by Mark Ivey
Sometimes I walk away from a conference with as many questions as answers. Such was the case at last week's Inbound Marketing Summit in SF. Great speakers, great content, great ideas-- an idea-fest for social media types like me. But after the two day session ended, I couldn't help but wonder: Why is this so hard? Why aren't more companies getting it?

The answer is both simple and amazingly complex: It's woven into the very fabric of the the way we think about marketing.
My company has worked with many companies the last three years on social media programs, from Fortune 100 giants to small shops, giving us ample experience to see how good intentions come up short in making the transition to the new marketing world. The mistakes usually fall into one or more of the following areas, the seven deadly blind spots of traditional marketers:
Not thinking like social media marketers: Social media is all about sharing, opening up, being transparent, providing real value to our customers. It's about long-term relationships, not short-term campaigns. This doesn't come naturally when you're raised in corporate environments that emphasize management control techniques. We must give up control, take some risks and get out there. Social media consultant Chris Brogan says we need to "turn marketing into business conversations."
Not connecting social media programs with the larger corporate strategy and other programs: Social media programs are too often set up as separate silo programs rather than an integral part of the company's marketing and communications efforts. The best leaders weave these programs into programs across the company–including their product development, communications, marketing and customer service, and more.
Not really listening to customers: Social media is about listening to our customers. Conduct an audit. What are their needs? What are they missing? How are they using your product/service? Do an audit of your customers, understand what types of material, communications and engagement they would want from you. Create customer profiles. Then figure out how to reach them. Ex: start a community on Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter and invite customers or join an existing one. Use these to ask your customers questions and pick their brains about your products, challenges, concerns.
Not listening to the market: How can you target your products/services if you don't know your market? Think about your goals–what are you trying to monitor/achieve? What are your resources (small team, an intern, you?) You can set up a listening and monitoring program quickly, starting with Twitter, a powerful real-time search engine. Bigger companies will need to have a systematic way of monitoring comments around their brands but smaller companies can use free tools like Google Alerts, Backtype and FriendFeed to monitor discussions–and of course, search engines customized for Twitter.
Not trusting the employees: The old days where the company controlled employees' content is long over–they're conversing online whether companies condone it or not. Establish company guidelines but provide employees the tools and freedom to express themselves–and then step back. Let the conversation flow. Sure there's some risk but the biggest risk is trying to bottle up your most powerful resource, your employees.
Not creating "social" content: Good content drives traffic, links, goodwill and much more. The problem is much of our content is in corporate-speak and brochure-ware that we slap on the web. Your content needs to be fresh, interesting, engaging, relevant to your audience--and "share-able" on social media sites.
Forget your message a few minutes and focus on your customers. Define your audience before you begin and understand what content they find interesting. Marketer Jason Falls suggests you ask yourself: "Where do they work, play, shop? What do they like for fun? What makes them want to buy things? What interests them?" Think like a publisher, not a marketer.
Not creating cool videos: See the trend? Videos need to be about the customers' needs, interests, not your latest product overview. (If it is product oriented, design the video to show how it really helps the customer do their job.)
If you're going for more mass mainstream audiences, think in terms of explosive video content. Video guru Tim Street suggests first creating a "spectacle" (ex: LonelyGirl15 on YouTube), then building a great story around it. Try to add emotional features and conflict to draw interest. If the YouTube style–shooting from the hip, edgy, etc–is a bit foreign, find a 20-something-year-old video hotshot to help.
No one expects to close the "gap" between traditional marketing and social media marketing overnight. But the promise land of social media may be closer than you think, if you can address some of these blind spots–and continue to be open to new ideas.
Social media is rapidly changing, and today's hot platform could quickly become passe'. At the end of the day, we are only limited by our imagination–and ability to adapt to this ever changing and crazy business.

Tim O'Reilly
captured it best in the Summit's closing speech. If you want to use social media to turbo-charge your company's marketing efforts, start with your customers first–and last. "Think 'what impact do I want to have on the world. Then focus on creating value, helping others and your business will do well."
Maybe the answers were there all along–I just had to look a little closer.

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image of Ann Handley

Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal best-selling author who recently published Everybody Writes 2. She speaks worldwide about how businesses can escape marketing mediocrity to ignite tangible results. IBM named her one of the 7 people shaping modern marketing. Ann is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a LinkedIn Influencer, a keynote speaker, mom, dog person, and writer.