Archives for May 2010

Social media: a marketing dilemma for the micro-enterprise

Social media are now mainstream. They are a pervasive part of nearly everyone’s everyday life, providing, of course, you have access to a PC and smartphone.

For a micro-enterprise, the dilemma is this. The moment has passed when it is simply a question of using, or not using, social media. Nearly every solo entrepreneur is already on at least one social media site like Facebook or LinkedIn: they’d be crazy not to be.

The primary decision is purely a marketing issue: there is a substantial difference between involvement in social media and social media marketing.

Smallholder selling lemons

Would social media marketing be relevant to this drinks stall?

Marketing is used to identify customers, to retain customers and to satisfy customers. It is also about being crystal clear about who these potential customers are and exactly how your product or service will satisfy them, beyond expectation. So, as a micro-enterprise, you should ask yourself the same question about using any tool in marketing: will my community of potential customers actually use social media? They might not.

If the answer is no, then use social media for other business functions like advice, sharing ideas, making useful contacts and administration.  If yes, then get ready to face up to all the possibilities, good and bad, presented by regular and immediate online communication with prospects and customers.

Your marketing strategy should include a digital marketing plan which should consider tools like a website/blog (which are increasingly combined), email marketing, social media marketing and content production. It will include marketing communications (identifying and retaining customers) and customer service (satisfying customers).

I have met small businesses which flourish without using social media marketing but rarely come across a business where social media hasn’t been relevant at all. We are all human and most of us are hypersocial. Social media gives us a reach and interactive capability which would have been unimaginable even five years ago. I have come across people that find the technology, etiquette and emphasis on ‘social’ quite challenging.

As a micro-enterprise, you can adapt and change and learn quickly. Your flexibility is your strength. Larger businesses are struggling with the transparency, openness and honesty that social media demands. You could even build social media into your product or service and become what has been called the hyper-social organisation*. And really differentiate yourself.

*The Hyper-Social Organization: Eclipse Your Competition by Leveraging Social Media; Francois Gossieaux and Ed Moran; McGraw-Hill Professional

We’ve been hypersocial for a while

Suddenly there seems to be a bandwagon around social media and its tipping point has been reached, the latecomers declare. The worst thing about being late into a momentous trend is to display your ignorance by assuming that your arrival heralds the tipping point.

Responsys declares that “social networks are now a true marketing channel”. This is ironic coming from what was, essentially, an email marketing company, not so long ago. The phrase ‘true marketing’ rings totally untrue in the world of social media where the basis of communication is determined by consumers and not corporations.

Responsys advertisement

Display advertisement from Responsys

But all to the good. Social media is certainly all-pervasive and how most of us consume the Internet. We link to people rather than sites, the social rather factual. We are hypersocial beings, most of us anyway, and we need to group ourselves around interests, discussions and (occasionally) brands. The hyper-social organisation is even being studied academically.

Could hypersocial be defined as ‘one who manages their social network identity, often via frequent updating of status, at the expense of real, human relationships’. And what of the hyposocial? Are you hyposocial if you have a drink with some mates, turn your smartphone off and consume some ‘old media’ like England’s World Cup campaign?

The Urban Dictionary defines it thus: “To possess a distinct lack of social skills. From the Latin prefix -hypo, meaning ‘Less than normal.’ [Greek prefix, actually, but let’s not quibble]. It is a descriptive word used to define individuals who display qualities that are against social norms, ie not bathing, use of inappropriate subject matter with peers or co-workers, distinct anti-pop culture attitude and dress. Can be shortened to simply ‘Hypo’.”

Most of us are electronically hypersocial and corporates are still trying to come to terms with a world in which they have to match the pervasive, transparent and exposed nature of social media. Marketing is becoming what it always should have been: listening, absorbing and understanding before communicating.

Social media? You really need a reason to get stuck in?

Recently, I have been involved in a number of debates about the usefulness of social media in business. I was slightly taken aback that the business value of social media even needed debating. However, many people are simply immersed in their everyday business and personal challenges and have not had the time to consider or explore these issues.

This short article is to get you started in the ‘why’ social media is so important to future business success. I am not going to pound you with statistics: they now overwhelmingly point to majorities of people being online and involved in social media, even if we need to remember the digital disenfranchised and many businesses that operate perfectly well without any online presence.

Social tools, networks and media have enabled customers to do what they’ve always wanted to do — be heard and to have the power to turn their ideas into ways to make the products and services they love even better. These tools are also allowing them to reach more people like them, with common interests and information needs, creating powerful communities not possible only a few short years ago.

So, if you are in business, and can afford to ignore your customers, and potential customers, clustering online and willing to help you deliver them what they want, then you are missing a huge opportunity.

That’s why the best advice about social media, customer service, or anything other business initiative has always been to master the basics before proceeding to the more advanced topics.
Social media will still be here next year (and even the year after). Take the time to first address any serious issues or problems within your customer service organisation before pushing ahead into social media. And if you really can’t wait and feel compelled to jump right into social media while revamping your customer service organisation in parallel, at least start small and stay focused.
Choose a particular channel — whether it be Twitter, a discussion forum, or an online user group — and put enough resources and effort behind it to make it work. Put in the time. Engage with customers. Show people that you are serious and that you plan to stick around for the long term. If you respect your customers — and the community — they will likely both respect you back.
And that’s a pretty good start. If resources, in terms of people, are either scarce and you can’t find an in-house social media champion, think of hiring an agency. In a future post, I’ll give you some tips about choosing one. Or find a guru like me who has not only been immersed in this stuff for a while and already made all those classic mistakes and learned from them!

What a company develops from venturing into social media marketing is social capital. There are sound economic reasons for the importance of social capital. Oliver Williamson won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2009 for his work on transaction costs. One element of his research found that trust reduces transaction costs — in other words, if you’re doing business with someone you know, the cost of doing it decreases.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

The manifesto that started us thinking about being connected

Remember The Cluetrain Manifesto? It was a set of 95 theses organised and put forward as a manifesto, or call to action, for all businesses operating within what was suggested as a newly-connected marketplace, as far back as 1999. The ideas put forward within the Manifesto aimed to examine the impact of the Internet on both markets (consumers) and organisations.

In addition, as both consumers and organisations are able to utilise the Internet to establish a previously unavailable level of communication both within and between these two groups, the Manifesto suggested that the changes that will be required from organisations as they respond to the new marketplace environment.

Here is a summary, in their words: “These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

“Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humourless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

“But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about ‘listening to customers’. They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.”

So social media marketing barely needs an ROI, as the current demand is phrased. You just need to decide whether you want to be in business in five years or not. Ignore the sea slowly being sucked away from you and the social media tsunami will catch you unprepared.