Monday, April 21, 2014

1 huge way business clients tick off social media pros! >:(

I have something to say.

There is something that bugs me to no end when a client requests me to run a social media campaign.

“What’s your existing target audience, both online and off?” I first ask. This is the foundation.

Sheepish glances around. 

“We don’t know / we’re not sure / we never thought of it / can you do that for us.”

How can you not know the people you say you want to reach? 

“We just want to do something online and get people to like our business. We haven't really thought of marketing so much, we're letting it work itself out.”

Oh, heck no! They lost me at that last sentence.

Unless I'm doing pro-bono work, in this situation I usually try to provide some help for the duration of the meeting and eventually bow out. Let me explain.

A business without an understanding of its own broader marketing situation and goals is usually a headache and half to deal with. If it is difficult to convince a confused business what its current audience is, convincing it of who the projected audience should be can be is excruciating. I find that being asked for help that a client should know is generally a waste of time.

It’s one thing to not have a strategy or know how to execute. It’s a completely different thing when clients are either paralyzed or don't have an eager desire to narrow their sights on a viable target market. 

That’s not even something as focused as “social media marketing”. That is just plain old marketing. If a person cannot answer either what is the target audience, online and off, they have bigger problems. Social media marketing just happens to be a part of marketing, if even marketing is not given importance than social media teams are going to be limited.

Finding gaps in social is our job, but we do it far better with support.
Marketing is a very simple concept. Let me boil down my studying at Northwestern to explain it for a second: Where is there a gap in the consumer market that others have not found? Ok, now that we found the gap, what are we going to it with to get customers. 

This is what marketing is all about. And it is so very important. You don't need to go to Northwestern to learn and dominate with this concept, just discipline and constant learning.

Social media just does marketing in a way that touches people and launches a two-way stream of communication, hopefully steering it to stay under the banner of the business’ marketing goals.

Marketing goes hand in hand with social media. Social media marketing and broader marketing augment each other, they do not fully replace one another.

The importance of marketing applies to social media in general as well, whether targeting consumers or people in the press (this is social media PR).

I’ve heard business people claim that social media marketing isn’t important, yet they’re some of the first people who want to show that they’re doing it. When they show up at first meetings you might be surprised by how little they they know about social media, and they act surprised that the social team would want information about marketing.

I might be wrong here, but I cannot understand why clients who don't know enough about their business, or at least remember at meetings, care about social. Perhaps they're doing it out of a vague sense that social media is the cool thing to do and will make them money. Unfortunately it does not work that way. Social media marketers themselves do not make such claims.

Because social media marketing is a form of communications, that means it’s less about revenue than it is about brand building and raising consumer sentiment, even though it falls under communications. The goal is to encourage users to go out and convince others that the product is good. That’s where the company makes its money. 

Social media: improving consumer sentiment with happy dogs.
Social media marketers still need to know who who they’re talking to before they can convince consumers that the business is worth talking about to their friends. Of course there is listening software and analytics, which social media marketers can use to derive valuable insights, but the business needs to do its own homework and take an active stance in its social media progress first and foremost.

Which brings us back to the original point: how can a business use social media marketing without knowing who wants your products/services or having a flexible, realistic and, paradoxically, committed idea about what it wants?

Answer: it can’t.

Social media marketers can look for trends and present them back to the business, but they cannot decide for the business what it should stand for. That is at best a mutual decision, not one that can be foisted upon social media marketers. 

Mutual, as in, business clients should not cling to enforcing offline business ideas if the data that the social team brings back shows gaps in their online market analysis that could be filled. For example, if you’re targeting suburban audiences and the social team thinks that targeting urban audiences is possible, then business owners should consider doing so, not just shoot it down because "that's not us". The social team is part of the broader marketing effort, not either extreme of having all marketing pressure on its shoulders or not having any marketing role whatsoever. 

Relationships work best when there are degrees of collaboration, and areas where there is a clear delineation of power, not one or the other. Collaboration is in the business' favor, so long as social team also understand that they are being trusted and clients ultimately have the final say. Everyone, including clients, needs to be ready at meetings, not just the social team.

When the social media team find market gaps that are potentially lucrative, what should business owners do? They have a choice. They can stick with an old business plan or jump into something new. All I'm saying is that they should make that choice based upon an understanding of who their business naturally reaches, both online and off, and dumping all responsibility on social professionals is not only an unwise decision, but a bad one.

If you’re not used to giving your social media teams clear information about your business and who you want targeted, you might want to think over whether you’re sending your social media team into a gun fight to represent you with just a switchblade.


  1. this happens all the time. Social media is just a shiny object people want to say they are using. It doesn't seem to matter if its the right vehicle, channel or message. And they don't seem to care about audience - targeting or even if there is one. I think they believe its free so just do it. Ironically, they feel that by using it they are in with the times but in reality they're taking several steps back because they aren't using it strategically and therefore not being effective. Sad really.

    1. Thanks for the great comment, Anon. I think you're on to something when people think social media is free and therefore not worth thinking over carefully. Certainly anyone can set up an account on one or several social accounts and not pay a penny. However, they shouldn't actually think that social media is free because good social media takes a lot of time to do well, and time is even more valuable than money. On the marketing side, my feeling is that people can get money back but they can never get time back. It's bad enough if someone wastes my money but if they waste my time too then I'm gone.

  2. Sounds pretty straight forward and is applicable to any sort of marketing, without knowing the goals and objectives of the general business, including but not limited to who the business serves, its pointless to use a communication / relationship platform like social media. We leverage social media to generate buzz about the hair industry and brand ourselves, but that does not mean we aren't able to identify a consumer when they appear. Otherwise it just wouldn't be much of a business.

  3. Hi NewTress Virgin Hair. Apologies for not responding sooner, but I was busy with projects and traveling. I do try to respond to everyone though, and I appreciate the comment.

    Yes, the rules of marketing are straight forward and have a lot to do with social media. Unfortunately not everyone recognizes that about social.

    I would love to hear more about your business and how you use social media to generate buzz. I would like to showcase more articles highlighting readers' ideas. I usually get about 1,500 readers per article, many of these people executives and business people. If you're interested please contact me at the email address listed on my LinkedIn profile mentioned in this blog's header. Cheers!

  4. Aatif, it is very unfortunate when people have not narrowed their targeted audience. However many businesses are started and run by people with a good idea--but no idea about sales and marketing. Further, to people over the age of 35, social media and all of the shifting paradigms are a frightening mystery. This should present an opportunity (with billable hours) for you ala Y2K. The scientist, inventor, doctor, lawyer and indian chief are focused on what they know--and the smart ones hire people who can do the things they cannot. I can grasp your frustration, but if you are talking to customers who can afford to pay you, it is rather arrogant to not have an offering (perhaps a strategic partner, if you can't or don't have time) and just walk away from the deal. It completely shuts your door to future opportunities, and reputation--and opens the door for your competitors.

    1. Tom, thanks for the comment and feedback. I think you and I are approaching this issue very differently on the surface, but that we probably would agree if we had a chance to discuss further.

      If you go to any type of business and expect it to do something for you but without being clear about your needs, it is expected that the service provider will turn you away. If you go to FedEx and ask them to overnight a package to a destination that they don't have, they will do exactly the same thing I do -- try to provide some cursory direction so that the customer can get his or her act together to make use of the services, but ultimately not do business with the individual. It's not just a matter of frustration, but being asked to do work that the business owner should frankly know off the top of their head when they walk in the door, or at least have written down on a napkin, comes across as arrogant to people like me who are just asked to wave a wand and make magic happen.

      Regarding the types of people in different professions looking for an expert to help them at what they don't know, I completely agree with that. If they didn't need help they wouldn't be knocking on the door. But for them to put ALL of the burden on the marketer is not only wrong, but very unfair. The person who walks in from one of those fields may not be a formal marketer, but they should be able to tell what kind of patients they work with if they are a doctor, what kind of people want their products if they are an inventor, what kind of clients come asking the lawyer for help and the Native American chief's allies in the battle to get back ancestral land. They HAVE to know this when they walk in. If they do not, we're done, there is no way they will know what to do online because online is much more fluid. If they come in and just want the social media marketer to do all the work in social, nothing is going to come of it except for wasted time.

      I know some people would say, why not just run up those hours and make a lot of money? I don't think that way. I have a limited amount of time in my life, and if I can use it on projects that have a chance and are sustainable then that is better. This approach has gotten me a better reputation actually because it's clear that I am not taking advantage of customers, which is a dangerous complaint for a service provider to be labeled as.

      Thanks again for the comment, I understand how, as you said, some of these ideas are scary to different people, but that's what this blog is for. Hopefully I can do a better job explaining my thoughts next time! :)

    2. Thanks Aatif! You explained that very well!

      Customers are frustrating at times--to the point that as the service provider, we sometimes fire them. Wearing my salesman's hat, one always wants to say "we can do that!" But certainly as a point of negotiation, it is important to be able to say "No."

      Social media is a great mystery to many--I am a constant student and try to apply the best of what I know to it for my company and clients. But you are right when you say that a business owner should have a general idea of who he wants to buy his wares.

      Thanks for the kind reply.

      Noticed you worked for Team Detroit. Years ago I did some project work at Campbell and Co. on what was SVO.

    3. Tom, you're kind, we're all learning together. Social media seems to change so quickly that we almost have to sleep with one eye open.

      All American automotive communications careers seem to pass through Detroit or be connected in someway to someone who has gone this way. Are you referring to PCG Campbell or Lowe Campbell Ewald? What kind of changes have you seen over the years in how automotive communications has changed? Do you think social media has made a significant impact on marcomm, and if so is it better off or worse?

      Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas, I'm sure you have a better understanding of how the industry's long term arc has developed.