I've been writing and thinking a lot lately about social media. And I think the reason is that, despite all the hype about Facebook and Twitter and blogging and YouTube, none of these things has come close to changing the way businesses market, sell or operate.
So are they just fancy new toys and timewasters? Or simply cluttered information media (the million-channel TV!!) rather than business tools?
I disagree. Social media offer a fundamental business advantage. It’s just that not everyone (in fact, almost nobody) is ready for what it means.
It’s as if everyone in Canada played hockey, and were suddenly handed a baseball bat. The bat would be too heavy, too short, and no good for slapshots. So everyone would say it was useless.
But then somebody announces, “You don't play hockey with a baseball bat. It’s for a different game.” Then they hand out the gloves, bases and balls, and suddenly you realize that baseball bats are pretty cool. They're just no good for hockey.
Social media is a whole new game. A new way of connecting businesses to customers. To succeed, you have to forget the old skills – slapshots, poke-checks and skating – and work on new ones, like hitting, fielding and base-running.
The old skills of marketing are things like advertising and promotion, one-to-one sales calls, and retail distribution. These competencies still matter, but with social media we need to learn new skills: how to create deeper relationships with customers and prospects; and how to engage them in an ongoing way, win their trust, and win their loyalty.
These tasks have always been doable, but not easily – like taking a penalty shot with a baseball bat. Possible, but not worth doing twice.
With social media, we have to approach our audience differently. Just think of the different meanings of “corporate” and “social.”
Now that you can interact with your customers and prospects one on one, they're not just a "market" any more – they are people who expect to be addressed as individuals. Now that it's possible to address them as friends and partners, they expect to be treated that way.
This means you have to open the kimono: Expose your organization to other people’s scrutiny, reach out, make friends, tell your products’ stories, engage the feedback of your customers, create a user community.
Sounds like work? Nothing worthwhile is gained without effort. To create fans and pump up customer loyalty and repeat sales, you have to master these tools. Otherwise, when summer comes and the rinks are closed, you’ll have nobody to interact with, because your market will all be playing baseball with the cool kids.
It’s not just the ways you communicate that have to change. It’s your whole approach to business, customers, the market, and your employees. It’s a new era of openness, story-telling, relationships and trust. Whoever creates the highest engagement will earn the most loyalty.
How do you do that? So far, nobody’s really sure. So it’s wide open to experimentation, trial and error, innovation and creativity.
And join Twitter. Twitter is the Little League of social media – an easy place to get started and learn to reach out.
After all, how do you get to Yankee Stadium? Practice.