Making Social Media Work in 2008

Heading into 2008, we’re all looking for a leg up on the competition. As marketers, we’re a competitive breed and love to win.

Yet the task seems to be getting harder as consumer-generated content increasingly competes for viewer share. For sure, the jobs of CMOs and marketing directors are getting more complex.

Where we used to manage a handful of channels to reach a large, well-defined audience, we’re now responsible for reaching finely-sliced niches or even individual — and influential — consumers. The good news: the current shifts spell opportunity for those smart enough to dig in, do the work, and involve partners and customers in their marketing efforts.

Still looking for that leg up? What if you had five? What if all of those legs worked together, nimbly and efficiently?

Better yet, what if you had a dozen legs? What if they could be reconfigured on-the-fly by the people you’re trying to reach?

Robert Scoble thinks you have exactly this. He introduced his social-media starfish in 2007: it’s a model that makes as much sense for marketers as social Web participants. Simply, this model defines an integrated approach to social media from the perspective of a consumer who’ll undergo a conversion as a result of connected social experiences.

That conversion might be a purchase, lifestyle decision, or a lever pulled in an election. However it plays out, it’s still a marketing conversion.

Whether converting a tire kicker into new car owner or a satisfied customer to brand evangelist, a marketer’s job is in a large part directed toward moving people along a path. Think about the purchase funnel: it’s a conversion process.

The consideration cycle, itself a conversion process, defines word-of-mouth’s role in the context of social media as a supporting element that drives the purchase process. Becoming a brand evangelist is also a process: it begins with trial, moves through satisfaction and the recognition of shared values — my finding that your brand stands for what I believe — and builds into a passion for sharing one’s experience with a product, service, or the brand itself.

Scoble’s starfish concept tackles social Web’s complexity from a marketing perspective. It builds on concepts of integration we’re already familiar with. You can watch and listen to Scoble as he explains his model on Kyte, a service that makes up part of what’s collectively called social media.

As an extension of integration practices, your role as a marketer is a conductor, something that applies equally to agencies and brands. The social Web is made up of numerous elements that interact in specific ways in specific situations.

The effectiveness of a blog varies depending on the target, just as the effectiveness of that same blog varies depending on how it’s linked to other forms of social media. What all of this adds up to is, in a word, complexity. Laura Ramos, a VP at consultancy Forrester, raises the central question we’re all dealing with: given so many possible channels, how do we get it all done?

You’re in luck. There’s a growing army of experts who can help you. The number of marketing consultants has swelled by over 50,000 from 2000 to 2008, according to Ad Age’s 2008 annual jobs recap.

The annual guide examines employment changes in all segments including those at ad agencies, media buyers, public relations, and direct marketing. Jobs in these other categories dropped by more than 50,000 during the same time period.

Dan Pink predicted such a workforce shift in “Free Agent Nation.” Written in 2001, Dan described the workforce change from traditional large firm/corporate employment to small businesses and independent owners.

A lot of these new consultants are people who left traditional firm employment in favor of independent employment, largely out of a desire to focus on specific forms of emerging media of interest to them. Increasingly, these social channels are of interest to marketers they’d worked with previously.

There are agencies, design firms, and media buyers with expertise in social media. However, if there’s a specific skill or service your firm needs, don’t hestitate to look outside: that skill exists, and it’s available. One of the more successful agency strategies for dealing with the kind of shift we’re experiencing involves the development of an internal strategic team that taps external partner networks for the actual execution.

The challenge is to build a partner — not a vendor — network. As a brand marketer, tap these consultants while you guide your media mix.

With a strong partner network, and the holistic view of social media integration that Scoble speaks to in his starfish model, it’s actually quite easy to put the social Web to work.

The rise in consultants and the rise in social media’s use by your potential customers to evaluate you are actually related. The growth in marketing consultants suggests a workplace shift that parallels the decentralization of media and the rise of the social Web.

Underlying both of these is the attraction of self-direction and the pursuit of collective knowledge. Simply, the social Web enables good decisions through collective knowledge. The partner network that you build — be it by way of direct links or through Linked In, Ad Gabber, and others — is a key element in your social media strategy: it pulls together more smart people to help you make better decisions.

I’ve been working with FG Squared, an Austin, Texas-based marketing services firm that built itself through a well-defined partner network. As a result, this shop has attracted and retained clients such as Hitachi, AMD, Shell, and Motorola. Do exactly the same thing, and make 2008 your year for social media.

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