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Recently my marketing department underwent a reorganization and I was realigned to a new boss. When she asked if I would lead our social media strategy, it gave me pause.

Is social media a strategy?

Or is it, like web casts and banner ads and emails, really a tactic … one of many multipliers marketers use to get their messages out to the people who would be interested?

As I struggled to puzzle this out I contemplated the various social venues in which I participate: Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Facebook, SlideShare … the list may seem dizzying but I generally connect with different people on each.

When that thought struck me, I thought of my uncle. A retired USAF Master Sergeant, he was part of a team who routinely flew around the world at supersonic rates. Now he soars through a virtual galaxy at the speed of a keystroke.

Where once his missions entailed ensuring the safety and freedom of the American public, he now deems it his calling to forward any and all intelligence gleaned as he peruses online news sites. Why wait for Headline News to bring us “a whole day’s news every half hour” when we can get unlimited instantaneous updates on what interests us?

Remember the 1980s Faberge commercial that featured a woman who told two friends about her shampoo? Then those friends told two friends. And so on. And so on.

She was the precursor to my uncle who, in his retirement, reads and forwards the “news” all day long. And folks, each of his distribution lists (DLs) is more than 100 strong. That’s right, he has multiple “circles.”

All things aeronautic are routed to his cadre of military cohorts and a few others whom he deems technologically savvy. Religious in nature? Those are sent to family and fellow church members. Only fellow Republicans and a few Democrats he enjoys teasing are privy to his tirades on current political happenings. Redneck humor and Maxine jokes get the broadest distribution.

That’s what struck me … I do the same thing with my social media accounts. I’ll admit that Twitter is a bit of a catch-all, but most of my fellow tweeters are work colleagues. LinkedIn keeps me in touch with many of my Kellogg alums. Facebook is personal and particularly useful since I recently moved. I’m still experimenting with SlideShare, posting and removing presentations for various charitable endeavors. I’ll get the hang of it since I recently read up on some cool features I never knew existed. Google+ is new and my circles look more like polka-dots, but give it time and it could be one of my favorites. YouTube? That’s for family, specifically video travelogues my husband and little boy create.

So I had to ask myself … isn’t this essentially what I do at work? I send messages to select audiences based on industry or revenue or line of business, etc. And my results indicate that I’m on the right track.

Suddenly, I realized I was on to something here.

When my uncle wanted to proclaim a particular political allegiance, he used his DL to convene support for his candidate.

My husband and I used Facebook to create a virtual “white Christmas” card, inviting friends and acquaintances to construct paper snowflakes, photograph and upload them to a page we had designed for the season.

And when I wanted to alert employees at all the small and midsized companies who “follow” me that we were sponsoring a webcast featuring a well-known expert on Lean Manufacturing, I tweeted like mad before, during and after the event.

When that little refrigerator light came on in my head I got it. When it comes to social media we marketers need to guard against treating all social media as though they were homogenous. The days of mass communication, one-size-fits-all messaging has gone the way of skywriting … we still see it, but it doesn’t motivate us.

I did a little digging and here’s what I found:

  • LinkedIn has upwards of 100 million unique users using their site globally on a monthly basis. The average user checks in on a weekly basis.
  • Twitter’s “about” page claims 175 million registered users, and they’re adding nearly 500,000 users a day while handling 1.6 billion queries per day.
  • YouTube can boast approximately 500 million unique users visit every month. In aggregate, they spend a total of 2.9 billion hours — or 326,294 years — every single month. That’s just for the main YouTube website which doesn’t count embedded videos or videos viewed on a mobile device.
  • Facebook claimed more than 845 million registered users at the end of 2011 with roughly half classified as daily active users.
  • Google+ has more than 25 million users (it’s too new for us to gage how frequently users are interacting).

My point here is that social media is comprised of individuals. Just as my uncle has multiple DLs for his daily emailing based on age, politics or relationships, so too we need to understand basic demographic information of each social media audience and communicate accordingly. This in turn should enable us to begin capitalizing on the social aspect of social media.

Bear in mind that like the internet itself, these sites are hyperlinked to each other so if we cross-post our content to Facebook and LinkedIn, we’ll miss an opportunity to communicate something new with at least a portion of our audience.

If we automate Twitter updates to our Facebook pages, our “friends” will skip over our posts with a “been there, done that” look on their face.

Since a whopping 60% of people using social networks write reviews and share them with friends directly or via blogs, we don’t need to worry that those who are connected to us on LinkedIn but don’t follow us on Twitter will miss out, so no need to connect the two accounts.

Each is a different platform and we should treat them individually.

No, social media, in and of itself, is not a strategy, but it can be a magnificent enabler of our marketing strategy offering countless opportunities to help build meaningful relationships. Since the strongest relationships are built on trust, then we must earn that trust one platform at a time. Give our audiences timely, accurate information, relevant and thought-provoking to their concerns. Challenge them. Inform them. Entertain them. Above all, treat them as individuals. What a great opportunity to personalize our brand.

When we marketers treat our social audiences uniquely, we build an environment of trust which helps encourage others to engage with our content in a more meaningful ways. We are able to personalize our brand, encourage pull marketing, and create relationships we might otherwise never have had.

The messages my uncle sends to me are not always relevant or timely or entertaining, but then again, many of them are. So I do open each one.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and welcome your views and opinions.

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2 Comments

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  1. Gregory Misiorek
    Hi Ginger,

    you have touched a very important point about ‘social media’ – relationships. strong pre-existing relationhips get amplified and some online ones turn into something more durable. just like we differentiate in real life, there’s no single medium with size that fits us all, especially after the novelty wears off.

    with marketing, we have to be careful not to saturate the audience with repetitive messages that are too sanitized for anyone to really relate to.

    also, i don’t think every software company should try to be the next facebook or twitter, but rather stick to its core competencies and build on them rather than replace what has made it successful.

    such a socially aware company should keep working on making the original featues perfect even if they are ‘boring’ and when its UI looks stodgy compared with some from the newest kids on the block.

    going back to the individual level, we are not only building another personal brand but an online persona that many others will only know us by.

    just a couple random thoughts that your post has triggered in my mind…

    regards,

    greg

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  2. Stephen Johannes
    IMHO after using social media myself and researching from some of the best minds on how social media and CRM processes come to mind there are two things that stand out to me.

    1) Be Authentic
    Depending on the area people are no longer just interested in the glossy flash or exagerrations but want to see what your product or service is really about. 

    2) Realize that the individual is in control
    The worse thing someone in social media can do you is ignore you.  In other words each person being marketing no longer has to listen to your message and you really are no longer in charge of that.  The command and control advertising can’t be done with social media.  Instead you need to give the individual a reason to engage with you.

    The February 2012 edition of CRM Magazine has a great article about how marketing to different age groups in the social media area:

    http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/crmmedia/crm0212/index.php?startid=Cover1&WidgetId=null&BookId=908b6aefd3f75c0402cffab8da6897bb

    Take care,

    Stephen

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