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Why the new era of social media strategists must be more like doctors

31 July 2010 | social-media | 1 Comment Why the new era of social media strategists must be more like doctors

Because social networks are no longer in beta and those throwing theory around about whether or not it is worthwhile (or if it even works) are stuck in 2007, we should pause to review what social media can do for a company. Done properly, social media can get your message out, can serve as a customer service channel, can increase sales and can supplement most of your existing traditional marketing (and in some cases, replace some of it in the budget).

Social media can form public opinion about your company whether your company is present or not. Think about when you get together with your friends… if you’ve just had a horrible burger, you’re going to blurt out that they should never go to that burger joint, right? You want to protect your friends from that terrible experience. That very behavior is a standard human behavior that transfers into social networking behavior. Social networks are not like chat rooms of yesterday where there were shields of anonymity because most people communicate online with their real identity, in most cases Facebook, Twitter or their blog.

Social media is a breeding ground for groupthink, and we’ve spent many years working with companies on how to harness that groupthink because it’s malleable and can be impacted by your own input because each part of the group has a voice and influences others. In groupthink, there are social norms and when one person in a group steps out of that norm (let’s say in your group of friends that one of your friends moves out to the suburbs after decades of your group living downtown), each group member individually can’t help but to evaluate their living situation in comparison to the person who stepped out of the norm. A decision has to be made as to whether or not that person that stepped out is on the fringe or if they are the new norm. This is how groupthink is malleable.

Groupthink has been positive so far, but…

While groupthink has so far been seen as mostly a positive with social media, it can also be a negative aspect and one that the majority of companies are currently not equipped to handle, be it their staff or their very culture. Most of the negative impacts companies see with social networking is done by their staff members or done themselves, for example:

In this scenario above (which is extremely common), a restaurant owner is responding emotionally to a complaint rather than listening to the core of the consumer’s problem and being sensitive to it and seeking to make a fan out of the complainer by apologizing and offering some recourse for the consumer (a free desert? a simple apology? drinks with the owner? anything!).

Okay, but I knew all that already…

So nothing I’ve said so far is new. This is all MarCom (marketing+communications) 101 and extends into print media, phone service, point of sale service, television media and the like. You have to consider all of these things first however, before I move on to what’s next…

Okay, did you consider them? Great. Now, think about this- imagine if instead of the owner answering above, one of his competitors answered for him, “yeah, I like 333 but we decided to open our own restaurant up the street because of similar experiences there. We deserved better and so do you, come visit to compare and while you’re here, drinks are on me!”

That’s pretty blatant, but what if the owner of 333’s main competitor asked their buddy to do something similar, “yeah 333 has terrible service and they treat everyone like crap. There were rodent droppings in my soup, I’m never going back.”

This isn’t like when you told your friends not to eat at that burger joint, no, social media objections are more like your standing in front of that burger joint for eternity with a protest sign. It doesn’t go away and it has to be dealt with.

The new threat in social networking

It’s not being done in mass, but imagine if companies began manipulating other companies’ reputations… in their very own Facebook back yard? It’s not hard to sow the seeds of discontent and it doesn’t have to be as blatant as what we’ve mentioned above. It can be simple and subtle yet effective.

The potential for carefully planted seeds of discontent to blossom into bushes, small trees, then soaring oaks demands a strategy (and we’re not talking about hiring an intern to manage your Facebook page). The fantastic benefits of social networks for your business that go on even when you’re not aware they exist, along with the possible new threats of manipulation by competitors demand a new set of expertise in the industry that can only be found by the experienced.

This very reason is why the high school intern cannot manage a social media channel, even if only limited to Facebook. This very reason is why someone with a marketing or communications background is best suited for the job. This new set of expertise is built on a current understanding of crisis management and brand messaging and the role looks more like a surgeon than a pharmacist.

A social median must be able to diagnose where the seeds of discontent were planted and know how to treat that… without the precise diagnosis, your company may be taking Aspirin when it really needs to be on a regiment of blood pressure drugs, clotting meds, anxiety pills and others that will prevent a heart attack rather than simply put a band aid on it after the fact.

The new era of social media strategists are different

The new social media strategist knows more than how to put together a flashy campaign that will resonate with your target demographic and lead to an increase in sales, no, the new strategist knows precisely how to remain vigilantly sensitive to the tone and trend of every single interaction regarding your company as well as the overall trends of interactions. These interactions are messages about you on Twitter, messages to you on Facebook, blog articles about your product’s performance, or comments on your own blog in opposition.

Social media is not just a sales tool, it is as real and human as a person and is just as complicated. Responses from your social media strategist must be balanced between the consumer’s needs and your culture and that balance is hard to find in an employee because most “social media experts” have a background in telemarketing, waitressing or retail sales and are being hired because they have a few hundred friends on Twitter (what a shame).

The new competitive advantage

The competitive advantage for companies is hiring the right talent. Some choose to hire a consulting firm to develop the strategy and hire a full time staff (or multiple staffers) to execute the digital strategy (which we recommend because someone in house that is devoted to you will perform better and understand your culture the best). Other companies choose to hire a third party consulting firm to execute their social media strategy. Either way, the competitive advantage goes to the company that understands not only the unparalleled advantages of social media but the potential threats that must be treated diagnostically like a doctor rather than retroactively like a band aid.

Companies must listen, be vigilantly sensitive and aim to go above and beyond to satisfy all consumers whether they are the happy consumers or the angry consumers. We predict that most companies will remain in the mind set that social media is questionable and may or may not work, but the few that understand that it is no longer a question of “if” but “how” will meet their goals beyond their expectations.

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1 Comment for this entry

  • Christopher Garcia
    August 1st, 2010 on 11:09 am

    Groupthink is malleable because of the diversity provided by critical and creative thinkers. it was VERY clear in the mid to late 90’s that Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, quickly became the social networking emerging “groupthink” platform that allowed people to connect and join “chat rooms”. Enter 2001 and the need for Companies to start reviewing, or even policing if you will, their own networks, as bandwidth was at an all time high in regards to cost.

    At my previous (and final) Corporate career, it was quickly realized the potential for HUGE savings from an IT standpoint to let employees join chat rooms and discuss topics regarding everything from job performance to new product reviews. The next wave of this evolution was a full internal site devoted to Employees and their own ideas complete with a ranking system for members to say “yeah this idea kicks ass” or “no this is blaaah.” or “show me more research.” Company asking it’s employees to contribute intellectual property and it is now happening on an hourly basis for this global entity every single day!

    Just two years later an ENTIRE department was created at the same company to go and peruse the internet based on keywords to mine for news articles, forum posts, social media news feeds about the company, to see just what people were saying about us. It was a damage control AND prevention strategy that has had quite impressive results and yes, with the ability to market, poll, advertise, support, and interact with fans, and customers alike, improving business practices and customer support was key.”Groupthink” is by far one of the greatest human metamorphosis to occur in some time. Ideas that could rid the world of so many hardships just might get easier and easier to come up with.

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