Beware of the social media guru

This post will not make me very popular in some circles but the point I want to make here has to be made. A big part of marketing today is a strong focus on social media and for good reason. It is a powerful, cheap and effective platform which I, uninformed about the mechanics of marketing as I am, believe will supersede traditional marketing channels in the coming years. It is also a misunderstood platform and phenomenon and ignorant and so-called social media “experts” or “gurus” are misleading their clients into believing they are truly taking advantage of this revolutionary platform when they are just doing more of the same.

As a starting point, watch this video:

Does any of this sound familiar? Having received a pitch from a social media marketing agency, are you still trying to figure out how, exactly, this stuff is supposed to help your business reach more people and make more money, at least for you?

Besides the vagaries of the business and the fact that many posers will struggle to translate the social Web into sustainable and meaningful boosts to your business, many of the initiatives these so-called experts deploy are not really social media instances, they are pretty much what you were doing before the Web went social except these tools are free and you are paying these experts a mint to use them on your behalf.

Twitter and Facebook accounts being maintained by agencies seems to have become fairly commonplace with corporate social media marketing campaigns. I suppose marketing managers unfamiliar with social media take comfort in the knowledge that someone else is taking care of these services, not realising that social media oriented marketing doesn’t mean using Twitter as a communication channel in addition to or instead of, say, email campaigns or magazine ads.

Social media is about people communicating with each meaningfully. In the context of a social media marketing campaign, social media helps people within a company engage meaningfully with customers. It isn’t about Twitter or Facebook per se but rather what those tools help you achieve. Granted I am a lawyer and not a marketing person, but I don’t think I am wrong in saying that you really should research which social media tool/s is/are right for what you want to achieve. I came across a book a little while ago which contained some great advice for marketers who want to use social media to market their products and services. It is called “Groundswell” (here is the blog, the book on Amazon and the book on kalahari.net) and one of the points its authors make is that different markets and campaigns are best served by different social media tools. No one size fits all and anyone who tells you otherwise probably doesn’t really understand what he/she is doing.

Why am I going on about this stuff? I’ve been thinking about this issue for a while now. Social media posers undermine the good work done by innovative and creative agencies to help businesses make effective use of social media by promising the world and failing miserably. Not a new story but its relevant given the tremendous amount of attention paid to social media. The social Web is not a blip. The Web and out digital communications are becoming increasingly social and connected so it serves as a perfect platform for marketers but their efforts must be carefully thought out and authentic.

Simon Dingle made a great point a little while ago which I read as commentary on authenticity in social media marketing:

I am no more impressed with companies using Twitter than I am with them using telephones. Twitter is just a simple tool – it’s what you do with it that matters.

And no amount of PR posturing can disguise a rotten business. Using Twitter to defend a kak product is just lipstick on a pig.

It doesn’t help a business to outsource its voice to a know-it-all agency that promotes the current social media tool as the solution for its marketing needs. A good agency will help a business formulate an effective strategy using the right tools for the job and empower people within the business to engage meaningfully with their customers. I just don’t see how paying an agency to tweet on your behalf is a good use of the platform at all. It converts a social application, Twitter, into yet another one way communication channel (“thanks for your tweet, we’ll get back to you” from the agency doesn’t qualify as meaningful engagement). Getting the engineer who designed the product in touch with customers through Twitter, Facebook, a blog or even a forum (remember those?) is much closer to meaningful engagement and social media’s essence.

Its all about an authentic voice using an appropriate tool, not using the current cool tool because its the current cool tool.

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