Social Media is Not Sexy

Be afraid!While Web 2.0 and social media tools provide great opportunities for businesses from a branding and marketing point of view, there are also a raft of other opportunities which are easily overlooked. The very same benefits that can be achieved through your social media efforts can also be applied across your enterprise – from employees to partners, vendors and even shareholders. Sounds great, right?

But let me tell you a little secret. This sort of social media (and almost every aspect of social media) is just not sexy. It doesn’t have the glitz and glamour or even the spotlights of advertising; and there’s not the breathtaking scale of large format outdoor advertising. But if you can get past this, you will find that your social media efforts really will transform your business.

But where do you start?

I always start with people and with their behaviour. What sort of relationship does you business have with them? The thing about Web 2.0 or social media is that it is participatory – and many, if not most, businesses and brands base their stakeholder relationships around transactions. In fact, we have built our entire businesses around this – just look at the success of that once new-fangled concept of “ebusiness” or “ecommerce” – and now think about whether you would ever open a bank account that didn’t have an online banking option. Even my mother uses online banking. To me, that makes it ubiquitous. It makes it mainstream.

From a business perspective, the transactional relationship works. You know what you want out of the relationship (ie money) and it is easy to measure (volume). But to enable a transactional relationship with a large audience requires technology – and with that comes complexity, long timeframes for implementation and a whole lot of work on your internal business processes. And because of the scale, complexity and cost, it comes from the top down – it is driven by your business executives.

Web 2.0, on the other hand, is simple to implement. Sometimes you can get extensive functionality for little or no up-front cost – you can use open source software, free or cheap web hosting or you can choose a hosted (software as a service) model. Once you decide to go down this path, you can implement your ideas very quickly. Within minutes you can have a blog setup and working, a wiki ready for team collaboration and Google Analytics ready to measure your traffic, goals and conversion rates. And did I mention that ANYONE can make this happen. All you need is a web connection. From the CEO right down the new intern, anyone in your business has access to the tools that can transform the relationships that you have with your stakeholders. That’s right – it is bottom-up transformation.ThreeLeversSMsuccess

But there is a problem. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. And just because it’s available, doesn’t mean it will be ADOPTED. The challenge for brands and businesses who want to shift the needle on their business relationships is to move from transaction to participation – to create an engagement layer that bridges the transactional parts of the business with the newly emergent participatory elements.

Those clever folks over at McKinsey’s have published Six Ways to Make Web 2.0 Work (registration is free) which points out some of the challenges (and approaches) which can can use. But for my money, it is that middle layer of Engagement that builds success. It is the messy, unsexy aspect of business (and marketing):

  • Communications: Keeping your stakeholders up-to-date with improvements, road blocks, outcomes and risks is an essential element. This can also flow over to other aspects of marketing/advertising.
  • Change management: There is always a pre-existing way of “getting things done”. Helping people adopt new behaviours and new technologies means managing and measuring that change.
  • Framework establishment: Many of your stakeholders will have had some exposure to Web 2.0 tools in their personal lives. You will need to provide frameworks which provide the context within which they can most effectively use them at work.
  • Informal leadership: Nothing says “move ahead” like the CEO and leadership team informally adopting the Web 2.0 tools.

But while this is unsexy – with the right strategy, it actually delivers on the promise of Web 2.0. And that is good news for businesses and for brands. Hands up for some unsexy marketing?

14 thoughts on “Social Media is Not Sexy

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Im just a little worried because marketers don’t seems to like the unsexy job. So many are trying to avoid Social Media at any costs. Or trying to be Social but without truth.
    Is this a real job for marketers? Maybe other people could be more unsexy but do a better job.

  2. While people may have different views still good things should always be appreciated. Yours is a nice blog. Liked it!!!

  3. Spot on. I think the realisation that there is a huge ‘unsexy’ component will slowly but surely sink in. The fact that companies like IBM, CISCO have made considerable headway and have the results to show for it is making it somewhat easier to shake-off the inertia.
    I like the ZeusJones comment.

  4. Great post Gavin. Your point is well taken. And, in the end, these “unsexy” tools are simply that – tools. Developing an overarching strategy that achieves business goals is key…and then puting them into practice throughout the organization.

  5. Thanks Ricardo … I think that marketing has just picked up on social media early, but there is business value in a range of other places. Putting the tools into people’s hands will change the way that we think of social media – it will become less about being “social” and more about “getting results” in a social framework.

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  7. Gavin:
    I couldn’t disagree more. Having done advertising, in the limelight, Superbowl ads, dotcom launches, celebrity endorsments, etc. I have to say that nothing is as sexy as social media. 1. There is foreplay, you get to gently touch your contacts and community before anything real happens. 2. There is group action. Often SM doesn’t happen only between a twosome but among a highly stimulated group. 3. It takes place in public, others can usually see what you’re up to and you, too can watch others. 4. The relationships often end up being real, genuine and long lasting. And unless you’re into one night stands, those are the sexiest kind of relationships you can have. 🙂

  8. Hi Gavin,
    Thanks for the post. It so true how easy it can be for businesses to embed web 2.0 tools into their marketing strategies. Slowly less-forward thinking businesses are catching on and looking to things like Twitter to market their brand to large audiences. I look forward to reading more of your posts. I’m a uni student studying E2.0 and have just started blogging. Let me know what you think.
    Ps. McKinsey are such a great source of information.

  9. Thanks, Edward. I completely agree – social media is sexy when it comes to marketing. It’s just that marketing is just a small part of the potential opportunity for a business. Now, after that comment, I think I need a cold shower 😉

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