Seeing the Trees in the Social Media Forest

DappledWith each passing day there are more and more case studies, examples and justifications for brands to use social media. There are best practices emerging (or easily found with a Google search), thousands of “how to” blog posts explaining every aspect of social media (or perhaps the same aspect repeated 1000 times) and agencies devoted to social media as their core competency.

But it seems to me that we are beginning to swim (or is it drown?) in data. Because our social media interactions are digital, we can measure plenty of things – the time you spend on our sites, the things you click on, where you have come from, where you are going to, how much you spend, what you liked, rated and searched for and so on. And if you happen to have created a social network profile then we know even more about you – age, work history, relationships, preferences for products, brands, music, movies and so on.

But I have to ask – in amongst all this data, are we missing the trees for the forest?

You see, as marketers and as business people, we have been conditioned to think about after-the-fact aggregated data. We are used to thinking about what people DID based on certain conditions. This then allows us to cut-and-dice, segment and fine tune our customer base. It allows us to build out personas that make sense within the context of OUR BUSINESSES.

This works fine in a model where the direction of business communication is one way. It’s perfect in a world of broadcast – for in a broadcast world we are only interested in the forests (there being far too many trees to deal with). However, in a world where communication is polyphonic – where the authority of the message depends less on how shrill you are or how much air time you can buy – and relies instead on the trusted flow of recommendations from individual to individual, then a strategy which allows you to distinguish a hardwood from plantation pine is essential.

What this requires is for us to stop thinking about ROI.

It means turning our attention away from the R – the returns that come to us or our businesses – focusing instead on the I – what it is we are investing in.

By understanding who our consumers are, what our brand advocates look like, what they do (apart from loving our brands – yeah right!), where they play and so on, we can identify opportunities to engage with them. We need to invest in the RIGHT relationships – those that lead towards returns (monetary and non-monetary). We need to remember that branding is a marathon – that it all takes time – but we also need to work smarter. We need to take our excellent marketing processes and understanding and apply it in a way that enhances the way that we view our audiences. We need to use our knowledge of the forests to make sense of the trees, and only then will we begin to realise not only that social media makes sense for our businesses, but that “social” is the business.