My post the other day (“Why Bother With Social Media?”) definitely struck a chord and generated some good conversation, as it was meant to do.
Based on some of those conversations and responses, I did want to add some more thoughts to the original ramblings.
First, I’m not saying never ever ever ever shall any brand spend time or money in building a social media community and fostering some sort of engagement through it.
Where there is some (relatively) clear connection between the core assets/function of a brand and the natural user consumption desires/behavior on a given platform, therein lies some potential opportunity for gain, and a decent argument for an investment creating and building a brand-driven social media presence.
But what I am saying, is that instances in which this strong natural intersection exists, are the exception, not the rule. Most brands are awkwardly forcing this connection at best, and all things being evaluated equally, it’d make more sense for them to reduce their focus in social down to near zero.
Because my central point in all of this, is that every marketing plan should start from zero, and channels should be chosen unsentimentally, prioritized based on their ability to drive the bottom line. Which more often than not, would put social media pretty far down that prioritized list. If on the list at all.
Some of the specific points that people brought up in response to my post were:
- What about customer service?
Yes, sure. Social media has most certainly shaken up how brands and businesses need to address unhappy customers. Though I’m not quite sure anyone's really cracked that nut yet. The most common tactic I’ve seen throughout the industry to date, seems to be the GFTO (get the fuck offline) approach, where social media managers play whack-a-mole, and try to herd complainers into established offline channels (phone/email/web) as quickly as possible. So, again, the resource case we’re making feels a bit disconnected from the reality of what’s actually being addressed - since most social media “customer service” amounts to a copy/paste apology and link to a form so reps can “take it offline”.
- What about purchase influence?
Jess made the point that social presences give the undecided users a sense of the brand. While I have a lot of love for Jess, I don’t necessarily believe that active exploration of a brand’s social channels is a deciding factor (or even an influencing factor) in the majority of user journeys. I’ll buy that people visit Yelp, or read Amazon reviews, or check out Consumer Reports, but I just don’t see Facebook pages as being an important part of that purchase path. Again, this feels like another tenuous hypothesis we inflate in order to justify what we’re doing.
- What about awareness?
Can a brand’s social media presence help drive awareness? Some, sure. Any interaction, or even noticing of any brand anything, can theoretically raise awareness of the brand in some small way I suppose. I’d tend to think though, that if you’re already a fan or follower of a brand, your awareness is likely quite high as it is. So maybe that content your posting, at best reinforces awareness. But I’m not sure that your owned social channels are creating any awareness where it didn’t previously exist. And frankly, your ability as a brand to even do that much, is basically going away as we speak.
Again, these are just my opinions today, and this is an evolving point-of-view that’s based on a lot of recent observations and conversations I’ve been having of late. Nothing I’m saying is a 100% truism or universally unassailable fact for every brand out there.
I do believe however, that brand marketers should be more assertive in asking the question (“is social media really worth it?”), and that they shuld be looking objectively at the channels they spend against, versus diving blindly into checking the boxes thrown in front of them.
And I’m also asking those who sell social media tools and strategies, to dispense with the fantasy, and to re-focus on bringing your clients the plans and recommendations that they actually need – not just the ones that you can best profit from.
I look forward to continuing the discussion, so keep the comments coming.
I’ve been asking the following question of my peers (as well as myself lately), and getting some really interesting answers - if any answers at all.
If you are responsible for allocating marketing budgets for a brand (any brand really), how do you justify spending a dollar on social media over some other channel (print, tv, pr, content, etc.)?
Or, even more directly:
Why bother spending any time or money on social media?
And for clarity, I’m talking about the earned, organic, content-calendar, community manager, lets-build-conversation, engagement stuff here. The things that require man-hours, software, creatives, listening systems and the like. Not buying ads on social platforms (that’s just advertising).
Unsurprisingly, these questions, when asked directly, seem to cause some rambling panicked responses, and momentary crises of identity amongst my social media practitioner friends.
Because deep down, they, like me, realize that the charade is over. That the once grand promise of social media as a beautiful brand engagement tool, has gone generally unfulfilled.
It’s a tough realization, and I’ve taken no small amount of angry shit from my colleagues in pushing these questions. In part, because there’s this sense that if you’re in the game, you’re in the game.
We’re all in this together. The agencies sell the platforms, the platforms sell the engagement, the other agency sells the measurement (which always says “it’s working!”), and we all get paid. By the time anyone starts asking questions, it’s too late because no one in this industry stays anywhere for more than a year or two and we’ve all moved onto new jobs.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
But that hyperbolic collusion rhetoric aside, there are some real, honest questions about the efficacy of social media and value of investing in the building of “brand communities”.
The biggest problem that we can’t just sweep under the rug, is that broadly speaking, the average person gives zero shits about your brand at all, let alone connecting with it. In social media or otherwise.
We’re trying desperately to force a selfish narrative (that people want to engage with brands), when in fact the exact opposite is true.
People far smarter than I, have put this more eloquently than I ever could, so here are some quotes on the topic that I love.
First, from Seth Godin.
Start by understanding that no one cares about (the brand). People care about themselves. Anyone who tweets about a brand or favorites a brand is doing it because it is a symbol of who they are–it is a token, it is a badge. It’s about them, it’s not about the brand.
Next, from one of my favorite pieces of content, ever.
Our challenge is that people are not paying attention. Our challenge is that people really don’t care. Our task is not nurturing enthusiasm, but overcoming indifference.
So then, why are we spending so much money trying to make social media work, when the audience doesn’t care, and the efforts lag so far behind other mediums in terms of driving business growth?
Seems like your time and money is still better spent on the classics - paid search and email. It may be un-sexy, but it’s hard to argue.
“But brands that set smart social goals, are making it work!” you say.
I’d say that this is a false construct peddled by those who benefit from the idea that social media works and is necessary. Meaning, we’re creating arbitrary social media goals to justify what we’ve already decided wewant to do, versus allowing broader business goals to lead us into the proper channels with the proper investment. Which often times, won’t be social. When you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
“But we’re getting great engagement on our content!” you argue.
The question isn’t whether or not people will engage with puppies and babies and click bait on Facebook (they will). The question is, what impact do those engagements really have on your brand and business? Again, we’re feeding into a false-construct of our own making. We decided that engagement = success, and then we figured out how to game the system so that we get engagement. But despite all of that engagement, social falls flat (and hard) when it comes to actually moving the needle where it matters.
“But Facebook fans of XYZ brand spend twice as much than non-fans!” you plead.
This has always been a favorite of mine. Aside from the fact that the “data” here is dubious (“much of the data thus far has been anecdotal”), this argument is also a wonderful case of the confirmation bias approach that the industry takes to justify its existence. Is it also possible for instance, that heavy spenders are more likely to become fans? I know that’s an inconvenient possibility, but it is a possibility, yes? I fully expect select parts of this J.Crew story to be used ad infinitum in social media presentations henceforth.
I could go on, and talk about the myriad other arguments that I hear in support of social media, but my point is a fairly direct and simple one:
If you are an individual who is responsible for deciding where to spend your marketing resources (time and money), you need to ask your agency and your team why you should bother with social media at all. And you are owed good, honest answers to that question.
I met with someone last week, a marketing director for a near 100 year old financial institution that catered to immigrant families and the local community. She was concerned that they were “behind”, because they didn’t have a robust social media presence. As the discussion went on, we all agreed that they’re not losing customers because of their social media absence, and they’re not likely to grow the business based on their social media presence.
But prior to our chat, she’d seen a parade of agencies talking about big digital ecosystems, and the need to “engage” with their customers in social, as if not doing so made her a marketing pariah.
Of course each of these recommendations came without any consideration as to how doing these things would help her business - or even if at the most basic, whether or not these were the right channels for her to focus her limited time and resources on.
They were selling her what they had, not what she needed.
So I’d ask again (as I did in that meeting), why bother?
I love and hate this.
Pick a brand. Any brand.
Now go to their Facebook page or Twitter feed and what do you see?
Maybe a car that’s rooting for a football team? Perhaps it’s a box of cereal that wants to know how your weekend was? Or it could be a stick of deodorant that’s curious to know what you thought of the Breaking Bad finale.
And it’s all fucking awkward.
Every last post.
Because we as marketers have somehow lost our way. We’ve somehow gotten comfortable with a set of social media “best practices” and “standards” that are as phony as they are foolish.
We’ve somehow bought into this silly idea that brands in social spaces, should act like people. That the key to success in social media is to “humanize” your brand, and it give it “a voice”.
And as a result, that’s what every ding-dong community manager and stuffed-shirt social media “expert” is doing.
They’re just clumsily attempting to animate brands like some fumble-thumbed puppeteers at the worst community theater puppet show you’ve ever seen.
Hence the awkwardness in a cup of coffee becoming sentient and asking you what you think of this weather, on Facebook.
Seriously. I barely want to talk to my human friends about the weather, let alone a faceless corporation.
But social media pros have been selling this bullshit approach for so long, that I think they’ve started to believe it themselves. Or maybe they legitimately don’t know any better. It’s hard to tell.
Either way, it’s time to stop the nonsense.
It’s time to stop writing tone guidelines, and internally coaching your community managers on how to make your ketchup or snow-tires or dog biscuits sound “approachable”, “quirky”, and “fun-loving”.
It’s time to stop hiding behind logos and stock photos, content calendars and platitudes.
It’s time to hire the right social media brand stewards, and then trust, empower, and elevate them to roles of front-facing prominence.
It’s time to stop saying “human” and start being human.
Because if you’re not prepared to put a face (an actual face) and name (an actual name) alongside your brand in social media, perhaps you shouldn’t be there at all.
For a good part of 2010, and for some part of 2011, I was in charge of the social media channels for Samuel Adams. And though I only spent a short time at the helm before moving onto Hill Holliday, I learned more about community management in this role than I had before or have since.
And I don’t mean “best practices” sort of stuff, like when the best time to post is, and what formats get more engagement. None of that actually matters as it turns out. That’s all nonsense. More on that in a minute.
What I learned, was that the key to running a successful brand community in any social space, was to be part of the community and never above it. Here’s what I mean…
Every person that works at Samuel Adams is a beer person. They fucking love beer genuinely. Regardless of what your job function is at the company, from Jim Koch himself, all the way through to the finance department and the interns, every person in that building shares one thing in common. And that’s their love for drinking, tasting, making and talking about beer.
So therefore, the approach to social for Samuel Adams was a simple one - connect with people over a shared love for beer, by being part of the community, not by lording over it or patronizing it.
Tactically, and on a day-to-day, post-by-post basis, I looked at it like this:
We ALL loved beer. It was the common thread between myself and all of the brand's fans and followers. And in particular, we all loved Samuel Adams. But it just so happened, that when I got up and went to work in the morning, I’d walk by Jim in his office, tasting Boston Lager samples, or step over hoses being used by Bob Cannon as he washed the brewery floor. Or maybe I was part of a homebrew taste panel. Or perhaps I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at our most prized creation.
Whatever the particulars, I was Charlie and this was the Chocolate Factory. And my job was to help get your mind off of TPS reports and the humdrum of office life, by giving you access into my world.
The tone was meant to be “HOLY SHIT. CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS IS MY JOB??!!”
And by taking this simple approach of sharing my genuine excitement and wonder at what I had access to every day, I was able to connect to fans on a level that wasn’t manufactured authenticity, but was actually authentic.
Since I’ve left Samuel Adams, I’ve had the occasion to work with lots of people, who in some way or another, are responsible for over-seeing or managing brand communities. And what I see more often than not, are content calendars, best-practices outlines, tone/voice guidelines, and other devices meant to operationalize authenticity and connection with the people in these communities.
We all talk about the importance of connecting with our communities on a human level. We all talk about being personal and having a voice. We all talk about doing the right thing. But then we go out there and literally do none of those things. We treat these channels like a sales-brochure, and we post rehearsed, tone-deaf, advertiser-centric junk, that everyone sees right through.
So my advice is to ignore best-practices, don’t make content calendars, and for god’s sake, please try and see the irony in formalizing documents on how to have a voice and be authentic.
Instead, hire smart people, and match those people by interest, to the brand communities they oversee. If you have a fashion brand, staff that community manager role with someone who genuinely loves fashion. Have an automotive brand? Get a car-nut in that community manager’s seat. Don’t waste your time looking for people with “community management experience”. Look for people who already have a voice and connection with the community, and the rest will be easy.
If you go this route, you won’t have to spend time teaching someone to have an authentic voice, because it’ll just be there naturally.
Two quick thoughts on social media for this Monday morning.
First, we need to stop checking boxes, and start thinking a bit more. Or maybe it’s that we need to start thinking a bit less. Not quite sure.
Either way, I see far too much social media “strategy” that goes like this, and it needs to stop.
- List out all of the “current” social media platforms that we an think of (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Vine, etc).
- Try and find/make things to put into each bucket.
We need to cut that shit out.
Instead, start with an idea, a goal, or a desired outcome that you want your brand and messaging to have when someone encounters it. Now go out and make things that drive towards that outcome. You’ll figure out which channels/platforms to use, and which to ignore.
Second thought, is that we need to consider social media as being bottom-up as much as top-down. Maybe even more.
What I mean by that is this:
Top-down is explicitly driven by the brand and pushes the user to do something. Think contests and calls-to-action, that sort of thing. Brand tells user what to do, when to do it, and where to do it. If you rely on this method, there’s a good chance that you and your brand are inherently uninteresting.
Bottom-down is creating awesome products and experiences, that have talk-value naturally built in. Your brand becomes social because people want to talk about it, not because they’re part of some Pavlovian Facebook experiment. Strong, confident, secure brands and strategists love this approach and do it well.
I need to hire a Sr. Social Media Strategist for my team at Hill Holliday. The full job description is here. If you bother and take some time to read it, you’ll see that it says the expected things. Like how you need to be a self-starter, and good communicator and all that boilerplate stuff. It’s all true of course, but it just doesn’t do a very good job of articulating what it’s like to work on the team, doing the job every day. So I thought I’d write this bit up to add some more color to what this role is all about.
First, what I’m looking for.
I want someone smart. Clever smart. Someone that doesn’t just regurgitate headlines from Mashable, and speak in talking points and stats. You need to be quick thinking, and able to answer curveball questions from clients and co-workers with confidence and accuracy. You also need to be comfortable saying things like “I don't know, but I think xyz, and here’s why”.
The point is, you should have opinions. We’re ultimately in the opinions business, so you should definitely have some. Just make sure they’re well informed opinions, and flexible opinions when it turns out that you’re actually wrong. Which will happen. You’ll be wrong a lot, so be cool with that too. It’s really ok.
Be a devour-er of information and a really good writer. These things usually go hand in hand. Meaning that someone who consumes a lot of information on a regular basis is also generally pretty good at articulating his or her thoughts when the time comes. You’d be amazed how much writing you’ll need to do, and how important it is that you’re able to express ideas clearly. You won’t always be there to present the slide or document that you created, so your ideas frequently need to speak for themselves.
Know a little bit about a lot of things. Be curious. When I made that Mashable remark earlier, it wasn’t because I think Mashable is shit. It’s because I see too many “social media strategists” consuming the same information, in the same echo-chamber, all day long. That sort of thing simply doesn’t make you better. Social media is easy. Thinking and applying thought towards a useful or meaningful end, is hard. In my opinion, the more broad your set of interests, the more you learn to think, and the stronger you get as a strategist. Social media or otherwise.
To riff a bit more on the above bit, I also look for someone with a really varied set of skills. I love utility players, and I consider myself to be one. Someone that’s dabbled in lots of different digital/marketing/strategy disciplines is really attractive to me. The world isn’t carved up into neat little siloes of expertise anymore, so anyone that can speak a little tech, a little creative, a little media, and a little analytics is going to go places in this industry. The more social-media-adjacent skills you have, the better.
The last three things I am looking for, are most important of all. Be passionate, hard working, and just a good person to be around.
Passionate – You’d think this goes without saying. It doesn’t. If you come work with us, you should love what you do, and it should show. We love what we do, and it shows. We want more people like that.
Hard-working – This isn’t a 9-5 gig. I’d love to avoid the “work hard and play hard LOL!” cliché here, but I can’t. It’s what we do. We pour ourselves into our work, but we also know when to let loose and have a good time. Often times those things really overlap. But the internet doesn’t close on nights and weekends, so know coming in, that this is an always-on sort of role.
A good person to be around – While we’re tossing clichés about with total abandon, let me just say that our team…hell, our whole agency, is a family. We’re going to spend A LOT of time together, so we need to get on well with one another. We don’t want any jerks. So if you’re a jerk (and it’s ok if you are, the world needs jerks), this gig isn’t for you.
Now, a bit about the team you’d work with.
I couldn’t have picked a better crew to work with (or maybe they picked me, I can’t remember). You’ve got Mike, Brad, Noah, Folu, Kelsey, Ryan, Mazy, Chris and Jess. I’d describe them all in more detail, but trust me, they’re great. Just look at their Twitter feeds to get a sense of what they’re all about.
One of the reasons that I know they’re great, is despite the fact that we all spend ~60 hours each week together at work, you’ll often find us hanging out together after work, and on weekends. By choice.
And by the way, that’s just the immediate team. There’s like 500 other people in the building too, and they’re all terrific.
And the client you’d work on.
You’d have a great client. They’re smart, tough, and ambitious. They have great resources to get things done, and they truly value us as strategic partners. I can get into more specifics in person.
Lastly, the work itself. Here’s what that’s like.
I sometimes joke with others that my job is to make slide decks, because…well…we make a lot of slide decks. Clever, eh? But while that’s true, the slide decks we make are generally just the tangible output of our thinking, which is what we get to spend most of our time doing (thinking about stuff). And I say “get to”, because I think that’s actually the best part of being a strategist. Our job is to think about things, form opinions on what we’ve thought about, and then turn those thoughts into some output that you can see, touch, and feel. An actionable strategy, a campaign, a piece of content, a tool, or some other creative thing.
Sometimes this thinking is a solitary exercise (researching, reading, etc), sometimes it’s a group discussion or casual chat with your co-workers, and other times it’s more of the on-the-spot variety in the context of a client meeting.
Speaking of meetings, there are plenty of those. It’s just a reality of any big organization with lots of moving parts – meetings are sometimes required to get things moving forward. But I promise, I personally do what I can to minimize the need for meetings, unless they are absolutely necessary.
As far as your responsibilities on a day-to-day basis, this is where the job description actually delivers fairly well in terms of its accuracy. Broadly speaking, you’ll work closely with me (and the rest of the team) to create and execute strategies and campaigns that meet our client’s goals in the digital/social space. You’ll be responsible for briefing creative, tech and other teams within the agency, continually working to keep programs on strategy, and ensuring that the what we put forth, is aligned with the brand’s goals and KPIs. In short, it’s our job to create the inputs, and guide the outputs, so the results are strong.
You’ll also help to guide, manage and mentor the junior members of the team, and keep the rest of the agency departments smart, and thinking about how and where social media can be used to our advantage.
So now what? Well, if you’re interested in working with me, get in touch. Email is best, and even without me posting my work email address here, you should be able to figure it out. Hell, three dozen vendors seem to crack the code each day.
Don’t just send me a resume though. Tell me a bit about who you are, and what makes you the right person for the role.
Talk to you soon.
Was just having a conversation with Ilya about Facebook fans, and one of the thoughts that came up in the conversation was:
How would the way that brands perceive the value of a Facebook fan change, if we had no way to see how many fans other brands had?
The idea being that the current era of social media centers most heavily around the collection of fans and followers as a means to validate your brand’s standing in the [social media] world. And the ability to see what everyone else has, makes brands and marketers constantly insecure about their own audience sizes. And this visibility into everyone else’s data fuels competition that drives us all to irrationally chase bigger numbers.
Back in the day when all of our measurable stats were hidden from others (web traffic, click through rates, conversions, etc), we all focused solely on what mattered to our own businesses. We had no idea what the competition was getting, and that opacity freed us to focus on the metrics that dove our own bottom line.
The openness of the social media era has clouded our judgement and forced us to spend big not just to build our audiences, but to make sure we build our audiences bigger than the other guys.