Long-term Social Media Success: I'm a Believer and a Realist.
By Scott Hornstein
Thursday, 16th August 2012
I am a believer in social media, I think it's got the potential to pave the way for marketing in a world where the customer has all the power – they decide what they want, when and where they want it, and what they are willing to pay.  Make no mistake – it's coming.

My belief in social is based its potential to create and facilitate a meaningful conversation with a customer, one to one, where both sides listen and learn. The conversation has the potential to be a strong contributor to creating happier customers that stay longer, buy more and bring their friends.

I am also a realist, and I know that social media will not achieve its potential unless we embrace three basic truths:

Basic truth #1: Social media is not a stand-alone strategy.

Social media is a contributor to corporate goals ,which include, I assume, things like brand, marketing and sales.  Social is one of many channels to the customer that must be synchronized and integrated to weave a nurturing customer experience (and to maximize your marketing ROI). 

Let me share an story:

My friend is on the management team of a company that makes government accounting software.  They are smart, successful and aggressive marketers, and have embraced the potential of social media in the challenging world of b2b.  Their agency proposed a direct mail campaign to support a community-building activity – to get customers to submit tail-gate recipes for a contest. 

Clearly, this is single strategy thinking.  It supports social media and ignores brand, marketing and sales. The agency was redirected.

Basic truth #2:  You've got to be social. 

In general:  This is not your turf.  You were not invited.  You have to work hard just to get to zero.

Get out of broadcast mode. Be interactive.  Listen when people speak (and take notes).

Be personal, prompt, accurate, original and relevant. Say please and thank you.

You have to play nice in the sandbox, but you are there with sales and marketing in mind.  If it is appropriate to mention or recommend commerce as part of the dialog, do so.

To make this work we need a shift in thinking, that the interaction with the individual is a profit center.  Which is, let's face it, at odds with the popular model, in which the interaction is a cost to be driven down.

Specifically:  We've got to ask the customer what he or she prefers.  Preference management is a tool of the future, empowering enormous effectiveness and efficiency.  Most companies will probably be able to skate by following the general rules.  Those that speak specifically to the customer will build an unassailable competitive advantage.

Basic truth #3:  It's got to be measurable and accountable.

In my role as believer, I'd like to think there's some job that comes with a big budget and no accountability, but as a realist I know that this is chimera.  Nothing happens for long without measurability and accountability, and if you want to be taken seriously, you've got to contribute to the bottom line.  

Those that propose that social is not measurable or financially accountable are naïve, at best. At the end of the day management will ask - if it costs money and it's not bringing in any money, why am I doing it?

Implementing the needed metrics, however, is not a straightforward process and involves the same underlying paradigm shift mentioned earlier – valuing the individual.

A customer sees one company, no matter how they interact with the company – in person, on the phone, by text, on the computer.  Similarly, we must evolve our outlook and systems to view the single customer.  How do they interact with us, and how does that lead to a purchase decision. We must associate responses and interactions to understand the path to purchase.

Does a recommendation made on social result in a web purchase?  Does a social visit combine with chat to drive behavior?  How can we be more helpful, engaging and motivating?

Seriously.  Does anyone doubt that social marketing, done well, will generate referrals, dollars and lifetime value? I'll be working on expanding the social envelope, sharing information, proprietary research and "how to's".  I welcome all comments and suggestions.

Are you a believer?  Then let's make this real.

Scott Hornstein is an author, lecturer and consultant, with over 30 years experience in all phases of marketing, research and implementation. He is president of the consultancy Hornstein Associates. His latest book, Opt-In Marketing:  Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing, was just published by McGraw-Hill.  Scott can be reached at scott@hornsteinassociates.com or 203.938.8715.

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