Crossing the Social Media Chasm

by Chris Kenton on April 29, 2008

The discussions among social media experts about emerging trends in marketing range from the ridiculous to the sublime. For all the ubiquitous two-bit pundits holding forth on the latest new definition of brand 2.0,  there are also incredibly thoughtful and provocative dialogs on practical marketing strategies among groups like the Online Community Unconference, run on the West Coast by Bill Johnson. Forrester is supporting some great work on the frontier of social media marketing, with analysts like Charlene Li, co-author of the latest social media must-read Groundswell, and Jeremiah Owyang.

But when you step out of the social media echo chamber–when you turn off Twitter and Facebook and sit down face to face with enterprise marketing teams to discuss the application of social media to immediate business and marketing objectives–the reality of how much ground we still need to cover to improve marketing’s responsiveness to market changes becomes clear. It’s a classic Crossing-the-Chasm adoption scenario, and we’re still only establishing a beach head.

In the past few months I’ve been meeting with a lot of marketing organizations to discuss social media challenges and opportunities as we build our pilot program for SocialRep. There are a few visionary companies that are really diving into social media as a competitive marketing strategy. But for most companies, a couple of trends are becoming very clear.

1. In most marketing organizations, no one truly owns Social Media as a marketing function–not even the VP of Web Marketing in most cases, at least in any proactive sense. Social Media programs are championed here and there by innovators in the trenches, but there’s little if any coordination among different programs, much less with general marketing strategy.

2. Few marketers can mount or defend a compelling business case for social media programs. Most get tripped up by the demand for marketing ROI and stall out, waiting for point-solution vendors to come up with an ROI story, or for someone on high to suddenly get social media religion. If you’re a savvy marketer and you don’t already have a clear case for ROI, there isn’t one.
If you’re planning a social media campaign to drive customer
acquisition, chances are you already know how to measure the ROI. If
you’re trying to build a community, or drive more market engagement, forget
about ROI—you’re in the domain of Brand Equity, and it will cost you more to
measure it than it will to get started building something on the cheap. Start talking to your CFO about opportunity cost and a budget for innovation. I ranted about this in depth here.

3. Many marketers still don’t understand the fundamental shift that social media represents. I know that sounds hard to believe given the volume of discussion about the Shift in Control Over Brand, but there’s a serious disconnect between buzz theory and practical application. Numerous times over the past few months I’ve connected with marcom people driving social media programs still under the impression that  conversations are generated by the outbound PR cycle–social media has just changed the venue. Natural consumer behavior is not to go online to discuss your latest technology or licensing partnership, but to dialog about why your product sucks, what consumers want next, and where can they get something better than you offer today. When you point that out, everyone gets it, but somehow that message hasn’t reached critical mass in the marketing trenches. 

4. Saas has done a tremendous job in freeing marketing from the leash of IT. Eliminating the cost and risk of data integration is a huge boon to marketers and has opened the floodgates for new marketing applications. But it’s an overwhelming sea of options for marketers who are finding it hard to make sense of what will really help them move the needle. I see companies spending months in paralysis of analysis over  platforms and point solutions, forums and blogs, mashups and viral video, desperate to make the "right" choice before stumbling forward. It’s so much cheaper on every level to go out and fail today, get over it already. Do something cheap. Do it quick. Take your lumps and get smarter so the next time you succeed.

5. The baton is inevitably going to be passed to a new generation. You can already see the transition environment starting to merge with savvy social operators figuring out how build communities all across the web. There’s a huge opportunity for tech-savvy marketers to take up positions of influence in the purchase decision-making process–particularly those who are in their 20s and social media native. But there’s also a big smug factor in this demographic, and not a lot of appreciation for depth on marketing fundamentals. Companies would be smart to put together a partnership program between older and younger marketers. Tons of value to share.

I’m sure there’s a lot I’m missing, which is why I’m continuing my research project to identify and interview the smartest marketing and technology people I can find and hear what they’re up to. I’ll be posting some more videos in the coming week. If you missed the first set of videos, you can find the first one on this post with John Girard. Then just click forward through the posts for Matt Roche and Jack Jia.

If you have suggestions on who I should interview, please let me know. I’m particularly interested right now in finding CMOs from companies that are forward-thinking on social media. Send me some introductions. Please!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lee Erickson April 30, 2008 at 9:46 am

Chris I totally agree with your second point. Marketers are struggling with how to make the case to management about taking the plunge. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around that issue too.

I’m always telling clients about new competitive threats and opportunities that come with social media. I could tell them the “Dell is Hell” story and they were always interested, but what was missing was tying the threat/opportunity to their world.

So to quantify this for them we’ve started looking at their competitors’ presence on destination and A-lister sites specific to their industry – the places their prospects would go to get smarter about their jobs and learn about what’s going on in their industry.

The thought is, if a destination site is heavily trafficked by one or more competitors (with neutral or positive sentiments), then this represents a potential competitive threat for the company.

Alternatively, if there’s no competitive presence, this represents a potential opportunity.

It’s still coming together and we’re working through this with a client now. Another big part of this is helping to determine the company’s internal readiness to jump in at all.

Chris April 30, 2008 at 10:30 am

Hi Lee. Thanks for the comment. You’re right, fear of competition winning the loyalty of a customer community is a big motivator. Interesting to use that as a hard and visible metric…

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