Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Getting" Social Media Before Jumping on the Bandwagon

Everyone and their mother is jumping on the social media bandwagon. Some are successful; they are immersed in it on a daily basis and thus in the midst of the action while the social media landscape changes every few months. Some, however, just don't quite get it. They are dabbling in social media once every so often, reading about the trends six months after they've happened and not grasping the nonstructured, nonlinear nature of the medium are all characteristics of this latter camp.

The online landscape changes dramatically and quickly, and you'd better be pretty Web-fit to keep up with the latest social networks, tools, and viral campaigns. Suddenly, MySpace is so yesterday and Four Square is slated to be the new black. Hi5 fizzled as quickly as it started, and, despite "experts" prophesying that Twitter would be just another fad, like it or not, life in 140 characters or less is here to stay.

Old-school ways of marketing and structured guidelines don't apply in the social media sphere. This is definitely a challenge in the corporate world, where senior marketing folks' knowledge of social media typically doesn't extend further than reading articles about it and seeing their kids use it. Also, they're uncomfortable with the lack of structure and planning that comes with the social media beast. Blog articles often don't have a clear beginning or ending. They are written more like a casual conversation and are likely violating every scholastic and technical rule out there. It is a medium that defies most classical rules of writing and communication. Grammatical errors. Run-on sentences. Blasphemous? Unprofessional? Perhaps, if you're writing for Harper's or the New Yorker, but in social media, it's the norm.

Has the reader changed or the media platform? I'd say they go hand in hand. Today, our generation sets updates via text, RSVPs for parties via Facebook invitations, and gets news clips via Twitter feeds. We are bombarded by brands, logos, marketing messages, and companies who claim they understand us. Everyone's a publisher, and there is an endless mountain of information and news to sift through in less time. We want our information in bites, with imagery to make it easier and more effective for us to process and comprehend. If a headline is over 140 characters, it is deemed long-winded.

In the marketing and business world, there are a few issues. Many marketing execs who have the authority to make decisions on social media strategy, resourcing, and direction are in the don't-quite-get-it camp. Want to know if you're one of them? Unless you're a blogger yourself -- and successful at it for that matter -- and participate in social media on a regular basis, you likely don't get it. Thus, you should enable the ones who do get it to make those decisions.

At the other extreme, there is an emergence of social media "experts" who claim they have the next social media solution that can save the day. Reality check. Social media is one form of engaging, participating in the dialogue, and building a community and following. It is one part of the marketing pie, and how big that slice depends on the nature of your business and your objectives.

In conclusion, if you're a company that's riding on the social media bandwagon, make sure you have the people in place who have the creativity, the understanding of new media, and a voice and tone that is inviting to a broad audience. If you're an individual trying to gain a following, make sure you have a personality behind your brand. That brand must be personable and relatable, and there should be value that you provide to your audience. Even though publishing a message to the world is as simple as the click of a button, always ask yourself if what you're about to publish will give value to your audience or if it's just polluting the digital universe.

Written by Amy Chan, Director of Marketing, Kiwi Collection

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