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Social Media is Not Marketing…Yet

I have just returned from the Bay Area where last week I moderated a panel of senior marketers on the topic of Social Media within the complex B2B marketing mix.

The more I think through the potential for this area, the more excited I become about the contributions that Social Media will eventually make to marketing.

What is most promising is that “Social” will help to transform marketing communications into what it should be: a two-way interaction between buyer and seller. Presently, much of our marketing communications is just the opposite: a one-way push of the vendor’s voice.

But Social Media is not Marketing…Yet. Mostly, it’s a jumbled mass of dialogue with a lot of static to sort through.

Social Media will become marketing when two things happen. First it needs to contribute to the “inbound” side of marketing. Web 2.0 conversations about your company’s product and services need to be mined and gleaned so that they become valuable components of your product management decisions. The litmus test here is that your product managers start to depend on those contributions.

The second thing that needs to happen is on the “Outbound” side of marketing. The litmus test here is that Social Media needs to become a primary preference for how buyers inform their decisions. IDC research shows that buyers almost always prefer to receive information from independent third parties and from their peers. So, Social Media should really shine in this application.

There is important work ahead to make it this happen. It’s all about how to operationalize your marketing organization to reap the benefits of Social Media. “Operationalize” doesn’t make it through your spell-checker… but it is on the lips of the best marketers in tech, today. Only with operational depth will Social earn its way into the marketing mix. In our latest survey of CMO’s less than one-half said that they were making “significant” progress on this task – and that’s from an audience who tend to self-rank pretty high.

Here are three operational Best Practices that I see marketing leaders taking, right now. These leaders, by the way, are moving quickly on these. My sense is that they know that these basic operational tasks need to be completed well before the inbound and outbound marketing benefits can be realized.

1. Centralize. If you have followed the IDC CMO area research, you know that we are not great fans of heavy-handed corporate marketing. But in this case we are pressing hard for this. The issue is that (Congratulations, by the way) everyone in your company is now in marketing! Well-meaning engineers are merrily blogging about a new technical advance. Your sales reps are tweeting about a local seminar that they are setting up. The problem is that we are creating the perfect environment for a major breach of data. A privacy issue will be violated; an important confidentiality will be disclosed. When this happens, the blame I think is going to wind its way back to the marketing department, regardless of marketing’s role in the breach. So, corporate marketing needs to have the basics of governance and policy in place.

The second opportunity for centralization is for shared service creation. One of my clients has five major development groups and the lead developer in each group took a separate initiative to construct a community site for the development community and their most engaged customers. Couldn’t the deployment of a master community site with five sub-divisions have saved money? Yes. And wouldn’t it be easier to then deploy a single mining tool across those sub-divisions? Yes.

2. Train. I don’t think that there is a lot of good external “courseware” for how to conduct Social Media Marketing. But wait! Remember that everyone in your company is now in marketing?? I would bet that for every 100 people who are involved in Social conversations, that you have two or three real sharp-shooters. Find those two or three, and have them train the rest.

3. Measure. Poor metrics can give good marketing activities a bad name. One of the basic faults in metrics development is measuring activities and not results. Measuring the number of Tweets or enumerating the cast of your Followers are stark examples of these errors. Measure how many buying decisions you influenced. Measure how many customer service issues you identified and passed on to the right area for resolution. It seems basic but I am surprised at how many marketers still measure just the volume, the activities. Why? Because it’s easy. You have to be willing and able to do the harder work.

“Operationalize” for Social Media. An important initiative for 2010.

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