Your role as a marketer has changed dramatically. Sure, ads aren't going away, but you now must act on the conversations people have about your products - at least, you should be.
It's an exciting time to be a marketer; the conversations we're facilitating with customers not only help improve our marketing; they help improve the whole business. As our roles expand to impact more of the business, I see our roles as marketers as parallel to a parent, host, and prospector.
You're a Parent
Parents are committed, give guidance, and keep things in perspective. As a parent, I teach my kids, guide them in their growth, and help them navigate tough roads along the way. The "parent" role in marketing means that you give your organization perspective that you're willing to try new things, measure success, and fail fast. You show perspective on how these failures lead to success, even though you don't have all the answers. In social media, I refer to this path as the "Social Commerce Maturity Curve." As you mature, you encourage new forms of participation with consumers, while helping all areas of the organization find ways to use this information.
The path to social commerce success includes engaging consumers, then using that data throughout your business.
As you progress in participation and content usage, they begin to feed each other. More participation gives different departments new insights, products and marketing improve, and internal departments begin to champion customer feedback even more. As a "parent," you'll keep things in context, stay committed to building up on the customer voice, and guide your organization in the best ways to use this valuable information.
You're a Host
A great host creates a comfortable place to build meaningful conversations, then invites everyone to participate. While traditional marketing strives to squeeze more money out of every customer or transaction, I encourage marketers to squeeze more participation out of each interaction.
I wrote in February about the participation chain, which involves creating new ways of inviting contributors to stay engaged with your brand. For example, once a customer makes a purchase, e-mail them to write a review. When you thank them for reviewing their purchase, ask them to answer a question another shopper had.
Participation chains turn engagement into value, because once content is created, it pulls others in. This content - a review, an answer, or a story - helps other shoppers make purchase decisions, or it encourages them to leave their own opinions. This content is an asset that grows over time and it becomes a virtuous cycle of value - your site is hosting conversations that really help people make decisions, creating meaningful, multi-part dialogue.
Traditional marketing makes us plan what we're going to broadcast out, but with social marketing, you're thinking about hosting - then responding to - meaningful conversations, encouraging them to continue.
You're a Prospector
As a prospector, focus on what your whole company understands: the gold. Early social media "prospectors," much like the gold prospectors of the 1800s, set off with the best of intentions but little knowledge. If the wrong partner or location was chosen, both types of prospectors ended up with ghost towns. The history of the social Web is littered with "ghost towns" - communities or forums with few participants and little activity.
My advice when starting out with social commerce is to stay focused on the "gold" - by this, I mean the solid metrics that everyone from the sales team to the CFO can get behind: sales conversion, average order value, and number of site visitors attracted by social marketing efforts.
Everyone understands "solid" metrics.
As more of the organization sees the impact of user-generated content, continue to share it beyond your site. Put authentic customer opinions into ads, share it via social networks, and add it to store shelf tags. As sales improve both online and in stores, and as product managers use this content to improve products, consumers start to talk about these improved products, and the cycle keeps going.
Word-of-mouth can transform your brand's relationships with customers as well as your entire internal organization. When the market changes, consider how marketing should change. Accept your new roles as the parent, host, and prospector to change the way you do business.
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Sam Decker is founder and CEO of Mass Relevance, the leading enterprise social curation company. He speaks and consults on digital growth strategy, based on years of experience in technology and social markets. He has written two books on word-of-mouth marketing and is an award-winning blogger (www.deckermarketing.com). As former chief marketing officer of Bazaarvoice, the market leader in hosted social commerce applications that drive sales, Sam worked to help brands present the right user-generated content at the right time in the purchase path, bringing real value to the consumer and the business. Prior to Bazaarvoice he drove Dell's customer segmentation, their customer-centricity strategy, and led Dell's consumer website, building Dell.com into the largest consumer e-commerce site at $3.5 billion in annual sales.