I hit a turning point with a long-term client recently. For a while, we’d been having a regular “social media” meeting with the team, where we would talk about analytics, SEO, web design, content, email marketing, as well as things like blogs and Twitter. Finally, after all these meetings, what social media really was clicked for them – and we changed our approach from a social media strategy to a web strategy to a consumer relations strategy. What had started as a perceived need for blogs and Facebook had turned into something very different – and went from being an additional part of their marketing to a core part of their business strategy.
Of course, it wasn’t the tools that made the difference. It was the understanding of the consumer that ultimately led to an organizational shift, and a fairly major change in how they communicate with their consumers. It was the exercise of communicating in a more real way, more regularly, and allowing the people they’ve been talking to to talk back.
The reality is, for all the talk about social media – there’s really no such thing. There is only communication, and while our academic pursuit of what we call social media has certainly advanced the practice of communication as a whole, social media is nothing but a buzzword, a marketing ploy, a big ol’ bottle of snake oil that a slick-talking sideshow act is selling for a dollar to cure what ails you.
This isn’t to take away from any agency that has a real social media expertise (as opposed to a 20-year old intern who knows all about this Facebook thing) – the agency of the future will understand those channels as well as the agencies of the past understood television and print. The successful agencies will understand how to make all of these media work together to achieve a goal. Sadly, a number of agencies will achieve a temporary success tricking clients into thinking they understand these technologies and communities, but that gold rush is running out.
If you want to communicate effectively, you need to use the channels that your consumers use – that’s marketing 101. If that means Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or some obscure web application, then that’s what you should use, but it all needs to be part of an integrated approach with a real goal in mind. There’s nothing wrong with playing with new tech, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s a strategy.