Go on the Social Media Offensive

Football players go on the offenseA lot has changed in social media over the course of 2010 — which, really, is the first year that social has been fully and comfortably embedded in the marketing mix. Most companies have finally moved beyond the initial pilot social marketing programs of the past few years and into full-blown production. As the CEO of a company in the middle of this trend, I’m excited.

That said, many companies are still using social to play defense. Most social CRM implementations to date have been focused on discovering customer complaints after they happen: either via branded customer forums (message boards that exist solely to give customers a place to sound off) or tracking conversations on public social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

Playing defense is so 2010. It’s time for brands to step it up, jump into the fray and go on offense. What I’d like to lay out for 2011 is a playbook, if you will, for using social media to bring a brand to market, get your audience excited, and shape the conversation.

Don’t suck.

This isn’t just my advice and it certainly isn’t limited to social media. There’s no amount of marketing that’s going to disguise a deficient product. You’ve got to provide goods and services that people can feel good about using and supporting. If you’ve got great products, get them out there and tell their stories. If you have products that aren’t so great, find out where they fall short, then let people know how you’re going to make them better. And then make them better.

Tell a story. Please.

There are so many ways to create and share content through social media. You may have a little bit here and a little bit there, but if there’s no glue holding those little bits together, you’ll confuse customers and turn them off. Think of the story arc you want your brand, products or services to have over the next year. Think about the points on that arc and how you can populate those points with something interesting that supports the story. Then make it happen.

Love a lawyer.

Some of my best friends are lawyers and believe me, they’re good for more than being the butt of jokes. But they can put the damper on things in a New York minute. Someone comes up with a campaign idea or a creative angle and the lawyers will shoot it down in seconds.

There’s always been an uneasy truce between legal and marketing and that’s not going to change. But what can change is to help the social media police understand early that everything isn’t going to end if someone takes a chance. Get them involved at the outset so they don’t disrupt things down the road. Otherwise your social media strategy session could end up being a social media policy session.

Listen in order to nurture your ambassadors.

To operate without listening at all is as risky as listening too much. You do need to know what’s going on out there — but there’s listening and there’s listening. If you’re currently listening only to hear the loud grumblings, you may be missing the quieter sounds of opportunity.

Your customers have nice things to say. They want to help carry the story forward. They want to feel like they can contribute to things that matter to them. Listen out for those positive voices and elevate them. Give them a forum and call attention to them out in the broader world. If you can create brand and product ambassadors from your customer base, you won’t ever find a more authentic or successful sales representative.

Remember, you have a website, too.

In the last year or two, major brands have made a huge push into Facebook. They’ve been busy building out branded fan pages and apps, and many have even put a large chunk of their advertising budget behind driving customers to Facebook’s ubiquitous “Like” button.

Let’s get one thing straight: Facebook is an amazing breeding ground for large-scale awareness, and an essential part of a social marketing strategy. But at the end of the day, it’s still someone else’s website. Someone else collects your customers’ email addresses and limits your ability to learn from and remarket to them. If you want to create real, lasting customer relationships, you have to figure out how to use Facebook to get customers back to the place where you have the most control – your own website. That requires a tightly integrated strategy that uses Facebook to deliver customers back to your domain.

Or, as Alan Wolk, KickApps’ Managing Director of Social Strategy, once put it: “Feel free to play in their walled garden, but don’t forget to cut your own grass.”

In the end, for those brave enough to play offense, social media will prove to be the most cost-effective way to build brand awareness and obtain meaningful customer insight. I’m looking forward to 2011 being the year that social media becomes the go-to offensive tool for brands of all sizes.

Alex Blum is CEO of social software company KickApps. Before joining KickApps, Blum was president and COO of JumpTV, a leading multi-cultural internet protocol television network, and he also spent eight years at AOL, most recently as the vice president of product marketing for AOL’s audience business.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Monica’s Dad

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