Social Media is still in its infancy as a phenomena. It will grow, change, morph, stunt, twist and mutate but it probably won’t overdevelop its potential until the world our grandchildren will grow up in finds some other way to cross-communicate that serves the dynamic that Social Media feeds in an even better way.
What’s cross-communication? By cross-communication I mean the ability to get others to communicate to each other. Any writer or marketing guru can communicate directly—art, media, fiction, advertising, it’s all communication on a channel from the sponsoring entity to the masses. Radio, television, newspapers, even the first generation of websites were all about putting a message there and getting people to pay attention to it. That style of communication has been happening for centuries and will likely continue happening from here on out.
Getting the masses to talk back is an art in itself. It reverses the flow of communication and allows the sponsoring entity to understand the thoughts of the people—it begins in sociology, specializes in Cultural Anthropology, monetizes itself in Market Research and politicizes itself in a principle called Democracy. We have had at least a modicum of this type of communication flow for several hundred years now. What Social Media does that is so unique is to create a venue for the masses to talk to each other, often in a completely uncontrolled and seemingly anarchistic environment. Because this is the purest form of social media, it’s important for us as business and marketing people to understand how it works. It captured the very strongest principle of marketing and made an industry out of it. The ripples and repercussions of this sea change in the art and science of communication are just beginning to be felt and will continue to reverberate for the foreseeable future. It is this simple yet monumental principle:
The most important thing in marketing is NOT what you say about yourself—it’s what other people say about you. The public has become so overrun with and soured against marketing messages, they really don’t trust conventional marketers any more; they DO trust their friends, their peers and their families. That’s why marketing has to be at the forefront of the Social Media phenomenon. It starts the relationship between customer and seller as a FRIENDSHIP, then graduates it to a customer status. There is no more powerful marketing than that, and no easier sale than a prospect that has been referred to you by a friend.
Social Media has created an elegant, affordable and, most importantly, a startlingly FAST way to create “word of mouth”. This is and has always been the Holy Grail of Marketing. It’s what marketing and PR people have referred to for years as “buzz” but they had only rudimentary tools to create it, virtually no way to measure it and very limited means of controlling it. Buzz campaigns run the old-school way were slow, difficult to monitor and very expensive to the entities that sponsored them. Their real value was constantly questioned and they had to be run on a very short leash in order to provide ANY measurable ROI (return on investment) at all. Today a single video clip run on YouTube and randomly reposted on Facebook and other social sites, can “go viral” and gather millions of impressions within days, sometimes within hours. Now THAT is marketing power, and it’s the kind of “word of mouth” that can create a tsunami of traffic to a website or have a line of people waiting outside your door when you open the next morning. Such things are happening, and though they are rare today, they are happening more and more. As social media grows it will become commonplace. As businesspeople we have to ask ourselves WHY this happens and what we can do with it.
First, use your powers for good, never for evil. Under-promise and over-deliver. Manage their expectations and exceed them. Never lie or mislead in Social Media—because it’s online, a certain amount of fudging is sometimes VERY tempting, but remember that your skeletons will walk from their closets faster than a zombie attack in a George Romero film and when you have hundreds of former “friends” criticizing and berating you online for making false claims or misleading statements, you really don’t want to be around when the zombies attack.
The principles apply offline too. The principles of Social Media can easily be applied to the offline world as well as cyberspace (how long has it been since I used THAT overworked buzzword?). The same stuff that makes you popular online will help you offline as well. Be unique, interesting and provide real benefit to the people you contact. Present yourself as an expert in your field and provide a way to prove it. Don’t expect monetary compensation for EVERY little thing you do for them (don't give away the farm, either—there has to be a limit to the freebies, and the freebie/paid line should be clearly demarcated.) Overall, treat your customers like your friends and you can’t lose—be it online or off.