Advanced Social Media - Amateurs and Agencies Need Not Apply

  • by May 23, 2012

At last week’s #OMMASocial panel during Internet Week #iwny, panelists talked about “Social Media, Beyond the Like.” In recent years, many advertisers and brands ran headlong into the Facebook gold rush. But after these initial experiments, they are taking a step back and wondering about actual business impact and ROI.

Doing social media should not be just sticking display ads on Facebook, which no one looks at and even less click on (see CTRs of Facebook Ads Are A Rounding Error to ZERO). Big companies like GM are realizing this and decided to pull $10 million of Facebook ad spending because the ads simply didn’t work. Right on!

There are much better and more advanced ways of using social media.

Social Media Is Not Media

First we have to move away from thinking of Facebook as yet another channel to blast an ad out to a ton of people “at scale.” Brand advertisers that are used to asking for reach and frequency metrics continued to ask for “number of impressions.” Facebook was happy to oblige, and take their money by displaying several hundred billion ad impressions per month.



But people’s conversations and social activity are not media and should not be bought and sold. Instead “those conversations yield valuable insights that drive not only marketing strategy but also product innovation” said Sandra Lopez (@nycsf) Global Marketing Strategy Director for New Business at Intel. “This two-way dialog between our engineers and the consumers or IT professionals that are our customers allow us to test ideas very quickly, versus focus groups or other market research which could take years.”

IBM is another great example of applying social media principles to enterprise knowledge management. Thousands of internal blogs facilitate information sharing across departmental “silos” and job function and thus increase the speed of innovation and business.

Social Amplification Occurs When Customers Want to Talk About You

Next, brands talk about finding influencers and then having them talk about the brand and advocate it to their friends and followers. That’s all nice in theory, but why would anyone talk about you -- e.g. a toothpaste brand -- all day long? They won’t.

However, if you enable your users to help you amplify something that they already believe in or are passionate about -- think, cause related marketing -- they may indeed want to talk about it with their friends. For nonprofits, small businesses, or for-profit cause-related organizations like RecycleBank, the actual social amplification done by their fans and friends is crucial when marketing dollars are scarce.

“Using a points-based rewards system and also social badges, we reward specific things like sharing, group activities, and even getting smarter about environmental topics,” says Samantha Skey (@samskey7)  Chief Revenue Officer, RecycleBank. “Social media allows us to drive much higher engagement with much lower budgets; in fact, it’s all about ‘expressions’ (by our users) not “impressions’.”

Users Trust Peers Most, Ads Least

When the message comes from a friend, and not the advertiser, users tend to trust it more and are open to reading it. That’s why Facebook, Twitter and the like are trying to insert themselves into our timeline and feeds via “sponsored stories” and “sponsored tweets.” But unfortunately these brand advertisers are not our friends, and users are usually ticked off. There’s a reason people don’t “friend” Lipitor on Facebook. Maybe someday they will be our friends, but they haven’t earned that right, yet.

“When users reach out to friends and peers during a purchase decision process, it’s about the trustworthiness of the input and the reduction of risk in making the purchase,” says Matt Goddard (@R2iMatt). “Like-minded peers have no reason to trick them, because they are not selling the product.”

Brand advertisers still think they can use personal data supplied by users, their connections (social graph), and their conversations (interest graph) to target users with ads. What if we thought of stimulating more of those conversations in places we could listen, instead of trying to use them as additional targeting parameters? Then users’ sharing and recommending behavior can determine how brand advertisers activate all marketing channels. This is the feedback loop they never had with one-way channels like TV, print and radio.

Content Enables And Inspires Conversation

So how should advertisers stimulate more conversations and what should they talk about? “Content is, or should be, the cornerstone of any search and social media marketing strategy,” said Tom Gerace (@tomgerace) founder/CEO, Skyword. “Right now, brands are like awkward teenagers at the prom. They walk into the room, don’t listen to anyone, walk up to random strangers, and talk about themselves the whole time.”

If brands took the time to understand what customers were looking for and then created something worth talking about, this content becomes the “social lubricant” that initiates or facilitates a dialog. Pampers is a great example. They don’t just write content that talks about diapers; they create content that is useful and informative for new moms. Because they created and conveyed value, those moms not only talk about it with Pampers, but also do that on their site or social channels.

Of course, this is immensely difficult for brand marketers -- because they have done decades worth of one-way TV ads where they talk just about themselves. Going from one-way talking “at” people to two-way talking “with” people is very hard. Notice these are customers’ conversations enabled by brands, not “branded entertainment” meant to shove the brand in front of peoples’ eyes where they can’t avoid seeing it. Another related analogy -- having an agency do your social media for you is like sending someone else to prom for you.

Change Mind-set From Campaigns To Commitments

So if brands shouldn’t send someone else to prom or on a date for them, what should they do? Some, and I mean a very select few, agencies are successfully guiding clients in the use of social media -- all of those do not just involve display ads, but rather ways to truly engage and interact with customers and fans.

“I spend every day asking clients whether they or the planned marketing campaign matters and helping to change their mind-set from ad campaigns to social media commitments,” said Tim Fogarty (@n0her0es) senior strategist, M80. “What things actually matter to people, how does it matter, and can they relate to it.” Paid media campaigns may be able to drive sharp spikes in traffic to a site, but social media should build long-lasting value instead. The conversations must lead to relationships that are meaningful.

Commitment planning is different from campaign planning and budgeting. But this new mind-set also ensures that marketers don’t go chasing the latest “shiny object” like Groupon or Pinterest, because overnight sensations don’t build lasting value for the brand.

Are You Ready to Do Advanced Social Media Instead of Just Facebook Ads?

The question is how to move beyond the initial loss-making experiments to a more advanced or sophisticated use of it. We’ve talked about many best practices and examples.

To name a few: 1) relevancy rather than scale -- are you relevant to your customers versus how many you can shout at, 2) social is additive -- social media should be the feedback loop for all your other marketing 3) your brand is what your customers say it is, not the one, generic way you talk about yourself and 4) social media is not free -- the conversations are free and should never be bought or sold; but “we have team members dedicated to interacting with customers through their medium of choice -- Facebook, Twitter, etc. -- and we have processes to escalate topics or questions to the right team, like legal” said Julie Fajgenbaum (@jfajgenbaum) group vice president, brand social, American Express OPEN.


Advanced social media, going beyond the “like” or the display ad, is something all advertisers should set their sights on now. They should learn how to earn the right to have conversations and relationships with customers. Go from one-way “storytelling” to many-way “socializing.

10 comments about "Advanced Social Media - Amateurs and Agencies Need Not Apply".
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  1. Dan Auito from Next Century Studios, May 23, 2012 at 12:30 p.m.

    Give them the content they want, when they want it, wherever they are and get out of the way. Use video whenever possible to get the party started. Dan Auito COO

  2. Michael Adams from Peninsula Crossing, May 23, 2012 at 12:33 p.m.

    Congratulations on shining a light on the 100 pound elephant in the room, i.e. the fact that consumers are not as dumb as we pretend they are. Maybe we are not as clever as we often think we are. Do we really think that FB users, for example, will continue to accept ever growing invasive engagement strategies. Where is the tipping point, and what will the other side look like?

  3. wendy wedlake from Experian Hitwise, May 23, 2012 at 12:53 p.m.

    Great article! Finally a voice of reason on this topic!

  4. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, May 23, 2012 at 6:27 p.m.

    Interesting ideas about social. The research comment from Intel is highly concerning. Time to sell their stock. If they are having engineers use social media discussions with customers (that's what they said) in place of smart market research, then their momentum gives them about 10 years before the company dies off. If they were using really dumb market research before, then maybe these conversations are an improvement. ANd my 10 year prediction stands. It's scary what people will do and think they "really" conversed with their customers.

  5. Augustine Fou from Marketing Science Consulting Group, Inc., May 23, 2012 at 9:22 p.m.

    The good thing is that the Intel engineers are talking with highly sophisticated IT professionals who buy tens of millions of dollars worth of chips.

    Wouldn't talking with your customers directly and continuously be better than the occasional focus group by market research firms who don't actually understand how a transistor works, what semiconductor chips are made of, what vPro stands for. etc. etc. etc.

    I can tell you from experience that when you have a creative or copywriter try to write copy about technology they have NO idea about, the creative and the copy will suck and be meaningless to the IT professionals who see it.

    These IT professionals look up to the Intel engineers who made the technology and those interactions and conversations lead to innovations and new features that could never have been conceived otherwise.

    This is the power of digital and social media. Unfortunately too few companies are taking advantage of it... they are still sticking banner ads on Facebook and calling that social media.

  6. Sandra Lopez from Intel, May 24, 2012 at 1:31 p.m.

    Doug there are multiple data points that inform product development. What I want marketers to know is that social media is a platform beyond just marketing. You have a direct connection with consumers that can provide you with insights if we listen closely. Connecting engineers with technical IT is always beneficial as we are able to hear their painpoints directly. It is not dissimilar from attending an in person event or for that matter a focus group except now you can reach more individuals around the globe.

  7. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, May 24, 2012 at 5:50 p.m.

    @augustine - if the researchers don't fundamentally understand the category, get different researchers (although there is often value in research naïveté because experts in any category usually assume things far too quickly - so being slightly slow on the uptake forces your interviewee to clearly explain and you learn far better). The problem with social research is you have NO (absolutely none) ability to know that projecting from what you learned will drive profit. Good research is designed so that the projectability is known. People who will talk with you via social media self select. And that means you learn far more about their agenda than about the market. This doesn't mean all research is good. Rather, superb research is the only thing you should listen carefully to. And conversations are useful in helping enlighten how you hear that research - but are no substitute for research.

  8. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, May 24, 2012 at 6:19 p.m.

    @Sandra - My concern about social media research is that in ANY category, social media self-selects a psychographic that skews your answers. A great many brilliant engineers struggle to articulate clearly and rapidly in writing. Social media success requires that one rapidly and clearly express oneself. So, social media is skewed inherently to a glibly written verbal archetype. And, as a result, it's been my experience across many categories, that the truly insightful people in that category are NOT the ones active on social media. If this is an accurate analysis, then there's no way that social be taken to reflect anything more than an engineer might get from encountering someone at the grocery store. Those conversations can help inform or enlighten what's heard in true research. But they cannot be presumed as a good way to get quick feedback on ideas. To what impact? At random times it will work okay. But quite often good ideas will be rejected when they should be kept; and Bad ideas will be accepted when they should be jettisoned.

  9. Howard Zoss from Zig Marketing, June 3, 2012 at 9:17 a.m.

    Best article I've seen on 'believability ... its about user-to-user ... not brand-to-user. Excellent perspective.

  10. Augustine Fou from Marketing Science Consulting Group, Inc., July 5, 2012 at 5:17 p.m.

    Hi Doug, seems you missed the point entirely.

    "social media" the way we are talking about it, is NOT the stuff that goes on on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest (or any other shiny object of the moment).

    We are talking about "social actions" and true interactions between the company and their customers -- the ones who buy the product and whose insights in using the product are extremely valuable for any company to have and use to innovate it or to speed the innovation process.

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