Where do you start? That’s the question I get often when I’m asked how to help a company market using social media tools. The people who contact me are smart. They tell me things like, “Yeah, they said we should start with a blog, and we said, ‘like the blog we already have?'” But what comes next is rarely a simple choice. I wanted to take you through some thoughts on what the basic building blocks of social media might be for a business (in the context of marketing, but then stretching a bit further out).
Remember, roadmaps don’t work really well until you have a solid goal or destination in mind. None of this matters unless it feels right to you, regardless of my advice. You know your company’s boundaries. You know what your comfort levels are. Proceed at your organizational pace.
Grow Bigger Ears
Most social media plans start with how you can talk. I prefer to start with listening. We learn more by listening (all salespeople know this, as do animals). We hear what people are saying. We can learn the cadence of a place. Want to start out in social media? Grow bigger ears.
Make a Friendly Base
In the past, we used the web strictly to collect information or transact one-way business like shopping. Many companies still have their online presence set up like this: as a place to inform.
With the tools of the social web, we can offer so much more: a two-way place where information can be started by one person, and then augmented or refuted or discussed by others. One manifestation of this is a blog. A blog is a great place for discussions. If you want to be really daring and clever with your base, you might even contemplate a site that permits user-driven information. I could see that being interesting: a site where your existing customers provide the lion’s share of the information and interaction around your product or service. (Would you dare to do that?)
Also, make sure your home base has sharing tools like Share This on your site, to help empower others to spread the word about your content.
Extend into Outposts
Depending on your type of customer, it’s important to get out to where they are. It’s great that you’ve built a site, but find our where your customers are spending their time, and get over there. Your efforts to grow bigger ears will help in that regard.
When you decide to build outposts, start small but decisively human. If you build a Twitter account, follow some people (maybe prospects, but maybe also just people you find interesting: you met them via the “grow bigger ears” part), and pay attention to the flow of conversations. Listen for a few days before trying out your own voice.
Don’t make your efforts on places like Twitter and Facebook solely about driving people to your home base, but instead, be helpful, participatory, and a good citizen of the social space you’re occupying. When you have some really interesting or helpful information, consider pointing people to your post for more information.
There are places where people might be talking about your products and services. These might be on 3rd party communities, or might be in “commons” spaces like Facebook. If you choose to engage by being a participant, be wary that your efforts might be perceived as intrustive, that your efforts to correct factual errors on such sites might be met with disdain, and that when you’re participating on other people’s turf, you don’t have much say in how things are portrayed.
You might also choose to build your own community platform around your products and services. This can be a very rewarding experience, but it can also be an effort in futility. Just because you’ve got a great product doesn’t mean a community will be an obvious hit. Other times, there are great products, a community who really cares about it, and then the platform doesn’t empower the types of interactions the users want.
If you build a community platform, realize that the goal of that community is to empower your members, and to equip them with added benefits from belonging. Don’t use it as a marketing ground, or a place from which to advertise your products. Use it as a way to inform, to share, to give something back.
The results will be much more effective.
You live or die by your database. If you leave all your online marketing efforts strictly to social platforms and your blogs, you’re missing a very effective and powerful tool: email marketing. Some of you just flinched, and some of you are thinking that email marketing is so 1995. The tool is every bit as amazing as it’s ever been. What’s changed to make me feel this way are the methods in which it can be used.
A solid email marketing experience in the coming months involves mass customization, something that goes beyond the “Dear [firstname]” experience we use today. If I had my way, I’d design an interface to my email marketing platform that let me make all kinds of calculations on what to send, based on my recent interactions, based on comments left on the blog, and based on all kinds of other information that’s not as simple to plan for as, say, adding in static database fields.
For now, simply having a solid list that appreciates your contact is a powerful tool to have. I use Blue Sky Factory for my email marketing platform (disclosure: I’m friends with the company and they have sponsored several of my events. I am more than a little bit biased). The reason I use them is that they have great support and great relationships with the spam police of the universe, a good thing to have.
Mobile and Beyond
Like with all things promised to us on the Internet, the reality of augmented reality is about a decade later than it was promised. With the Apple iPhone 3Gs, it turns out that applications that mash up location data with web information are coming and coming fast. I don’t have any implementation experience on these types of tools yet, but know that I’m going to dive in fast and furious, as it’s definitely part of what’s next.
Location apps, augmented reality, and much more context-aware marketing are where I think things will heat up next. If you think social tools are interesting in 2D spaces like your browser, imagine what the real world offers for thrills and overlaid excitement.
Did I miss any of the basic building blocks of social media, from your perspective? What needs more clarification? How can I help explain this out a bit better for you?
By the way, that cool Lego display is at the See Science Center in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is astounding.