Get a clue (train) about Social Media Marketing

THE BIG NEW BUZZ IS FIGURING OUT how to turn Twitter into cash. Everyone’s got a book, or a seminar, or a podcast, or a website about how to use Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, blogs, and anything else that has the faintest whiff of social media about it to create marketing gold. Most of these so-called experts are completely missing the point. Social media is not about your business. It’s not about your product, and it sure as heck isn’t about your marketing, Madison Avenue or otherwise. It’s about your people.

One of my friends, Snipe, wrote an excellent, if slightly crass (you just need to know her) article about the concept of a Social Media Marketer. These are people who are supposed to be experts on social media, and are supposed to coordinate a company’s presence in the online social realms. Too often, they’re also the ones tasked with being the sole representation for the company in this space. I can’t even start to describe how far from reality these companies have strayed. There is no one person in a company with two or more employees who is completely conversant on all aspects of the business, otherwise there would be only one employee. This means there is no one person who can represent your company to all people. So if you’ve created a position of Social Media Marketer, what you’ve done at the very least is set that person up to fail. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve completely destroyed the credibility of your company in the social space.

Years ago, before Twitter and Facebook were even a thought, I read a book that should be required reading for all leadership teams. The Cluetrain Manifesto describes very clearly how the traditional public presentation of a company, through public relations, official spokespeople, and very rules for employees that keep them on a very short leash when talking about anything to do with their work, is an antiquated notion and entirely wrong for the Internet. Even before 140 characters became the new standard for a message, it was obvious that the ability to connect with anyone in the world instantly forced a change in the way companies communicate. People don’t want to talk to corporate entities. They want to talk to other people. They want to know that the person at the other end of the conversation is not just working off a script that has been handed to them. If I have a question about the meaning of something in a document, I want to talk to the author of the document. What I don’t want is to talk to someone who is either trying to give me an answer without the knowledge it requires, or is trying to be a middleman for a conversation with the person who does have the knowledge.

This is not to say that there is no place for corporate communications and public relations. Press releases need to go out, the mainstream media needs definitive information, events need to be arranged, and all of this needs to be done by professionals. This means that there’s certainly a place for an official Twitter stream that is branded, or a Facebook page that is run by the communications department. And there are some excellent people out there who do a wonderful job putting together campaigns that utilize social media or are potentially viral. But that is not social media, even if it uses Twitter. It’s another extension of corporate communications, and you should not expect it to be anything more than that. Social media, by definition, is between people. That means that you have to let your people speak for themselves. If you hamstring them in any way, other than providing very general guidelines about what not to say (like internal financial figures, or confidential project information), you will never have success in social media. People can spot a phony even over email.

It may be surprising to hear this, but most people like, at least in some way, what they do for a living. Sure, there’s always office politics, or the task that nobody really wants to do but everyone knows has to get done. But in general, your employees like their job and like your company. When someone outside asks a question about the company, they want to answer and help people. When someone puts up incorrect information, they want to correct it. Nothing frustrates them more than management that has told them that the only people who may speak about the company are those who have it in their job description. You know what? It’s everyone’s job description to help the company succeed, so let them. Because if you go the other way and hire someone to “handle” social media, you’re going to reinforce that only the official company spokespeople are to be talking about the company. The market will recognize this as well, and you will have done nothing but remind them that your company is nothing but a faceless entity.

Do you want to do more about social media? OK. Hire a coordinator. Hire someone who will encourage employees to get on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and anywhere else they can think of. Find someone who run internal classes about what not to say, and make sure they tell everyone to say as much as they can as long as it’s not confidential. Set up a peer group where your people can quickly check a fact about the company or find the right person to answer something they came across. There’s nothing special about it. Just tell your employees to go out and be the people they already are.

And read a book.

Todd Palino


I'm a dad, a small business owner, a systems engineer, a developer, and any number of other things.

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