Social Media: Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater.

In 1 on September 14, 2009 at 3:09 pm

A good friend, Andrew Jenkins, just posted a thought provoking article Social Media is So 1999 on the Community Marketing Blog, basically questioning the frenzy around Social Media applications.   While I agree with several of his key points, (people can easily jump on a bandwagon and ride it into the ground), I offer a caution to his request to be cautious.

This is no dot com bust. Google has proven that FREE is indeed a viable business model. But it is a business model that requires incredible discipline. They have worked out, without question and PRECISELY, what their “reason for being” is. They understand that a business needs to align behind a single, relevant idea. In their case, it is “that every individual can find what she/he wants, when he/she wants it”. It is so simple it is very complex. What I mean is the idea is simple, the execution is complex. In a business world that was all about the almighty dollar, Google knew that if they made all of their decisions such that  “every individual can find what she/he wants, when he/she wants it”, the rest would all work out. We have watched them become the largest Company in the world in less than 10 years, yet they don’t make the smallest or the biggest decisions based on “how much revenue will it produce”, like most businesses we grew up admiring. They make their decisions based on “will that help every individual can find what she/he wants, when he/she wants it”. Most businesses spend a lot of time focusing on quarterly reports and doing whatever it takes to drive the stock price up. They spend a lot of time and effort working on the wrong things. Google knows that the best way to affect their stock price is to ensure that ” every individual can find what she/he wants, when he/she wants it”. Again, very simple, yet incredibly difficult to execute. They take a long term view that’s in the best interest of their constituents.

But back to Andrew’s comments, there are other factors at work here as well. Competition in every business sector has permantly changed. In 2007 Marketing Sherpa posted a statistic that hit me right between the eyes: “83% of a B2B purchases found their Vendor online”. Most brands’ prospects (potential customers) have completly changed the way they find what they need. So it stands to reason that marketers would completely change the way they reach them. But alas, most Company’s marketing practices have not changed enough to make the difference. I think we have a lot of half-pregnant marketing plans.

Lets think about the context for a moment, rather than looking at each Social Media site individually. Social media is to the Internet what the Internet was to the Personal Computer. The first stage of personal computing featured games, while the second stage featured word processing and tremendous time-saving number crunching applications in the form of spreadsheets. But the third stage – the addition of the Internet attracted a whole new personal computer user. A similar phenomenom is at work regarding the Internet. On the World Wide Web you could send email and look up information on almost any subject. The second stage was most businesses have posted “brochureware” – they have a minimal presence online. And now the third stage –  Social Media or Web 2.0 has been introduced.  Collectively, it is the catalyst – the reason for people (by the billions) to be online. When billions of people are online, engaged and participating, it creates a medium that we have little to no experience with – one that actually talks back. Sure some applications will come and some will go, but the genre (Social Media) is here to stay and it’s impact on the way we do business will be profound.

For example, early in this game, we have noticed that when you combine Social Media with PPC and SEO you can generate new business at previously unknown rates. For less cost than we could ever imagine. That levels the playing field in many industry sectors: if I am looking for new windows for my home, I would likely Google “new windows oakville”. The little guys are on page one. With the right presentation, the “big guys” in the business will never even make my short list, if they are not there when I am looking. People are calling this “Inbound Marketing”. Now we can distinguish what we have been doing as “Outbound Marketing” (we had never distinguished it as that was our only option.)

The Google Era (of which Social Media is an honoured guest) hails a fundamental change in the marketing mindset of every business. And the Marketing Strategists are only now beginning to understand the power of the medium, working with the SEO fanatics to produce business results. After many years of every business spending huge amounts of advertising and promotion dollars, as well as cold calling and investing a tremendous amount of sales effort (what we call HUNTING for customers – or the SPEND, HUNT and HOPE model), we have now entered The Google Era – a period when you must make the fundamental shift to learning to BE HUNTED – to be found when people are looking for your product or service. It requires a whole different approach to marketing. In fact, it actually forces Companies to return to the basics of sound marketing. No longer will business be able to “throw enough &^%#$&^ against the wall and be satisfied with what sticks” (AKA: half my ad budget is a waste – I just don’t know which half.

And the part I  love the most – I am predicting a serious comeback of marketing. It will be back in the corner office. The Google Era will force brands to know exactly who their ideal customer is and precisely what they are selling. Or die. Getting crystal clear and then being easy to be found for exactly THAT is the key to doing business in The Google Era. Every marketer will be able to LISTEN so they can stop telling people what they think they need to hear in order to buy their product. Without direct feedback, the best we could ever do was guess. Now we can “talk with” our ideal prospects rather than “talk at” them.

So call me a zealot – not for social media, but for The Google Era and the impact it will have on the way we do business: worldwide.


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