… we hand-hold you to let you set it up yourself.
Me: Custom facebook pages?
He: Yes, for Rs. (dear God) we do facebook ‘page beautification’.
(turns out he meant an FBML box on the wall. This, after I mentioned in my first mail to him, ‘an FBML box on the wall.’)

And the last comment – please note, after he has advised against facebook advertising (where you can target precisely by location, time, gender, age, and behaviour, at an optimized, pre-set CPC) – that yes, he does charge for every fan added via his ‘organic growth’ – untargeted, generic, spammed – Rs. (worth at least a few cigs and coffee) per user.
Let me just state – I’m not writing this to poke fun at ignorance, or assume that this is a valid representation of all agencies. (In fact, at the time of writing, I’ve also received a very sane and coherent response from a second one within minutes of asking)
This post is to highlight the unfortunately true maxim – ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’ Social Media is a hot buzzword in the marketing field these days, and while a willingness to embrace new media and developments, and capitalize on new opportunities is a very laudable and praiseworthy initiative – I just have 2 pieces of advice, before you jump in.
For the marketing managers who pay for this – please understand what social media is, how it works, what tools and applications exist, and why and which ones make sense for your objectives.
For the SMO agencies who execute this – please understand what social media is, how it works, what tools and applications exist, and why and which ones make sense for your client’s objectives.
There’s a huge wealth of information out there on the web – presentations, case studies, discussions, views, reviews, and overviews, how-to’s, guides, tutorials, free trials, the works. Please read before you start to bleed. It’s not a rocket science. But it isn’t some mysterious magic either, understood and practised by a rare, select few.
Like anything else in marketing and media management, it needs a little study, a little experimentation, and a lot of thought to work. And unlike a lot marketing, if you don’t do it right, it doesn’t die with a fizzle and a whimper. The ensuing backlash can cost your organization reputation, money, time, and people. Because if you screw up and make your employer – or client – look stupid, heads will roll, and the first one will be yours.
SMO is a tremendously powerful engine, and if you don’t use it, you get left behind. But if you use it badly, without knowing it, it can rip you to pieces. And this is a race that you’re already running. Can you crack it?
Can you become a case study for success – or failure?
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Watch this space. There’s some more who haven’t written in yet.

On The Edge

Imagine a camp in the dark wilderness, fire burning brightly in the center, the surrounding wilds shrouded in shadow. Management clusters around the heart, in the brightness and the warmth; they’re the camp directors, the leaders, and they keep the journey going.

Social media is, from a corporate standpoint, always on the fringes of the empire.

It’s not mainstream – probably never will be, unlike traditional Marketing, CorpComm, PR, and the lobbying machinery. Those are themselves insulated, and further insulate the core from any unpleasant voices from without. Social media, by the very nature of it’s existence, is right there on the edge, more outside the circle of firelight than in, listening to the dark, and sending back reports that are sometimes interesting, sometimes disquieting, and usually incomprehensible. The rest of the camp doesn’t really know what ‘those guys’ are doing out there, but don’t want to risk pulling them back inside – not anymore.

The world is a strange, mysterious, and dangerous place these days. The voices in the dark have grown very powerful indeed, and command more resources than anyone inside the circle of wagons had ever dreamed possible. Today, more than ever, it’s critical to post lookouts, and be ready to leap into action at the first sign of danger. Ignore the warnings too long, and you could be overrun before you even realized what was happening, a cloud of fast, nimble detractors sweeping the camp, stealing precious brand equity, and disappearing again before you could react. All you can do then is handle the aftermath of the failure.

And out there, there are others who can sense the failure, too. It draws them like vultures, to the smell of spilled blood.

Don’t mind the rather colorful imagery – that’s what happens if you spend enough time in RPGs – but I’m dead serious on the parallels. Social media is a watchdog, and it’s the one that sees the first sign of trouble. There are sometimes arguments made that companies shouldn’t be on social media (usually after a PR disaster) to remove the outlet for negative commentary, but this is the business equivalent of hiding under the blankets hoping that the monster will go away. It won’t.

Instead, what corporations need to do – and very quickly – is to put into place a social-media-recovery process that’s more fire drill than marketing process. You need marshals, you need decentralized authority and you need people who can react, with company resources, quickly and effectively.

Nestle learnt this the heard way. When negative comments started surfacing on their Facebook page, they chose to first ignore, and then suppress / ridicule. Bad idea.
On a Facebook page, every comment is equal. And if you knock them out of the field because you’re an admin, the next thing you know, there’s another field where you aren’t.

Social media is not about control. It’s an early-warning system. Long-range radar doesn’t shoot down incoming missiles, it enables the other defences to react fast enough, to. When tweets, blogs, hashtags, comments, fan pages, and videos start going against you, it’s already too late. When they’re occasional, random, disquieting statements, that’s pretty much the only time you can react, and try to steer the conversation – but more importantly, put the machinery in place internally, to handle the storm that could well be on it’s way… and ride out the worst of the damage.

What’s the worst that could happen? That you cried wolf? Think back on how that story ended.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s own personal ones, and do not reflect those of his employer in an official or unofficial capacity.

Image courtesy www.forestcamping.com

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