Success Stories

Social media ≠ Marketing

Promoting a company in social networks

Czech companies aren’t very good at social networking, even though the key to success is quite simple: don’t try to make a statement – just talk to people.

I like buzzwords – those over-used terms beloved of fanatics and cyber-prophets but hated by old hands. They know that there is nothing new under the sun and won’t listen to somebody who didn‘t use BBSes. It’s quite amusing to watch how we quite self-confidently keep making false predictions about when the year will come when everything is “mobile“. And when it actually does arrive, it’s usually totally different from what we – rather foolishly – expected.

In this respect, social networks are both the best and the worst: experts on social media are now more numerous than armchair coaches of national football teams, and they include those who love and those who loathe social networks. Sites such as Facebook are believed to change our personal lives, influence politics, force companies to respect their customers and ruin children’s lives because they will spend their days in front of computer screens.

For those of you who don’t remember this, I’d I like to reiterate that the same claim was made about the Internet, home computers and, slightly differently, TV and radio. All of them have, of course, changed our lives, but people still remain, at least to a large extent, all the same.

Bubble for 800 millions

Social Media – a Bubble? (photo by Jeff Kubina)

A bubble for 850 million people

So let’s destroy some myths here. Is this all just a bubble? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it resembles the Internet boom. Even after the Dotcom crisis in 2000, it was this bubble that led to enormous investments in infrastructure, without which the Internet would have evolved much more slowly. In comparison with the situation 10 years ago, the market value of the biggest social network companies (Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter) is overestimated. However, they generate considerable profit and have hundreds of millions of users.
Social networks will influence our lives, and it’s not important if you don’t or won’t have a Facebook account.
Many people have asked me what it’s good for and why should they spend their precious time on something as dubious as that. I think that the magic of Facebook lies in the possibility for us to easily maintain a wider network of not-so-profound social relationships. When the Internet spread and started to be used by almost 100% of the population (at least in the below-35 age group), searching for new contacts ceased to be the single most important thing (by the way, do you still remember all the discussions on various chat forums 10 years ago? Does anything like that still exist?). The new essential issue is about communicating with existing friends and acquaintances. In this area Facebook is absolutely brilliant, because you can effectively keep in touch with a great number of people at once. Usually, you don’t post your status to someone specific, you want to tell everybody how you’re doing and at the same time you can see what others are doing. It takes half a second to click on the famous “like”, and by liking someone’s status, you show them you haven’t forgotten them, even if you live in a different city or country and you haven’t seen each other for a while.

We tried – and nothing happened

Nevertheless, when companies enter this digital world, they usually behave like a bull in a china shop. Firstly, they generally don’t know why they have created a page (or worse – an account, which is a breach of FB rules, but luckily this is not so common anymore). Quite often, it’s the same sad old story, which goes like this: a top manager reads an article about Facebook in a weekly magazine that comes with his newspaper. Because the company doesn’t have a FB profile itself, the manager logs in from his teenage daughter’s account. Startled by all the gift hearts and Farmville cows, he looks up his company’s name and finds a silly page created by God-knows-who (or automatically by Facebook itself, because some of the employees filled in the workplace details). Then he looks up the name of his hated rivals and finds – to his astonishment – a page with several thousand fans.

The next day he arrives at work armed with the article and considers himself the new expert on social marketing in the company management. The article points out that there are 3.5 million Facebook users in the Czech Republic, and the manager asks how is it possible that the company’s rivals are so successful on Facebook and his firm isn’t? The chief marketing manager has an account on Facebook, but only to look at photos of former classmates. He instinctively distrusts such innovations; however, what has to be done has to be done, and there are plenty of articles in Marketing and Media on how you can do great viral marketing and the PPCs are included! The marketing agency creative staff surf Facebook all day (that’s why nothing is done on time), so let them do some work there for a change. The agency has a Facebook page with 25 fans (all friends and relatives), and once they have managed to shoot a New Year’s Eve video that received several thousand views on YouTube, which was enough for them to state “social network, community marketing on Facebook, viral concepts” in their portfolio.

You can easily predict the outcome; a non-functional and dead page with no purpose or objective. The product news is pasted on the FB page but no one comments on it and even buying 1,000 fans (yes, you can buy that, even with a discount) can’t save the day. In the end the company responsibly claims to “have tried famous social networking, with no result whatsoever”.

Marketing = lies?

Marketing = lies? (photo by Kevin Trotman)

Social unmarketing

If you want to avoid such a scenario you need to radically change your attitude. Firstly, you have to reject the concept that social network = marketing. In the USA, Brian Solis promotes the term “unmarketing”, because what people want on Facebook is to keep in touch with others. Your friends don’t submit press releases and talk about themselves all the time. Every company has to consider how it‘s going to assist its customers or contribute to their lives via social networks., In other and slightly more technical words, it’s about creating added value.

Unmarketing may have many forms, from high-quality and personalized customer care (where every fan is treated like a VIP), by sharing stories of your customers (in that way, you never talk directly about your company, but present it much more effectively), to abandoning marketing newspeak. Don’t try to make a statement – just talk to people. Every time you write your status on social network, try to be authentic and natural, and ask yourself the following question: if I were a fan, would this provoke a reaction, and would I want to react?

Many companies are afraid of social networks because of possible criticism. And in principle they are right. If everything works as it should, the company won’t receive many notes of thanks or much praise. But if anything goes wrong or someone gets angry and negative comments appear immediately – and they spread much faster and wider than positive ones. This is something companies need to get used to. It’s nothing new, and a social network is a mere catalyst, not the source of the problem. Mostly, the cause lies in the fault of an individual, bad service or product. A reasonable company sees this as valuable feedback. Managers should learn not only how to acknowledge a mistake and apologize (instead of making excuses and beating about the bush), but ideally they should know how to learn from the mistake and prevent its recurrence.

If the company plays fair, by acting quickly, the mistake or complaint can be converted into a positive experience. During my two years work experience at mBank, a client and easy-access oriented bank, I repeatedly proved that honest behaviour, an premium approach to clients and a willingness to accept criticism can in long term lead to a much more positive attitude of customers to the brand than could have been predicted in the first place. It pays to know how to praise your rivals and admit that they are better than you in some areas. By doing so, you gain people’s trust more effectively than if you only praise your own product.

Find the butcher

Find the butcher (photo by Chris Isherwood)

Find a butcher

To become successful in a social network, you need the support of the company management. The network cannot simply become another marketing channel. It’s best to integrate as many employees as possible, because they are the true company ambassadors – or at least they should be. Everyone whose personal status repeatedly features complaints about his/her job is a representative of the company. You shouldn’t prevent him or her posting on Facebook, but someone should ask them the reason why they are unhappy. Personally, I think that if the management knows half of the subordinates hate the company – it has no chance of success in social networking (at least in the long term – and every rule has an exception, of course). The higher the level of management support for the development of social networking within the company, the greater the chance of a satisfactory outcome.

However, I also presume that what I said above makes it clear why it’s generally counterproductive to outsource social media. They should form an integral part of the company. How can someone from outside represent you? At the same time, you are looking for a Superman within your ranks. You need someone with the broadest possible knowledge about the company and its services, who has experienced different positions, gets along well with colleagues, partners and customers, has excellent verbal and written communication skills, has great passion and devotion towards the company and lots of common sense. It’s a bonus if the candidate knows how to use the Internet, but that is just a minor technicality. This can be taught – the other prerequisites cannot. Some years ago, I created a strategy for wholesale retail chain Makro (it never even it made to a presentation) and I wanted to suggest that it carried out an internal selection procedure to find a butcher interested in social media. Then the company would put him/her through a series of training sessions. Afterwards, he/she would work as web marketing specialist four days a week and would be a butcher for the rest of the time. I still think it’s a good idea.

The era of mass communication is coming to an end and so is production without customization and individualization. “One size fits all” won’t work everywhere, and this applies to communication more than anything else. A personal approach, a concept natural to entrepreneurs and small companies, is returning to corporations that have forgotten what it’s like to talk directly to their customers. Removing the middle man is usually a shock, but at the same time it presents a great opportunity. I am still, maybe naively, convinced that in the long term it can help the customers to find out who cares about them and who just wants to pull their leg. And that is hopeful, to say the least.

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