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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Social Media and Traditional Marketing, Part 1

I was recently asked, by a marketing educator, "how a marketer reaches and manages the markets involved with the Twitters and Face Books of the world."

Reaching is one thing, managing quite another. The question itself reveals a much larger question: how does traditional marketing adapt to the new reality of social media?

The first thing the traditional marketer needs to do is give up the idea of control. We can't control social media or the use to which they are put. We can manage our social media efforts, but we can't manage the media themselves.

We have to be very careful about overt commercial use of social media (see the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, 4.2).

Social media have changed marketing radically, but the change is primarily to remove the marketer from direct manipulation of the marketing message and the consumer. Social media can be a great commercial benefit, but you need to let your prospects and customers do the talking.

Marketers have to be aware of the power of social media conversations. They need to monitor these conversations and respond to them in their own publications -- their websites and blogs. They can use other social media to link to their websites and blogs, but they should be careful about engaging directly using social networks.

The one constant in Internet and social media marketing is information. People, regardless of culture, use the Internet and social media to find information that is of value to them. The marketer reaches prospects and customer by providing that information -- by making it easily accessible.

The other aspect of social media that is important, and which marketers have to been keenly aware of, is the power of narrative. They do not just contain information: they structure it within a narrative.

The well documented fact is that people usually believe anecdotal evidence over hard, even overwhelming, empirical evidence. It's not enough that marketers present the facts (though they must definitely do that in the age of social media). They must present the facts in a convincing narrative. Information without narrative is merely data, and data convinces no one. Social media participants can pick up a narrative and broadcast it, or they can formulate their own narrative and broadcast it. Which would you prefer they do?

The only way to manage the reputations of companies, products and services (and by extension to increase sales of those products and services, and improve profitable revenue and the value of the company) is to combine authenticity, information and narrative to present a compelling case.

I told the educator that I believed social media, as part of an integrated marketing communications strategy, have an important role to play, mostly because they serve to keep marketers honest.

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