At least two or three times a week I am asked the question, "Do we really need to develop a social media strategy? Can we really benefit from participating?"
70-80% of the time my answer is yes, as almost any business can benefit long-term from participating in social media the RIGHT way. It occurred to me today, however, that I rarely document the occasions when I advise businesses to steer clear of this form of marketing.
After looking through some meeting notes, here are some common reasons for a business to stay away from social marketing:
1. Your company and / or management team does not believe in social media.
This is always a tough one to handle. On the one hand, if everyone followed this rule then this form of marketing would be dead already, as most proponents start out as non-believers. On the other hand, if you are invited to be the champion of the program and you do not even believe in the benefits of social media, you'll never sell it internally and if you do, you'll never execute with passion and consistency.
If you've been reading this blog long enough, I telegraphed this one for you. Tactics without strategy will eventually fail. Say it again. Tactics without strategy will eventually fail.
3. Your business bases everything on strict cost-benefit analysis, and defined ROI is expected quickly.
Much of what you can expect to execute in this realm is going to be experimental initially. Very few organizations have found a concrete way to tie social media investment directly to revenue increases or cost savings.
If your CFO or Controller or even your VP of Marketing is going to treat an investment in social marketing like an investment in direct mail or pay-per-click search engine marketing, it's probably not going to work out for you.
4. You or those you report to are going to base social media success on the number of followers, friends or connections you accumulate.
Pet peeve alert!
Unless you are representing a universal or near universal consumer product, stop counting followers, friends and connections. Do the smart thing. Identify a segment of the audience that you want to reach, and make the focus of your social marketing program reaching as many members of that segment as possible. Rinse and repeat with the next segment.
If the focal point of your strategy is to accumulate as many friends, followers or connections as possible, you'll fail in social media eventually. Or you'll become very annoying to your audience, and they'll start tuning you out … which I suppose is the same thing as failing.
5. Your company's executive leadership and / or thought leaders are not part of the social media effort.
Certain types of social media are not inherently representative for corporate representation. They were built for individual representation, with the obvious benefit of creating a platform from which you can share business interests and news.
Many companies abuse social media properties, and part of this abuse lies in the lack of participation from the real personalities that reflect the brand. See Will's recent post on Zappos excellence in marketing and customer service, and in particular the involvement of their CEO in all social media efforts, for an example of the way this should be done.
There are some Twitter business users with massive followings that remind me of Paris Hilton. Never accomplished much, famous for being famous, annoying as hell to listen to … and then the clincher comes when I hear that they have interns or assistants representing them on Twitter. That's crap. Plain and simple. Ghostwriting is one thing, ghosttwittering is quite another.
6. You can not write well and can not find someone that can write well.
Again, if you're a frequent reader of the Marketing Trenches, you know that we believe writing impacts the quality of everything. This applies to social marketing as well. Write poor, and you give people reason to tune you out. Write well, and you at least have a chance to reach and engage your audience.
7. You do not have proprietary content, do not want to author proprietary content, and are not willing to recommend or share others' content.
Like most marketing efforts, in social media content is king. You're going to need web pages, blog posts, press releases, case studies, research reports … you get the point. To really take advantage of social marketing, you need to either produce that content internationally or be willing to share content from outside sources that you deem valuable.
8. Your business does not have a tolerance for open, back-and-forth, sometimes unfiltered conversation.
Social media has a way of enhancing some strengths, and more importantly exposing some weaknesses. Since social marketing does tend to represent a more open platform than the rest of your marketing programs, do a reality check first. If your business can not handle the idea of some dirty laundry or even just some moderately dirty laundry being exposed, stay away.
9. Your business is trying social media because it is viewed as a low-cost, low-effort marketing program.
First of all, if you're doing social marketing right it's not low effort. It can be low cost as compared to the media dollars paid out for a search campaign or fees paid for a public relations effort, but that's only because companies tend to put junior junior staffers on the social media beat.
There's nothing wrong with experimenting or "testing" social marketing. If low cost or low effort is what finally moves you to try it out, it's probably not the right move to begin with.
Will does a great job of explaining why this is a mistake in a recent post on Marketing Misconceptions. While an intern may understand the ins and outs of each property better than you do, guess what? They do not understand the business implications of your social media strategy better than you do, and if they do … maybe you should not be sitting in the seat you're sitting in.