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Are Marketers Missing the Social Media Boat?

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Business Week recently ran an article on how Nintendo has "given up control" of its marketing message in promoting its Wii gaming console. The article focused on how Nintendo was going where their customers are -- be it malls, parties or MySpace.


"We are a controlling company," said marketing boss George Harrison. "This was a big deal for us."
David Reich's first post here last week talked about how marketers are increasingly reaching out to bloggers to include them in their marketing efforts by mentioning a recent WSJ article (thanks for the link, Paul). I even blogged about my participation in the Nikon D80 "Picture This" campaign, which I have admitted is one of the best-run blogger-ambassador type programs yet.
But all these attempts by marketers to incorporate social media into their marketing plans are still missing the mark.
What makes social media tools so popular, is that they give everyday people the ability to publish content, and communicate with others. But many marketers aren't tapping the enormous potential of social media.
Instead of reaching out to customers and bringing these voices into their company's marketing efforts, many marketers are wanting to use bloggers as simply another promotional tool. Instead of viewing bloggers as customers that can afford them invaluable input into how to effectively reach their target markets, marketers are increasingly seeing social media as just another sales channel.
And I think it's about time we started calling them on it.
To view blogs and other forms of social media as a one-way selling tool is to show that the past few decades have taught us nothing about the importance of understanding our customers. Today, marketers have more tools in place than ever before to give them insight into what their customers are thinking. Blogs, Twitter, MySpace, all these forms of social media are channels that marketers can use to communicate with, and better understand their customers. As a result, their marketing will be more efficient, because they will better understand their customers' wants and needs.
But instead, many marketers view these incredible tools not as a way to better understand their customers, but as tools to sell them more stuff.
The more technology changes, the more marketing seems to stay the same... .
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Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs that let them better connect with their fans. His first business book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April of 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier
LinkedIn: Mack Collier

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  • by Tara Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    I find it both amusing and ironic that the photo you chose for this post is of the largest container ship in the world. Just like social media, it's one big boat -- you'd think it would be hard to miss!

  • by Douglas Karr Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    You're dead on, Mac! I just wrote about how few companies are utilizing Jaiku or Twitter - fantastic technologies that could be totally automated.

  • by Cam Beck Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    "But instead, many marketers view these incredible tools not as a way to better understand their customers, but as tools to sell them more stuff." Well put. At the same time, let's not forget that the people who make the decisions NOT to use the medium primarily as a sales channel usually aren't working in concert with, say, purchasing or product development, and thus they feel that their jobs are dependent on success, as measured in actual sales recorded directly through that channel. "Getting it" requires a complete change in thinking about the way various disciplines are categorized within an organization. Thus, we may need to hold their hands a little longer.

  • by Mack Collier Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    ""Getting it" requires a complete change in thinking about the way various disciplines are categorized within an organization. Thus, we may need to hold their hands a little longer." I agree somewhat Cam. I remember a time when a company reaching out to bloggers in any form whatsoever was cause for celebration. I think it was called '2005'. I think we need to be encouraging toward companies that are trying to incorporate social media into their marketing efforts, but at the same time, I think we need to speak up when they aren't utilizing the space to its fullest potential. The natural inclination for most marketers is always going to be 'how can we use this to sell more stuff'. IOW, they want to see a direct boost in sales. The better way to utilize social media, IMO, is for companies to actually TALK to these bloggers, podcasters, etc, and let them have a voice in the company's marketing efforts. Which will, indirectly, lead to those extra sales the company was hoping for to begin with. Social media isn't a selling channel, it's a communication and expression channel. Marketers need to approach it as such if they want to reap the full benefits from this space.

  • by Ann Handley Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    "Just like social media, it's one big boat -- you'd think it would be hard to miss!" ...glad you appreciated the subtlety, Tara!

  • by Cam Beck Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    "I think it was called '2005'." LOL! To be clear, I don't disagree with anything you said. The point of my comment was to encourage understanding and compassion for what the decision makers are going through, so that we can better address it.

  • by Mack Collier Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    Gotcha Cam, I agree that we definitely don't need to scare off marketers from this space, and there will be growing pains and some changes in culture necessary for many companies to even sniff in social media's direction. BTW Tara, Ann picked out this post's pic, as she does for all of them. Her pics usually end up making the post!

  • by Lewis Green Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    Mack, I agree with Cam. If we want to encourage the corporate world to listen and talk with their customers, we need to do the same with our clients: coporate marketers who are trying to figure out social media. We need to address their needs first, not the tools of social media. Once we have gained their trust, then we can begin to help steer the social media ship to meet both their needs and their customers needs(using the photo as metaphor in another way).

  • by CK Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    "I even blogged about my participation in the Nikon D80 "Picture This" campaign, which I have admitted is one of the best-run blogger-ambassador type programs yet." So we can learn from good models, how has it been one of the best-run programs yet? I know they've given away loaner cameras but I'm interested in any outreach they've done to engage the bloggers that are part of the program. For instance, I advocate Customer Advisory Boards so as to yield a feedback loop which directly effects/improves product innovations and customer relations--seems these ambassador programs should be doing the same thing. Maybe they are. It just seems the feedback is as valuable, if not more valuable, as the sales increase they're looking for (as they're targeting "influencers" in order to increase their sales). Agree/disagree? Interested in your take since you're part of the program and I've not heard of any type of feedback or engagement practies from Nikon (just loaner cameras...in which case I agree with you that they're missing the BIG boat).

  • by Mack Collier Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    "So we can learn from good models, how has it been one of the best-run programs yet?" The one area where I feel that the Nikon program shines is that they were quite clear in stating that I was under zero obligation to blog about the camera, in order to participate. Most programs such as this make blogging about the product a prerequisite for receiving it, especially a high-dollar product such as the D80. And Nikon was also clear that IF I talk about the camera, that I must disclose that I am a member of this program, so that others will realize that I am probably blogging/talking about the camera because I received a loaner D80 from Nikon. Smart moves on Nikon's part, and I would like to see other companies adopt similar disclosure measures in their programs.

  • by CK Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    Thanks Mack. I do think that was a smart move. It's also really the only move since any type of pressure or non-disclosure is blatantly ignorant in this day and age (due to past programs and flogs that have been flamed). So I don't see that as a best practice but the only way being the liability/backlash is too great and that good netizens like yourself would always disclose :-). What I'm looking for are examples that we all can use in our own programs. What type of feedback loop has Nikon implemented to get best practices/lessons learned from program participants? I'm very focused on 'feedback' as listening is key--and I'd like to draw upon practices they're implementing (unless they're not)in order to show clients best practices. Make sense? I just don't want to say they're missing the boat unless they've missed this critical (priority one) component.

  • by Mack Collier Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    CK that's why I mentioned Nikon as part of this post, because they haven't really done anything to solicit feedback. I have received a few emails asking if I had any questions, but there doesn't seem to be any initiatives in place to try to collect feedback. Maybe they have something in the works that I don't know about. But again, I don't want to be too hard on Nikon, because I think they are doing better than most. I just wanted to include them in the wider example of how companies that are wanting to use social media, need to use it as a communication/feedback tool with their customers, not as a shiny new selling tool.

  • by Paul McEnany Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    Good stuff, Mack! I've been feeling that same sort of regression lately, as well. It feels like too many people don't understand it right away, so instead of taking the time to do so, they just throw up their hands and try to stick it in one of their pre-existing boxes. And of course, that probably won't work...

  • by David Reich Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    Mack, coincidentally, a p.r. colleague was just asking me today about how she could get her client involved with a blog. I explained how it differs from a website because it should encourage two-way discussion. But she continues to think of it as a way to simply try to merchandise more product. Aside from getting feedback from customers, what do you see as other ways a company's blog should have dialogue with customers and prospects?

  • by CK Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    "But again, I don't want to be too hard on Nikon, because I think they are doing better than most." Really? I think some of the studios giving a sneak-peek to fan-fueled movies is doing better than most. They get feedback, they put their fans on a pedestal and they give them what is rightfully theirs...a free movie. Sure, the fans talk up the movie (and, ergo, influence it) but it's the fans that drove some of these flicks into existence (e.g. Firefly). So they should see it 2 weeks before opening. I understood Nikon gave away loaners, sans feedback systems to date, to bloggers that didn't fuel the cameras into existence. See, I am pushing clients into social media and these best practices are pivotal...I don't consider 'honesty/full disclosure' as a best practice. I consider it a baseline. I ask you about Nikon since you can cover that from the inside (I didn't have access to the fans of the movie, unfortunately so I can't ask them). And actually, we learned a best practice from that movie and a worst practice, too in how the studios messed with the fans over about 9k worth of merchandising that promoted the movie (and yep, they caved...I wrote about it last year).

  • by Gavin Heaton Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    Great post, Mack ... and I love the discussion! If we look at it from an ongoing conversational point of view, it goes to show that social media is just another communication tactic or channel and not part of an integrated campaign designed to engage customers. The Nikon campaign ACTIVATES but loses out on ENGAGEMENT or ADOPTION. These deeper levels of consumer participation require ongoing dialogue ... and an ongoing commitment. Until we start building integrated marketing plans that work across a consumer lifecycle, we will continue to be seen as business tacticians and not the strategic thinkers we would all like to be!

  • by Mark Goren Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    Great post, Mack. I agree that most marketers are missing the mark with social media initiatives, using them as a different interruption tactics or as basic word-of-mouth starters. Now, there's no doubt that they can do better (and that we can help them do better), but I do think that we have to hand it to them for 1) starting to recognize the value of this space and trying something and 2) for stepping away from traditional solutions. And that's where I agree with Cam. For every company giving it a shot, how many aren't? We've got to remember that we're in the early stages here .... and that it's up to us to help companies improve along the way.

  • by Mark Goren Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    Great post, Mack. I agree that most marketers are missing the mark with social media initiatives, using them as a different interruption tactics or as basic word-of-mouth starters. Now, there's no doubt that they can do better (and that we can help them do better), but I do think that we have to hand it to them for 1) starting to recognize the value of this space and trying something and 2) for stepping away from traditional solutions. And that's where I agree with Cam. For every company giving it a shot, how many aren't? We've got to remember that we're in the early stages here .... and that it's up to us to help companies improve along the way.

  • by Sean Howard Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    Great points, Mack. Just saw a post about "Research 2.0" in some marketing trade mag. And while I groaned at the title, it was dead on in it's call for marketers to turn away from focus groups and towards the rich world of information and conversations happening about their products. And to even get involved in them. I've been struggling with why this is all so alien for so many marketers. And it really is one of the few areas in their world that is reciprocal. Most organizational structures are not. Most media is not. So it may just take them some time... or a kick to the head! ;)

  • by Glenn Gow Mon May 21, 2007 via blog

    Mack, As Cool Hand Luke said, "What we have here, is a failure to communicate". Yes, we should encourage companies to step into Social Media in a big way (I talk more about this in a recent post). It's critical that companies experiment. At the same time, you are dead on. Have we (as marketers) forgotten what we're all about? Yes, we have to promote, but MUCH more importantly, we have to GATHER information from our target markets and use that information to inform out product development and product marketing efforts to then give the market what it wants. "Communicating" is a two-way street. What Social Media is about it CONVERSATIONS. I think we should all pledge to educate those who need to know that this is what marketing is all about and Social Media is a fantastic opportunity to make it work for our customers and for the companies that sell to them.

  • by CK Tue May 22, 2007 via blog

    Per Glenn's comment of "I think we should all pledge to educate those who need to know that this is what marketing is all about and Social Media is a fantastic opportunity to make it work for our customers and for the companies that sell to them." Yup. Many of us already have and are. That's why I'm trying to understand the value (if any?) of programs that have no feedback loops. It counfouds me. It's just so logical that it seems they have to avoid seeing it.

  • by holly kasun Tue May 22, 2007 via blog

    Great post and excellent comments! I think big companies are consciously letting that big ship pass. Here's why: Many companies won't even experiment and try social media because of the difficulty in measuring what the medium can or can't do for a brand. In the current state of business, if ROI can't be measured in the very short term, then the marketing program is deemed unsuccessful. One reason perhaps we keep seeing marketers trying to force the idea of social media being another sales channel. On top of roi measurement difficulties, let's get to another core issue, the fact that engaging customers on their terms is risky business for companies. People online will be honest and tell you things they may or may not like about products or brands. Then what? It forces a company to deal with questions like: Will we have to take action? Change? Fix something? Address concerns head on? the questions can go on and on! That opens up a huge array of possibilities that many companies would rather keep buried. I say go forward with all you've got social media advocates, you're up for a bigger battle than you may have thought getting thinking to change! You are fundamentally challenging how some companies do business, not just communicate.

  • by Mack Collier Tue May 22, 2007 via blog

    "I think big companies are consciously letting that big ship pass. Here's why: Many companies won't even experiment and try social media because of the difficulty in measuring what the medium can or can't do for a brand. In the current state of business, if ROI can't be measured in the very short term, then the marketing program is deemed unsuccessful." Bingo Holly. Until the direct benefit can be shown on a balance sheet, many companies see social media as a waste of their time. Marketers want to know how to 'monetize the conversation' that comes from social media, but they don't realize that the conversation monetizes itself. Conversation=understanding=more effective/efficient marketing=lower marketing costs. The conversation monetizes itself.

  • by James Clark Thu May 24, 2007 via blog

    What's being overlooked is how companies are leveraging social media tools on their own sites. Yes, Yes, Yes - the conversation monetized itself. and as far as I'm concerned, it will always be difficult to monetize the social campaign, but one area a company can control and analyze is traffic through their own feeds and site. A RSS strategy to enter and engage in the conversation is critical. Instead of looking out into the social media landscape and trying to be everywhere at once, start with building your own system to distribute your content and facilitate feedback and discussions. The residual benefit of publishing and engaging in the conversation on your site is far more valuable in the long run than setting up multiple campaigns on different social networks that may or may not be in existence in two years. Yes, go where the conversations are, but always try to bring the conversation back home. Invite them to your dinner table. Have them over for drinks - be sociable.

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