Surfing Social Media

surfing_social_mediaBack when Zuckerberg was a but a tween and Twitter was yet a twinkle in anyone’s eye, the customer of a multivariate testing SaaS vendor ran an interesting promotional test: 20% off any purchase against buy one refrigerator and get another free. To everyone’s surprise, refrigerators flew out the door. Turns out, the Joneses found out about the deal and told the Smiths who came in on it with them. Each family went home with a half price fridge.

What a testament to the power of testing, we all said. Who knew you could move such a large item with such a promotion? What we all thought we learned was that you never know what you don’t know. And you’ll never know unless you test.

What we didn’t talk about was what this test revealed about our audience: that it is networked and collaborative. Fast forward a few years to the rise of Facebook and Twitter and the social web is the biggest shiny object to hit marketing since TV. Yet social media marketing ROI remains unproven for many.

What the testing anecdote above reveals and what’s important to note about social media is that it has a life of it’s own, whether marketers like it or not. Smart social marketing is the deft leveraging what is already there. Like surfing. Navigating social media works best when marketers start returning to the basics: Find an unmet need and fill it. Social media marketing is observant, responsive and adaptive more than it is engaging and impressive. The success of your social media strategy will be measured by how useful your audience declares it to be.

(Marketers? Useful?)

As marketers scramble to unravel the knot of social media, their frustration mounts each time they apply old marketing expectations to the new consumer organism. (Old: Build market share. New: Build relationships.) Many marketers hate the whole idea of social media, as noted by Matt Jones in his Why I Hate Social Media for AdAge.

Not only must marketing expectations adapt to the social marketplace, but the entire business model must also. The last 100 years have rewarded the quest for scale (Ford, Tide, Clorox). But like a wave folding over on itself, that scale has turned into commoditization, razor thin margins and enslavement to the retailer. Walgreen’s distributes 60% of all the Tide in the US. Retail owns the relationship with the Tide customer, not P&G. Not as great a business it was in say, 1962.

Letting go of old marketing expectations and embracing the social marketplace is not only smart marketing, it’s smart business. Most are convinced that the history writers will credit mostly lack of adaptability to the extinction of the great 20th century behemoth brands.

It’s not a stretch to see the potential folly in, “Who cares what it is? Just dive in and we’ll all figure it out later.” But this is the early adopter’s chief maxim. And if marketer’s return to their core purpose of finding unmet needs and filling them, they too will find themselves again at the forefront of adaptability.

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