Most Agencies & Publishers Fail To Offer Real Ways To Embrace Social Media

If there was one trend that came on strong during this year's Advertising Week festivities, it was advertising agencies and media companies jumping on the social media bandwagon.

On the agency side, you had an infinite line of digital, creative and planning agencies making social media the latest add-on to their legacy competencies and services menu. In very little time, they've become full-fledged "experts" with offerings galore. On the media side, you had a host of traditional and newer publishers with varying degrees of social components, scurrying to monetize by selling inventory in a traditional media-buy campaign framework.

To be sure, there are a lot of promising attempts on both the media and agency sides. But most are short-sided. In fact, most seem disingenuous or uninformed, as evidenced by the advertising community's excessive and ambiguous use of words and phrases like "conversation," "viral," "engage with your customers" and "let the community do the work for you."

The problem with so many in the advertising community is that the most important, strategic opportunities and liabilities around social media really have nothing to do with outward marketing communications, media or campaigns. Those are bottom-tier tactics.

So what are the real opportunities at this stage of the game? For 99% of companies --small, medium and large -- the imperatives lie in deconstructing and rebuilding their cultures and attitudes toward customers and the marketplace. That's a fundamentally different challenge -- and one still sorely lacking viable solutions and services.

I'm now in my second run as a vice president of marketing since social media became so important and began transforming business. I lived through many of the issues and opportunities that keep my fellow marketers up at night. While these issues are often prompted or amplified by social media, social media is rarely the answer. The real solutions are rooted in education, organizational change, market outlook, self-truth and humility.

 

Here are some of the issues most frequently on my mind as our business scales:

 

Customer Experience - What is the quality of experience among our customers and prospects? As we're frequently reminded, customer experience frequently manifests as media. We see customers try us out, then review us on their blogs, in infinite columns, and in semi-private groups and community forums. Customer experience is the new media department, the determinant of customer love or detraction. So we must shape experience accordingly.

 

Company Values - You can't talk about customer experience without talking about values. While no product or company is perfect, the values of a company directly impact the good will our customers grant us. Do we set realistic promises and execute against them? Do we acknowledge imperfection, but compensate with relentless drive for improvement? Are we a culture focused on solutions, because that is what we want our customers to associate with us? Company values have wide-ranging consequences - among them, a huge impact on customer experience and your credibility with customers in social media venues.

Listening - Do we actively listen not only to what our customers say, but what they really mean?  The act of listening is one of the biggest ways to demonstrate that we care and engage with costumers. But no company should be exclusively concerned with listening to customers in social media venues, if it isn't prepared to master customer listening overall.

Humanizing Voice & Confidence - With so many corporate barriers separating companies from their customers, it's actually a very big deal for a company to find its voice (or voices). On one hand, it's not always easy for company managers to stop speaking in corporate-speak, and, instead, communicate like real humans. On the other, it often takes a lot of work for controlling managers to let go and empower employees, and get used to the idea of more personal and highly exposed communications and interactions. It takes confidence, trust, patience and diligence. Social media venues are often where this tension comes to a head.

Organizational Silos - If social technologies have done anything, they've exposed outdated organizational silos. Social media represent open customer expression and interaction, and impact all sorts of different company departments. Consider customer service, product development, quality and testing, legal, HR, sales and marketing. Are disparate company operations coordinating and effectively managing social media interactions? Are they allocating line responsibilities and centralizing intelligence in CRM databases to optimize relationships -- and then actually acting?

As you can see, the issues I'm thinking about have very little to do with advertising, media or campaigns. However, these are the real opportunities emanating from social media, and require a different type of solution. They're important challenges and require big solutions, as well as openness to new ideas. At this stage, help exists not so much in agencies or media companies, but within - through personal experience, experimentation and support from marketing peers who are leading the heavy lifting themselves.

Who are the pioneers leading your organization as it adapts to a world transformed by social media?

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