Failing at Social Media – Now We Are Getting Somewhere


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The Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco had an interesting panel discussion yesterday, Why Social Media Marketing Fails – and How to Fix it.

The panelists, Peter Kim, Charlene Li and Jeremiah Owyang addressed what people had rated as the major issues with social media success.

The fact that a topic about failure took up a key slot means businesses are trying to get traction in the social media space. This interest in why initiatives fail is very healthy. Social media is disruptive to traditional business practices and we should expect resistance and a steep learning curve. Adoption of social media experienced explosive growth when it was primarily individuals. Individuals has little inertia from their status quo. Businesses are another thing. Businesses have been organized for efficiency, a controlled inward focus on process. Now, the underlying concepts or principles social media, being open and social, are conflicting with traditional business practices.

Back to the issues discussed by the panel and my comments.

#1 How do I get my culture to adopt? (Lack of buy-in from C-level executives)

Charlene Li: “Big guns” need to get involved and for those executives to get onboard is to show the connection to the bottom-line.

Jeremiah Owyang: Smaller groups at lower levels of management are more likely to drive social media adoption with the upper level executives being the last to adopt.

In my view, social media advocates are taking a self-limiting view. It is not possible to bolt-on a social media initiative on to a traditional organization and expect it to be anything more than a bolt-on. The principles of being “social” need to become the principles of the organization offline as well. Replace PUSH with PULL. Adopt an outside-in (customer perspective). Recognize that customers extract value when then use products, not when they buy them and act accordingly. Mobilize and motive employees by operating within a more horizontal structure rather than the top-down model. Reallocate budgets. This requires a serious change initiative.

#2 How do I make my campaigns work? (Using the “Campaign” model)

All three panelists pointed out that it was wrong and misguided for marketers to treat social media as just another “campaign”.

I agree, social media should not be about campaigns, it is about ongoing, two-way, conversations and building trust and relationships. One might add, that if it is only about marketing, it is destine to be a bolt-on. Perhaps one of the biggest themes in the exhibit area was vendors focused on both connecting with customers and creating a collaborative internal working environment. The concepts and technology of social media can and must become part of organizations and business ecosystems if it is to succeed in the long run.

#3 What should I measure? (Lack of measurement)

Owyang is on the right track. Don’t try to measure social media, measure the business outcomes that motivated the use of social media in the first place. These might be customer loyalty, advocacy, cocreation etc.

#4 Does social media matter? (Real impact of social media)

Interestingly, this issue never got tackled head-on. In my opinion, social matters because customer want openness and transparency about products and experiences and they are getting it from each other using social media. media is one of the vehicles. But, they also expect business to focus on delivering similar value in the real-world. Businesses are losing influence. Businesses need to realize that their sales process is becoming superfluous. It is being replaced by the customers buying process and that this clearly involved their online conversation with peers. Businesses without a credible online presence are losing influence.

Discussions of why businesses are failing with social media are a good thing if it leads to learning.

John Todor
John I. Todor, Ph.D. is the Managing Partner of the MindShift Innovation, a firm that helps executives confront the volatility and complexity of the marketplace. We engage executives in a process that tackles two critical challenges: envisioning new possibilities for creating and delivering value to customers and, fostering employee engagement in the innovation and alignment of business practices to deliver on the new possibilities. Follow me on Twitter @johntodor


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