Monday, April 18, 2011

We can do better...

I just finished reading Amber Naslund's (@ambercadabra) An Open Letter to the Social Business Industry, and couldn't help thinking that despite its meteoric rise, social media (and its strategic uses in building brands and informing all marketing and communication activities) is either seen as a disparate camp among the communication and marketing activities, or lauded as the ONE solution to your branding problems. It's neither IMO, but we'll get to that.

Amber Naslund speaks of two camps...

Those whose mission statements are rooted in “passion”, in “people”, in “conversations” and the intrinsic value of open communication and connection. They eschew the notion that we should attach numbers, dollars, or hard measurement to things that cannot and should not be quantified, like the value of a human relationship. And they are quick to label those that ask for justification as rigid, out of touch, or those that simply “don’t get it.
And two:
Those whose battle cry is for “accountability”, for “metrics”, for the elusive “Return on Investment” of social media. For them, there *is* no value in anything that cannot be captured, quantified, or reported upon. 
I like how she's done this, but I would add/echo my earlier comments and note that however you figure out if you're winning, there are a number of tools and tactics working towards that end. Social Media isn't THE solution, but increasingly it's becoming a pivotal cog in your larger communication and branding activities. Part of the whole, not an isolated activity working in obscurity and shadows with regard to ROI and measurability.

Ultimately, it's not helpful, productive or growth-oriented to set benchmarks for various elements of your communication/marketing campaign, and then just throw social into the mix. All elements of your campaign(s) need to inform each other on a practical level... the emotional (also necessary to make social "come alive" and take your brand/communications strategy to new levels) comes in when the stakeholders can see how social lends itself to all of your other activities and facilitates activity, interest and genuine enthusiasm in your brand -- not only internally, but amidst your audience as well.

Metrics and accountability are typically going to be the "true" measure of how well any part of your campaign is doing, but how amazing is it when a social exercise informs/improves a traditional marketing activity, or improves your paid search campaign? Hard to calculate the ROI on that, but overall the benchmark becomes a number of tools and tactics working seamlessly together to achieve the big picture goals and objectives.

This is why I tend to preach marrying digital with traditional tools and tactics. A social media voice jockeying for attention like Welcome Back Kotter's Arnold Horshak (did I just date myself, or become even cooler in the eyes of my tiny audience?), may get heard, but won't always get the serious consideration it's due. Social strategy is essential in any marketing and communication campaign as part of the mix. Just like dissemination and media relations strategies are necessary in crafting a campaign around a single press release, social plays its part in informing your campaign on what your audience is looking for, what conversations they're already having about your brand and activities and where they actually are... make sense?

Players in the social strategy space get this for the most part, and others are starting to recognize how digital strategy is changing how we craft and execute marketing/communication campaigns, but as Naslund says, we can definitely do better in terms of our ability to find and value the "middle ground"  -- a happy place where "We can feel good about doing something and prove that it has concrete worth."
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