Social media turning marketing on its head

secrets of social media marketing

Book Review
Secrets of social media marketing:
How to Use Online Conversations and Customer Communities to Turbo-Charge Your Business.
By Paul Gillin.
Quill Driver Books, 2009. 290 pp.

Not that long ago, public relations professional typically scanned three or four newspapers every morning. Today, that routine has been replaced by a network of search engines, RSS feeds, and paid monitoring services.

Welcome to the new world of influencer marketing, says Paul Gillin.
Gillin’s 2007 book The New Influencers documented the effects of ‘citizen publishers’ on markets and on companies. Social networks were only beginning to gain traction then, but today their members number in the hundreds of millions. Thus this book.

Gillin writes as traditional broadcast (and print) channels produce poorer returns for marketers as mainstream media fades in importance. He points to Barack Obama’s campaign as an example of decreased reliance on 30-second TV ads. Instead, the campaign narrowcast his messages through every conceivable electronic medium, every waking hour.

When marketers talk about social media applications, Gillin says, they typically start with the tool and then work backwards. As an example, a manager issues an order to start blogging! But this method is all wrong, Gillin says. The choice of social media tools is no more relevant to a campaign’s success than is the choice of paint to a house’s structural integrity.

Why should a company care? Because customers are publishing their opinions of companies and products. Customers take their problems directly to the Web, whether through consumer advocacy sites like Consumerist.com, RipOffReport.com, My3Cents.com, ConsumerAffirs.com, and PlanetFeedback.com. Or they publish on their own blogs and social networks.

Gillin says failure to listen will only be taken as evidence that the company doesn’t care. On the other hand, repeating the message back to the source and delivering a well-reasoned response can go miles toward demonstrating concern. For example, the Southwest Airlines blog Nuts About Southwest has won awards and frequently been cited as a shining example of how businesses can use new media to create meaningful dialogue with their customers.

Chapter 7 describes the opportunities and limitations of advertising in social networks, including MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Companies should monitor the conversations taking place there. Conversation monitoring has caught fire in the last couple of years, Gillin says. He cites an early 2008 survey showing that top-performing companies were nearly seven times as likely as poor performers to use social media monitoring tools to predict customer behavior. Nearly two-thirds of the top performers had formal monitoring programs in place and 42 percent were actively listening to detect early warning of threats to their brands.

But be circumspect. Before you start to use social media channels at all, you need to decide if that’s a good idea in the first place, Gillin cautions. For some businesses, it isn’t. Not everyone is online-savvy. Large swaths of the population barely even know how to conduct a Google search, much less join a Facebook group. Your social media efforts will probably miss this audience entirely, which means that if those are the people you’re seeking, you’ll be wasting your time.

Social media marketing demands a different approach to customer interactions. Engagement is in, interruption is out. The first thing you need to do is stop pitching, Gillin says. The new style of marketing is about engagement. That means throwing out the elevator pitch and the 30-second spot. It means forming a relationship with a prospect through the exchange of useful, meaningful information. It’s about forming relationships that lead to long-term repeat business as opposed to making a sale. Long-term relationships invariably par off better than one-off transactions.

In the past, Gillin says, business success was based on anticipating customers’ requirements and responding at just the right time. In the future, success will result from continuous innovation and outstanding customer service wrapped around a continuous feedback loop.

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