I was told recently that I sounded like an “old man” during a discussion on social media. The name-calling happened when I shared a comment from a friend who told me she values social media as important because she can better keep in touch with friends and family; get updates from her favorite companies about specials and discounts; learn about activities happening each weekend at the local farmers’ market; and even win free dog treats from a dog food company. If agreeing with and sharing the view of a 30-something-year-old friend makes me sound like an old man, so be it.
The conversation I was engaged in wasn’t about whether or not social media has a place, though I believe that’s how my friends viewed it. I believe it does. However, I’m looking at it differently. I see social media as the new venue for doing what we have done for thousands of years--communicate messages. And when it comes to messages, everyone seems to have one these days. The nice thing about social media is just that--it’s social. We are just getting hung up on naming the activity and the delivery tools. I think what we are really witnessing is mass media in its most explosive state. The rules are still being defined while people continue to learn new ways to express themselves.
The outlet for messages in the past were available only to those with access to the news media, billboards, TV networks, cable TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, newsletters, speeches, chain letters, etc. Now, everyone has immediate access to tools that will broadcast their message to anyone who will listen or read. Dog food companies to their customers, rock stars to their fans, a politician to his base--the messages go to whomever cares what you may have to say…and even to those who might not care at all. But the real strength, right now, is for those who need to reach a broader group. And the broader the target market, the more effective social media becomes.
My social media discussion really just revolved around a tendency to confuse social media with B2B marketing. The basic concept I was sharing is that no matter what you call it--social media, tweeting, posting, blogging, advertising, connecting, Facebooking, circles, spheres, groups, forums, friends, etc.--strength in B2B marketing is found in efficiently focusing on a specific community. Many different communities make up our life--work, friends, family, sports, religion, politics, hobbies--and we all like to share our opinions, comments, or insights with a like-minded group of people.
What's happening now is a rush to social media, everywhere. Do you remember when the Internet really started catching on? Okay, now I do sound old, but back then everyone was rushing to be a part of this new community. Millions of dollars were made, and then lost, on Internet start-ups. As Alan Greenspan said, an “irrational exuberance” lead to a huge bubble that eventually popped. Is social media following that same path? Perhaps, to a degree, but I think the fallout will be less monetary and more social.
The ultimate goal of social media is to get a message to a target audience in the most efficient way possible. When it comes to niche market B2B, advertising during the Super Bowl or purchasing a billboard along a highway may not be the best use of your resources. So, what's the answer? When you are looking to market to a particular community, find out where the community already exists and get your message there. Where do you find the communities? Trade journals are a good place to start...and it’s not just advertising, it’s positioning yourself in a market in a way that allows you to gain market share.
Trade publications focus relevant and valuable information to an established community. If you want to blog, post your blog in an industry publication that already has the attention of the right community. If you want direct connections to the audience, invite them to subscribe to your blog. Once they subscribe you will have direct contact with them. The point I’m making here is to start your efforts in the place where the community already exists.
Become a columnist to share your expertise with the industry. If your message is so important that a magazine invites you to be a columnist, that brings a higher level a credibility to you and your message, compared to just a posting on a social media site. If you want to introduce a new product, submit press releases where your target market goes to get industry information. It streamlines the process for you, and when potential customers read the press release they are in the right frame of mind.
Social media marketing isn’t limited to texting or status updates; it’s also about people communicating in person. Trade shows, an assembly area for your community, are a great place to share your message. But keep in mind that trade shows offer much more than just a place to exhibit. Become a speaker, chair a session, or take part in technical discussions. Be a part of the content. Remember, it’s not the size of your booth that matters, it’s how you connect with your target community and how they connect with you.
An argument was made during my social media discussion that by using social media sites you can conduct surveys. That’s true, but you have to first develop a network (target customers) that fits into the circle, sphere, group, or whatever you call it. Only then will you have a base upon which to draw. I shared with my friends that a smart company--smart because they know how to tap into a community with little effort on their part--looking for detailed market information asked us to conduct a survey for them. Within days we provided over 500 detailed responses to their questions. The results we acquired came from the exact target market the company was looking for and was not limited to companies with which they already had relationships, or as some might call them, the company’s “circle of friends.” Not only did it give them important market intelligence, but it also gave them direct leads.
It’s not whether or not social media is good, bad, or here to stay; it’s about focusing on your community and delivering your message. Social media is nothing new; it’s been around for thousands of years. The difference now is that new outlets allow any person to have an immediate voice and be relevant.
I’m not saying the new media outlets don’t play a part in your marketing. In fact, I think they do. But I would say be smart about it and start by going where the community already assembles and grow from there.
So, if telling people they should focus their message to the right market makes me sound like an old man, I am okay with that. I’ve also been told there is no substitute for experience. When experience makes you sound old, well, I take it as a compliment.