First up, control versus order
There are a lot of reasons for companies to get involved in social media: engaging customers, humanizing the company (if that’s an objective), expanding communications, monitoring to gain consumer insight, and more. Social media advocates generally make a pretty good case for using social media, even if I do believe it is oversold on some levels.
Recently, I’ve been seeing one of the reasons advocates have been using a lot more, and it has gotten completely and totally under my skin. I think if I hear it used as an excuse (and it is an excuse, not a reason) to get involved one more time, my head is going to spin clear ’round and I’ll pull a Linda Blair. What is it?
“Well, your employees are going to do it anyway.”
This is *not* a good reason. Social media advocates seem to think that telling a company that they should modify their communications channels based on “your employees are going to do it anyway” is somehow persuasive. It is not. And when companies resist, the clucking of tongues begins, “ah, they are afraid of a loss of control.”
I’m not sure it’s a loss of control that they fear. It’s a loss of order. These are two very different things.
By and large, companies know that they cannot control their employees; they instead try and manage them–and note I use the word “try” as even management can be a difficult task. Large organizations are complex, and for the most part job descriptions are specialized. People at big companies are typically hired to do jobs that match their skill sets, and as logic would follow, these are typically the jobs that they apply for based on their backgrounds.
By saying that anyone in a large organization can and should act in communications on the company’s behalf, social media advocates are essentially saying that anyone can do PR and quite honestly assuming everyone has the skills to communicate clearly and effectively is dead wrong. And companies know this, which is why social media advocates aren’t going to get very far saying that this should be the case.
Just because some employees want to communicate with customers doesn’t mean they should. Not everyone is a great singer, or a great painter, or a tremendous athlete, or a great cook–even if someone wants to be, it doesn’t suddenly make them skilled.
To me, “they’re going to do it anyway” sounds an awful lot like “but all the other kids are doing it.” Your parents didn’t buy that as a reason when you were a teen, and companies shouldn’t buy that as an excuse to get involved in social media now. There are good reasons to get involved, use them, not this.
Next up, targeting influencers
A post caught my eye this week, and it’s because while skimming through my RSS feeds, it showed that there was a new post from the Naked PR blog–a blog I enjoyed so much I couldn’t bring myself to remove it from my reader even after blogger Jennifer Mattern decided to retire it. Jenn’s post is a great critique of the practice of targeting blog “influencers,” just because they are prominent–even if they aren’t relevant to the product. It’s apparently not as failed a tactic as one might suspect. A comment on the Mack Collier post that sparked Jenn’s response clearly stated that while the blogger was invited to a beer event as an influencer, she wasn’t much of a drinker at all, certainly not beer, yet she had very kind words to say about the outreach effort.
Interesting, huh? After having been conditioned to expect the sharp tongue and keyboard strokes of an incorrectly-targeted blogger lash out at such broad targeting, what happened here? Is it the “freebies,” the ego-boost of being categorized as an “influencer,” or is it something else? I don’t have the answer in this case, but it did remind me of something.
When I worked on grassroots marketing (word of mouth marketing, peer to peer marketing, etc.) programs when I was at a PR agency, we were careful to research and seek out influencers who were relevant to our target audience–we were almost maniacal in our targeting. But, oddly, in almost every program I was involved with, we’d see what I’d call “accidental influencers”–people totally outside of our target audience, who were influencing groups outside of our target audience, to try/purchase the product. And this information was always transmitted back to the brand.
(This is why I think it’s crazy that people are now saying “Ah! Social media! Finally, brands are listening to customers!” Hogwash. They have been, for a long time, if the brands are smart. Social media is a different, more public way to view brand feedback, but it is absolutely not the first time brands are listening to customers. But that’s another post for another day.)
Having a clearly-defined target audience is critical. It makes sure your outreach is relevant and that you’ve done your homework. While there are occasionally instances of accidental influencers, and smart companies should be on the lookout for them, the instances where this will click with the brand will be rare. Basing an outreach strategy on the possibility that you’ll gain “awareness” among influencers might reach the goal of having more “aware,” but if the product isn’t relevant, it will be a shallow win. It’s like focusing too much on impressions or “eyeballs.”
Great research paired with a highly targeted and relevant outreach will always give you more bang for the buck–ROI, for the measurement types.