Why is social media so alien to many marketers? Traditional marketers look at social media as if it’s the Hydra and the $INSERTOTHERPARTY presidential candidate rolled into one. Some commonly heard questions:
1. How do I engage influencers?
2. How do I run an authentic program?
3. How can I track engagement?
and so on and so forth. It’s as if people are deathly scared to do something on social media, and default to running traditional media campaigns via social channels, essentially using social media as just another billboard.
Why does this happen, I wondered, and this post is the result.
Marketing has always been about aggregating individuals into groups that are then addressed as a homogenous whole. Social media has reversed this by disaggregating groups into individual members, and traditional marketers find it hard to cope. Tools and methods that work on masses of people simply do not scale to individuals.
Marketing has probably been going on since the first caveman recommended a particular design of club to his pal—”Swing it! See how smoothly it goes? One blow smashes in the skull”—but the rise of marketing as we know it can probably be traced back to the invention of the printing press and the increasing rate of literacy in Europe from around the 17th century onwards.
The Industrial Revolution accelerated the process with the rise of firms creating products for direct sale to the newfangled thing called a “consumer”. Firms went from selling products to the nobility with highly targeted, individualized, high touch campaigns (sound familiar? We call that Account Based Marketing now ) to selling to an amorphous mass of consumers, who were insignificant in the individual, but highly valuable in the mass.
Here’s a decent infographic from Avalaunch Media showing the evolution/history of marketing channels. (Source)
The earliest days of marketing were simply about product awareness and getting the consumer’s attention. In the US, patent medicine and soap (of all things.. but it makes sense when you think about it) drove advertising innovation. I’m citing from Mike Chaser‘s excellent post on the subject. Here’s a sample of the kinds of claims that were made, again from Mike’s post.
This is an example of grouping (marketing speak: segmentation, but I prefer the simpler term): bald(ing) men, in this case. One ad, targeted to a specific group. As the nascent art of marketing evolved into a science, audiences were sliced and diced in a million different ways, but there was always a singular purpose: to lump individuals into a group or segment with common characteristics, creating a proxy that could be treated as a singular entity, and then create a marketing campaign that would target this entity. (I’m simplifying here, market segmentation has other aspects; Wikipedia has a decent primer)
Done well, these campaigns are extremely effective; I’m not going to bore you by listing examples.
The obvious drawback, of course, is that such campaigns speak to the group, but not to any individual member of the group. When you speak to everyone, you speak to no-one, in some ways. Take the example of the patent medicine for hair growth. Yes, you may be a balding man, but you’re not THAT balding man. You may identify with some aspects of that balding man, even with most of them, but you will not be that man.
The problem is exacerbated when the group is forced. People respond best to these campaigns when the instinctively put themselves in the same groups the ad aims at; middle-aged dads, for example, or single 30-somethings. When you are targeting a population that actively resists being grouped, you have to resort to all sorts of tricks to get their attention and not turn them off. Teenagers are the canonical example, but they’re not the only ones; indeed, some might argue that the saturation of advertising is quickly driving all of us into this category.
Social Media Changes Everything
Social media marketing, however, turns all this on its head, and therein lies the rub. We have come full circle: once again, it’s all about individuals being spoken to directly, influenced directly, and incented to influence their circles of trust.
This isn’t rocket science; the only thing stoppping companies from running individually targeted campaigns was cost and the nature of broadcast media such as TV, radio, print, etc. Door-to-door visits and individualized mailers were probably the only ways to do this, and naturally, these don’t scale. In areas where the potential benefits outweighed the cost (notably political lobbying), corporations would bite the bullet and do it.
The tools we have access to now make it economically feasible to reach out to individuals directly. What we marketers sometimes forget though, is that those very same tools have also empowered individuals. A regular guy might be extremely influential when it comes to shoes, or cars, or food, or anything, based solely on his (or her) passion for that subject. Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Tumblr, et al make it trivial to broadcast our thoughts to the world, something that used to be the sole province of governments, celebrities, and large corporations.
Multi-billion dollar corporations are equal to and even less influential than J. Random Blogger in the eyes of consumers. Treat the real influencers with respect.
Therefore, it follows that the people within marketing departments who reach out to these hero influencers need to have (or build) personal credibility. You cannot piggyback off the name of your company. It’s analogous to being a student at Harvard/MIT/Oxford speaking to a grizzled superstar professor. The fact that you have been admitted to the school gives you a certain amount of cred, enough to get the professor to listen to your first few statements, but that’s it. If you don’t establish personal credibility very quickly indeed, the professor is likely to ignore you for the rest of the year. And remember, to most social influencers, your being a member of the marketing department at a major corporation is likely to be a net negative, not a positive.
First Contact is CRUCIAL
So now we come to the first question: How do I (as a marketer at X Large Co.) engage the inflencers?
Once again, this isn’t complicated. Just think about it for a second: You are talking to a person. Not to a group, or a segment, or a demographic, or psychographic. A person.
A human being, just like you. How do YOU like to be approached?
Spend some time getting to know the person. Read what they have written. Really read it, don’t just make bullet points on a nice slide for the next meeting. Read the links they post. Find out what influenced them. Note, I’m not advocating creepiness and stalking; don’t intrude into their personal, real-life presence. Use the Google, Luke. It’s really hard to be invisible on the web these days, especially if you’re an influencer.
Once you have learnt about the person—and this is the crucial next step that most companies ignore—match that knowledge with people in your organization, and select someone to manage the relationship that has at least a few things in common. Again, this is not that hard to do if you think about it. Perhaps your influencer likes alternative rock? Perhaps she reads science-fiction? Or maybe he’s a fanatical snowboarder? Or perhaps she’s into classical music… if you work at a largish company, you’re bound to have someone in your marketing team who shares some of these interests. It’s a good way to get to know your co-workers as well.. you might be surprised at what you learn.
Don’t be creepy
Don’t send an email out of the blue gushing about the fact that you both read Georgette Heyer. A polite, but personal email, stating how you got their information, why you’re interested in them, and what you propose is enough. Your research into their background should make it easy to write the email in a manner guaranteed to get their attention. (If you don’t have people who can write these emails, hire some.. and when hiring, pay attention to their cover letters. Are the cover letters well written, personalized, and professional?)
Perhaps you’re thinking that a 1:1 ratio of marketer/exec to influencer is impossible. Sure, that’s true, and you don’t have to stick to that. 1:5? 1:10? Since your pool of hero influencers isn’t likely to be very large, it should be easily possible to maintain 5-10 contacts.
Does this sound like sales? It should; the best salespeople have a deep and innate understanding of human nature, and their customers like them, they don’t just buy from then.
Authenticity is everything
Don’t try and fool people. Remember, these aren’t the unwashed masses that run out to buy the latest gizmo; these are smart, passionate, and most importantly, empowered individuals. Talk to them as equals. However, don’t hesitate to ruthlessely weed out the ones who are only in it for the money, or only for the lulz. You want people who can’t be bought, and aren’t simply there to see things burn.
Once you have your list of people, give them the two things that most influencers crave above all else: respect, and early access.
Track the evolving relationship over time. And avoid the trap that sales managers fall into: the relationship is ONLY with the sales guy, and when he leaves, he takes his contacts with him. To make sure this doesn’t happen, ensure that each influencer has at least three touch points in your team. The triad system has worked for all sorts of things for centuries, no reason why it can’t work here.
I expand on the triad here.