Thursday, January 08, 2009

Social Media excels at making things happen indirectly

Beth had a great post yesterday talking about how social media is not marketing. While I agree with her main point that social media is NOT the same as marketing, I'm not that upset with the use of the term 'social media marketing'. But I think for many companies, they see it as simply using social media as a marketing channel.

And that's where the problems start.

In most cases, marketing channels are utilized cause the direct goal is to sell more stuff. That's fine, nothing wrong with a company wanting to make a profit, in fact there's nothing wrong with trying to make as large a profit as legally possible.

The problem that most companies have with social media is this:

1 - They view social media as being a new marketing channel, when actually they are communication channels

2 - Since they view social media as a marketing channel, they attempt to push marketing messages through these channels

3 - Since they view social media as a marketing channel, and attempt to push marketing messages through these channels, they attempt to directly monetize their social media efforts.

All of these problems conspire to ensure that the company has a totally disastrous result.

Let's back up and start over. First, let's understand that social media is being used by a company's customers to communicate and interact with each other. They aren't using these tools in most/any cases to share marketing messages. So when a company attempts to introduce marketing messages via social media, it's met by the community with all the acceptance of excessive flatulence in church on a Sunday morning.

So if a company wants use social media successfully as a way to 'sell more stuff', they have to understand that they need a new goal. Because social media is a wonderful way to make things happen indirectly. If a company wants to use social media to 'sell more stuff', they need to make that their INdirect goal. The DIRECT goal needs to be something else, so that a byproduct of the company's DIRECT efforts, is that they sell more stuff.

Which means the big question is; What should the DIRECT goal of social media be?

I would suggest that you start by looking for a way to use social media to create VALUE for your customers. Look at what Fiskars has done with blogging. Instead of creating a blog and using it as a way to directly promote its products, it created the Fiskateers blog. Here are the goals that the company had for the Fiskateers movement:

  • Increase awareness and credibility
  • Increase online conversations
  • Create a community of hundreds of empowered, kindred spirits
And yes, an indirect result of this movement is that sales and online brand mentions are up. But note that third goal; to create a community. This is a perfect example of using social media to directly create VALUE for your customers.

Know your customers, and if they are using social media, understand WHY and HOW they are using these tools, and then use them in the SAME way to create VALUE for them. And if you do so in a way that resonates positively with your customers, a byproduct of your efforts will be that you'll sell more stuff.

But the quickest way to fail at 'social media marketing' is to use social media as a way to beam marketing messages at your customers with the goal of these efforts being to sell more stuff.

Pic via Flickr user OiMax


Anonymous said...

I am literally laughing out loud at this one: "So when a company attempts to introduce marketing messages via social media, it's met by the community with all the acceptance of excessive flatulence in church on a Sunday morning."

A classic, seriously. The visual alone is worth millions (of lost dollars that is).

Thanks for continuing the conversation here Mack. You are spot's the INdirect nature of social media that will allow companies to market their good/services. People want to buy from companies/people they trust. You can only figure that out via conversation (on & offline)...not trough an an ad, news release, brochure, website, etc.

That said, I still don't like the term social media marketing. LOL! :)

Lisa Hoffmann said...

Everyone - EVERYONE - who is considering using social media for business needs to read this post.

Down with flatulence!

Anonymous said...


Everything I know of Social Media I learned at your knee so I certainly don't mean to be presumptuous.

And as a fellow southerner (transplanted to be sure) I'm familiar with the church reference.

All that said, I believe that there's a school of thought that any self-promotion is abuse of the conversation. It's that school of thought which I think leads to Beth's concern re: "Social Media Marketing".

As a good friend of mine (who's also a small business owner) says, "If we're in conversation and I don't tell you what I do for a living, shame on me".

Clearly he's an aggressive self-promoter but he's indicative of a type for whom conversation often includes self-promotion.

So, bringing all that together I say yes, spam has no place. But whether quoting the Bible or the Byrds, to everything there is a season.

If you've got a great promotion going on, it seems natural to mention it in conversation.

I don't think that's "Social Media Marketing" I think it's a natural extension of conversation.


Anonymous said...

Mack, funny indeed! When companies are actually willing to hear what their customers are saying (and be prepared to accommodate for the feedback)they will "get" social media.

If they aren't prepared to make adjustments, share praises, or react to the discussion immediately; they shouldn't pretend...which is probably why they are not! Actions speak louder than words no?

Thanks for keeping this discussion going!

- Jennifer

Mack Collier said...

Beth and Lisa, glad you gals enjoyed the post, and Lisa I think you have come up with the perfect rallying cry against cos misusing SM, 'Down with flatulence!'

Will let me be clear; I think companies ABSOLUTELY can market and market effectively via social media. In fact I'm so sure of it that I'm building a business around teaching companies how to do just that. But I think the key is HOW companies do that marketing. They have to understand what social media is and HOW their customers are using it. When they get to this point, then they can start to become a participant in the conversation that their customers are having, and as a byproduct of this, they can promote themselves to their customers.

There's a big misconception out there that customers don't want companies to promote to them via social media. That's not the case, it's just that customers don't want self-promotion to be the ONLY/MAIN reason why a company uses social media. It's all about showing customers respect, and understanding why and how they are using social media. And then using SM in the same way, and for the same reasons.

Jennifer I agree, companies seem to either see the whole 'join the conversation' idea as a total waste of time, or completely invaluable.

Tony Santos - @tsmuse said...

Love it! I may have to steal the farting in church line the next time someone here asks me why we aren't "leveraging" twitter or facebook to spam people.

Anonymous said...

very interesting post. thank you for your thoughts.
to me, the way most if not all companies views social media currently is still through the prism of "the chain is as strong as its weakest link" metaphor, which forces them to reinforce the weakest link. that is what, in a way, marketing is all about - getting the message across, building the brand... once companies will view social media through the prism of "the chain is as strong as the sum total of its weakest links" metaphor, then engaging and communicating with users/customers will flow naturally.

Anonymous said...

Don't you find the indirect sell a tough one to make? Most clients I know like direct value for their money.

Anonymous said...

I don't have anything smart to say, yet,except, I'm now a student of social media... intellectually and experientially. I do think indirect communication is more powerful than just advertising,alone, as a long-term strategy. Advertising and indirect communication make for wonderful storytelling.

I currently live in a small town and it provides a great education in marketing/storytelling. Living in one reminds me of Seth Godin's book, All Marketer's Are Liars.

Scott Crawford said...

Nothing enhances the lore of customer service like twice-told tales of heroic, beyond the call, personal action. And no place can spread those stories faster, in real time, than Twitter, Facebook, et al.

Great way to deepen and widen customer intimacy, grow the story and the lore. Plus, karma works and don't sell that short. Your customers and your employees hear these stores. Your employees' pride increases and, next, their performance improves. It's an ecosystem.

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely correct that Social Media is a Communications Channel and not a marketing channel. The thinking that it's a Marketing Channel demonstrates limited thinking. Marketing can be contained Within the broader communication and can be used to build a longer lasting relationship.

Geoff_Livingston said...

I guess whenever we try to put the new in an old box, we have these issues. What we see are folks trying to grasp concepts of SM and execute. Eventually, we'll realize it's a smorgasbord of all of these things. And more. And then less.

Anonymous said...

I could not disagree stronger, Mack.

Social media is as much about marketing as it is about communication.

My interactivity with you on this blog via this comment -- two social media services -- is a form of communication. But if you click my name and over to my blog, that's marketing.

I can't be any clearer.

Mack Collier said...

Ari I don't think you are disagreeing with me. My POV is that effective communication efforts by a company is WONDERFUL marketing.

The point is, companies need to understand what social media is and how to use it effectively, in order to effectively communicate with their customers, via these channels.

Case in point, look at how Frank Elliason uses Twitter to provide tireless customer service to Comcast customers. IMO that is EXCELLENT marketing for Comcast, because we all see how Frank is using his ComcastCares account to reach out to his customers to try to solve their problems.

Effective communication=good marketing, IMO. I think we are on the same page here.

Charity Hisle said...

I think every channel is a marketing channel, social media or not. Every opportunity to communicate with others is an opportunity to market either yourself, your perspective, your company, your product... on and on.

How you use the channel reflects on you. Use the same rules as you would at dinner, or even in church! Be considerate of others, don't over-market yourself. That said, don't be the guy in the back snoring either, participate regularly.

Anonymous said...

The Fiskateers - 2.5 years later - continues to thrive. It has been a great lesson and joy to work with Fiskars to create this movement. And it's been amazing to watch it grow in so many different ways.

Keep in mind that part of the magic is Fiskateers connecting OFFline as well. But they find each other online via social media.

And my absolute favorite post on the message board: You know you're a Fiskateer when...

Fiskars opened themselves up to the possibilities, which I believe is the real first step.

Anonymous said...

Mack, once again you hit the nail on the head.

This rings very true right now, as we're just in the process of setting out our roadmap for the BP strategy.

It's going to be a significant mental shift from trying to 'tell' to learning to listen. Keeping your points and ideas in mind will get us there.

Thanks again, Mr Guru :)

Jill said...

I'm no marketing major, but isn't *all marketing an indirect way to make sales (as opposed to a direct way)?

Anonymous said...

Mack, sorry to be a comment hog...just have some additional thoughts.

@AriHerzog, I don't agree with your example. Social media is defined as the sharing & discussing information (basically). What if it's not done for business? Or what if Mack would never use your services? Is it still marketing? I would think not.

@DavidBurn, I have gotten more from being indirect than direct. People want to know and trust you before they even consider taking the conversation to the next step (ie do business with you). That said, it doesn't mean that using traditional, direct methods don't really depends on who you are communicating with. As well, companies want everything sooner than later...SM is a new way of thinking.

@Jill, within the traditional 4 Ps of marketing, sales falls under the Promotional P. Sales is direct promotion, where marcom (adv, PR, WOM, etc) is indirect promotion. I only want to clarify this because a lot of business folks (for ex. an old boss who was a CEO) still think that marketing falls under sales or that they are separate. Sorry, nothing personal, just a pet peeve of mine...glad you brought it up.

Jill said...

@Beth Harte Yeah, that's pretty much what I thought. Thanks for confirming!

Anonymous said...

Is the lesson don't sit behind Guy Kawasaki at church? Social media is largely communications, but sometimes the incense is burning or the organ is loud enough that you can let out some gaseous marketing.

Anonymous said...

I tag with Delicious the way some people breathe or smile...that is to say, A LOT.

And scanning tag combinations "social media" and "how to" and "business" results in NOTHING as clear, concise, and accurate as I believe this post to be. It folds in the inbound marketing concept with the ROI validation discussion and calls out "poser!" with southern charm (that'd be you).

I'm gonna tag and star and stumble and forward this like crazy. REALLY wish I'd thought of it, will begrudge you that (but only for like 5 min).

You rock, Mack. Heather

@heatherrast said...

Oh, and b/c I'm neurotic and discovered new comments added since I first opened this browser tab (yes,there's often a delay for me between opening tab and focusing on said tab), let me just say I realize I didn't exactly contribute to the conversation--I hope it's implied that I share your opinion, 'nuff said.

I really enjoy @BethHarte's passionate additions (both of them) and believe I saw some of you guys' conversation on this topic unfold on Twitter. Beth makes some distinctions in terminology that wouldn't necessarily be part of my intentional planning process. I'll suggest that IMO I might call it academic, but I don't use that in the pejorative since, but rather a level of evaluation I hadn't delved to.

Thinking "out loud" so to speak, I guess I think in more broad or general buckets like push v. pull. Some of our customer relationship development (which includes sales transactions) is facilitated via push strategies, and some via pull. Business success requires a constant balance of both.

(sorry for length!)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the lead on Fiskars' blog - excellent effort and concept. Last night I was trying to differentiate between social media marketing and social media marketing and here's what I posted,

That said, like many others before me have mentioned, loved that line on flatulence. Awesome analogy - very well worded :-)

Stefano Maggi said...

Really interesting post, Mack.

Imho, making things happen indirectly is surely a fundamental characteristic of social media. It means "pulling" the consumer / user, rather than "pushing".

Here's my new post about it

Anonymous said...

Very well explained post. The penny has dropped.


mbrewer said...


I could not agree more with the essence of your post. It reminded me of what Seth Godin said ever so long ago when he penned the thought that people want to do business with their friends and that websites, blogs, social media, etc. are ways of doing so. I mean what better way to meet and foster friendships than social mediums?
If companies and frankly individuals in the professional services keep this front and center, the skies really are the limit.
Case in point: I recently had work done on my blog and guess where I went to find the person to do it? That's right, Twitter. Why? Because @30lines reached out and gave cause for me to become a friend. When the time came, he seemed like the natural choice to take care of my need.

To close, I think it goes without saying - the church line was comedy gold.

Thanks for the great post.


N Gibson said...

Each post I read from makes me want to read more of your posts. What's funny is I actually have a blog here on INdirect marketing and how this is a new thing coming up in the industry. It's not about pumping the social channel with spam, it's about ways to build relationships as efficiently as possible so that you not only have a community of support, but an ongoing buzz about your product. The biggest problem with indirect marketing is that it's a new concept. I'm going to quote you in my blog that I write today in fact. I keep getting great gems of wisdom from your posts... keep it up man!

John Pemble said...

I use social media for many purposes and one of which is to discover new means to maintain and expand my career which directly relates to my financial needs. My current full time employment is in the media and my side projects often have a connection to this full time job. As I publish on multiple platforms and mediums I try to make sure what I put out there references my professional and accessible attributes. To that end I am always selling myself thus I’m always marketing the product “John Pemble” in some way. While I am able to use social media for more than just career oriented goals I’m aware that how I am perceived online is important to unlocking unseen opportunities that can take me in forward directions.