Social Media: Your Customer Wants You!

The other day, I saw one of those old U.S. Army recruitment posters exclaiming, “I Want You!” and had a flash. Businesses seeking to holistically apply social technology would be well served by that same campaign. Uncle Sam wanted everyone because everyone had something to offer to the war effort. As more and more CMOs are recognizing, social media in business works the same way: it takes more than the CMO and her team to make a social media program really click.

Four months ago, Forrester’s Mary Beth Kemp released a report, “Marketing Mandate: Connect The Dots,” aimed at CMOs. And as I pointed out in this column in 2006, the CMO’s average tenure has been steadily dropping. While there are lots of reasons for this, factors involve social media and more recently, social business. CMOs have far less control over what happens in their marketplaces because of these factors.

Big Box Stores and Social Business

Consider Home Depot or Lowe’s. The job of driving floor traffic is under the purview of CMOs and their teams. However, factors driving store visits are actually operational issues: clean stores, knowledgeable associates, and well-stocked shelves. If you consider Mary Beth Kemp’s point, CMOs should have a larger role in their business organizations. Done right, this could reverse the trend in CMO tenure.

Have you noticed how some stores are being updated to include wider aisles, lower store profiles, and nicer displays? It’s amazing to watch as these organizations respond to the public conversations (aka, “pressure”) to improve their business.

Consider Walmart. About a mile from my house in Austin, TX, the big-box chain built a new super center. Before it was constructed, my neighbors and I got involved while plans were still in the works.

Amazingly, the store is set back from the road, has a low front elevation, and enough trees were preserved so you can’t see the store from the road. Even the sign was modified: It’s a low (less than 5 feet high) sign, set in stone rather than the interstate-billboard style of the older super centers. Visitors traveling to our house often drive past Walmart and never see it. Target, also located around the corner, is also set back from the road. As a result, the community accepts and values these retailers and gives them plenty of business. Both retailers had organization-wide response to public concerns about big-box stores getting erected in their neighborhoods.

LEGO: Sticking up for the Customer

What else can you do as the person charged with “social” within your organization? How about sticking up for the people re-purposing your brand, thereby making it easier for them to spread the good word about you? This is what Jake McKee did as community development manager at the LEGO Company. Jake was working to build relationships with enthusiasts – adults who have chosen LEGO as their creative medium of choice.

To protect LEGO’s trademark, the company’s legal team was sending out cease-and-desist letters to enthusiasts, warning them from using LEGO images in their blogs and other online postings.

Jake’s challenge: it’s hard to get fans excited about promoting your company if you’re also telling your most loyal, enthusiastic of them to pipe down. Jake went to the legal team to see if they could resolve this impasse between LEGO and its enthusiasts.

Not satisfied with the initial answer of “No, they can’t use the LEGO likeness on their blogs and other social sites,” Jake asked the obvious, but often unasked question: “Why not?” Jake, technical editor of my book, “Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day,” typically asks this question when told “no.” It’s a good habit for all of us.

The response from legal – and take note of this – was: “The issue is that the LEGO name and its likeness are protected trademarks, and we have to defend that.”

But Jake didn’t stop there. He kept asking for more context. He wanted to understand both the copyright law, as well as workarounds. Turns out, copyright law doesn’t dictate any specific course of action, it simply requires companies to actively defend the ownership of their trademarks. Jake and legal worked (and debated) for weeks until Jake asked the final question: “If fan sites put a disclaimer on their sites that stated that the ‘LEGO trademark was LEGO Company property,’ would that suffice?”

LEGO’s legal team had assumed that such a solution, while legally acceptable, was unrealistic. Yet, when Jake drafted a simple disclaimer line and then engaged the community to understand the background of the copyright law issue, as well as the reasons for the previous confusion, they were happy to pitch in and help out. Uptake of this simple disclaimer line became (and has remained) a default for new site creators. Everybody won.

Bottom line: As a marketer, your job, especially in a social business context, extends across the entire organization. You are increasingly serving as an advocate for your customers instead of working as someone who pushes a brand or message. Yes, there are conflicts: you have quarter-over-quarter business goals. Plus, sometimes wacky things your customers are demanding could take three years to implement. If those are the new ground rules, then jump in, devise metrics, put plans in place, and sell across the organization. You’re not the only one with short-term objectives and long-term projects: business ops has faced this for years. If it works in operations, it can work in marketing, too. And if the COO asks you what this is all about, just smile and say “Ask Jake.” By the way, you can follow Jake on Twitter.

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