Grounded In Inspiration, Social Media Gets Real

I’m posting from Lake Tahoe’s Resort at Squaw Valley, where MediaPost held the Social Media Insider Summit, and things have never been so clear -- and unclear -- all at the same time.

It’s unclear because even though we are quite far away from the forest fires that have been raging in this part of the country, there’s a thin haze of smoke out the window. On the other hand, when we’re in the windowless conference room, it’s all quite clear. Social, that crazily amorphous, out-of-control marketing channel, is surprisingly real.

You could say those of us who planned the summit knew this going in. Our esteemed advisory board -- The Buddy Group’s Bryan Boettger, Engauge’s Teresa Caro, ExactTarget’s Susan Marshall and T3’s Marshall Wright --  decided to focus the show on pragmatic advice about social marketing, which, a few years back, would have been the oxymoron of oxymorons.

Not anymore. Now there are social media certification programs and real-time newsrooms; there are best practices for analyzing social platforms, and tools to run social promotions across global organizations.  All of these have been session topics at the show.



Yes, social media is real, but, thankfully, I’ve been relieved to discover that it hasn’t lost its inspiration. In my job as MC of the show, I told the assembled multitudes of my concerns about the cover of our printed program. It juxtaposes an uplifting shot of Lake Tahoe with the show’s title, “A Pragmatic Approach to Social” -- which, when I first saw it, sent me crashing back down to earth. Have we wrung all the fun out of social marketing? I wondered. And if we have, does that make it dull not only for marketers, -- but, more importantly, for consumers?

And then, midway through a great morning of thought-provoking speakers on day two, came the presentation by @alicia_at_Honda (Honda social media manager Alicia Jones), who walked us through the car company’s efforts to love its customers back. When a Honda owner named Joe was about to see his car pass the million-mile mark, Honda threw him a parade. When another Honda lover mowed Honda’s “H-Mark” into his lawn, Honda mowed the Honda owner’s name -- “Chris” -- into the lawn at its campus in Torrance, Calif. Great stuff.

And then came the love Honda gave toward the band “Monsters Calling Home,” an unsigned act that recorded a music video in a member’s Honda. (They’ve changed their name to Run River North since then, but I digress.) Honda loved them back, and how … by booking them on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” To get the whole, inspiring story, watch the video, but go grab the Kleenex first. Said Jones of Honda’s approach: “The opportunity to share your customer’s story is much better than anything you could imagine, anything that you could dream up … the authenticity and the belief and the passion behind that.”

The funny thing about what Jones said is that it’s the kind of thing we’ve been hearing at social media conferences for years. No news there, in a way. But what the Honda story showed is that, while smart brands intuited this approach to social marketing a while ago, the knowledge they’ve gained since then is power. Honda, and other brands, are discovering what works in social storytelling, and that’s an enormously pragmatic pursuit.

But for all the pragmatism, social marketing can’t work without the kind of inspiration that connects with consumers. In other words, I sure was wrong about the cover of the program.

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