Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Get a Grip: How fast does it work?

Unless you are very, very, very lucky, it'll take some time. For every YouTube video that goes viral and hits the morning news shows, there are hundreds of thousands that never see the light of day. Don't wrap your strategy and measurements around... you know... luck. Strategy takes patience and work.

Look around at what else is happening in the world. Look at what's on the news and what people are talking about. If you are talking about a guarenteed way to land a job in a bad economy, you are more likely (at this particular moment) to get a following more quickly. If you need to talk about travel to exotic four-star resorts... well... maybe not.

You are going to be building an audience. It takes the same amount of time (and a lot of the same steps) it took to build the audience/market/customer base that you currently have. Look at these tools as a way to enhance your communications with people, not build a new audience. A great example of this is how Comcast decided to use Twitter. They scanned the tweets for complaints and then proactively dealt with the problems. It became viral when the people who had been helped reported back to the larger Twitter community. While this looks like a no-brainer use of the tool, there was certain amount of social context around this. Comcast needed to have a reputation for incredibly bad customer service for this sort of thing to become "news" and proliferate. An organization that has a much better reputation for customer service would likely not see nearly this kind of buzz.

Remember that this isn't like advertising on the Super Bowl. Social media isn't about people randomly stumbling across you. You are walking into a party where everyone is already talking in little clumps all over the place. The easiest thing to do is join a group where you are already known and ask to be referred to other groups hopefully becoming the center of a larger and larger group. You need to talk to people -- as much as humanly possible -- as individuals or very small, tight groups. Applying traditional mass marketing techniques* and assumptions won't work.

What do you do?
  1. Don't treat your Twitter account as the "silver bullet" that will save you from your online goals. It will let you down.
  2. Start by using your account to better support your existing customer base. You can reach out from there.
  3. Set reasonable expectations for this tool and then adjust your effort and financial support accordingly. If you are just going to use it for talking to a group of 50 people who need tech support on your widget that probably should have been better designed to start with, don't put a full-time staff person on it.

* I am watching an organization that is trying to apply mass marketing techniques to building social media engagement. So far, the return on the investment has been... well... disappointing. They are doing some interesting things around marketing and incentives, though, and I plan to keep watching. This world changes very quickly and any solid statement like "traditional mass marketing techniques and assumptions won't work" is likely to be proven wrong at some point. Stay tuned.

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