Social media isn’t the gorilla in marketing’s room, it’s the Tyrannosaurus tearing apart traditional models, turning established techniques upside down.
The public has found its voice, and companies the world over have learned they have to listen.
In the beginning though listening was too passive for some, and expensive and embarrassing gaffes occurred as corporates assumed that communicating online would be broadcast business as usual. Or worse, they thought they knew how manipulate this medium as they had others before.
From the UK’s Habitat store, to multi-nationals like BP and Nestle, errors were made, and then compounded. Unprepared staff were pushed into roles well above their pay-grades or experience almost on the basis that they had heard about things like Facebook and Twitter.
And the idea was born that social media was a beast best approached with a strategy. If not a whip, a chair and a pistol – who knew the public could be so dangerous?
But do you really need strategy in social media? To me it borders on being an oxymoron. Social media is about authenticity, spontaneity, and living in the moment. How do you plan to be spontaneous? Who prepares for a chat?
I would argue that entering a conversation with a strategy planned to deliver you a favourable outcome at any cost, at the expense of authenticity, is hardly the basis for establishing trust and an ongoing relationship. What would you think of someone who approached you in a bar, or on the street, with a cunning plan in mind? Unless they’re Baldrick of course…
Social Media is about you, talking to other people. Making them welcome, helping them out, answering their questions, asking a few of your own. Maybe you know them, maybe they only know you as a product or service.
But do you really need a strategy to talk to someone? Are you secretly trying to be the Sun Tzu of social media, in order to successfully communicate to the public at large?
I’d say that if your thoughts are of talking ‘to’ your audience, you’re already on course to fail.
Granted, strategy has a place. It’s in the planning phase, where you map out what tools will be used, what talent will be needed, what ROI might be realised.
But shouldn’t we leave it there, at the start of the campaign? Because as anyone who has been through battle will tell you, strategy goes out the window when the first shot is fired. That’s when the real ‘you’ is going to obvious to all.
Social media offers a rare opportunity for companies, and individuals, to show their true colours. An insight into the way they operate, and what they want to achieve beyond the bottom line. To offer up to the public a human face, and communicate with them on neutral ground. Because the internet today can be a great leveller.
By all means put someone in charge who genuinely likes to talk with people. Choose someone who is proud to be a part of your company. Give them all the training and support you can muster, because they are going to be your champion. Make it plain to the public who is speaking, and in what capacity.
Then get out of their way, and let them do their thing, like you would any other trusted employee.
Be honest and upfront with your champion, and encourage them to be the same in their dealings. Allow them to be themselves, to be real.
For to paraphrase Sun Tzu himself, “If you know the customer and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred campaigns.”
Get to know your customer. Be yourself.
With social media, maybe that’s all the strategy you need.