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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Social Media Series: Mack Collier on Bridging New & Old

[Mack Collier with Becky Carroll and me at the recent MarketingProfs Digital Mixer]

My first guest for the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Mack Collier. In case you've not heard of Mack, he writes the The Viral Garden, an insightful and influential marketing and social media blog. He frequently contributes to Marketing Profs, the MProfs Daily Fix blog, and small business blog Search Engine Guide. On top of that, he is an amazing social media strategist and consultant.

What I appreciate most about Mack - apart from how approachable he is - is his down-to-earth and practical approach to social media and marketing. He constantly experiments and tweaks to better understand the ramifications [e.g., as in The Z List] and then shares what he learns.

From a corporate blog learning perspective, do check out his Company Blog Checkup series, and if you need a recommendation of marketing blogs to start reading, look no further than Mack's weekly updated Top 25 Marketing Blogs [which - I'm honored to say - included Flooring The Consumer for weeks 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67 - i.e., last year!].

CB: Mack, how/why did you get involved in social media?

Mack: I got involved by accident. I was active on the advertising and marketing message boards on the Talent Zoo website, and TZ decided to start an advertising blog called Beyond Madison Avenue. They picked several of the most active participants in their forums, including myself, to be the writers for BMA. That was in Sept of 2005; by December we had about 2,000 unique visitors a day, and I became the de facto editor for the blog. It continued to grow, and by March of 2006 I decided I wanted to start my own blog, and launched The Viral Garden.

CB: What do you like most about social media?

Mack: How easy it is to meet so many amazing and interesting people. And not only that, but how connections made online carry over so easily to offline. When I first started attending social media events and conferences earlier this year, the thing that struck me was how I could 'meet' someone that I had already connected with online, and it was as if we were old friends. I would meet someone and attempt to introduce myself and shake their hand, and they would counter with 'I know who you are Mack; give me a hug!' It's really amazing!

CB: What do you like least about social media?

Mack: I think the ease at which you can connect with people can also be a bit of a downside in a way, because it's tough to really know too many people. For example, I spend a lot of time on Twitter, and am constantly following more people, now around 900. But I would bet there are probably only about 20 or so that I *really* know, and that's just that I haven't been able to spend time getting to know them outside of Twitter. I haven't been lucky enough to meet them offline like I have with you at Blogger Social and then at the Marketing Profs Digital Mixer.

Something else I don't like is that since it is so easy for people to connect, I think it's also easier for groupthink to kick in. It's easier for those of us that evangelize social media (such as myself), to become a bit blinded to some of its limitations or shortcomings, if we don't connect with people outside our fishbowl.

CB: What 5 suggestions do you have for companies to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

Mack:
1 - Start paying attention to social media. You don't have to become experts, but start making yourself familiar with the space, and why your customers are using these tools. I write for two sites that are wonderful resources for helping you get up to speed on social media, MarketingProfs.com and SearchEngineGuide.com.

2 - After you start paying attention to social media, start monitoring online conversations to see if your company/brand is being discussed. Use tools like Google Blog Search and Twitter Search to see what the chatter is.

3 - Start responding to people that are talking about your company/brand online. If you have a blog, you can address their points there, and invite others. The key is to become a participant in the conversation that's happening online about you.

4 - If you want to launch a social media strategy, make sure your goals for that strategy align with your larger communication efforts. It's great to use Twitter to provide customer service, but if your offline efforts aren't ready to handle your SM [social media] efforts, it will all collapse. SM can't exist in a vacuum, they are connection tools and you can't have 2 guys that handle your blog being 'people persons' that love connecting with your customers and helping them, when no one else in the company supports that position. Your strategy and attitude toward how you will use social media have to be a byproduct of your company's culture, not the attitudes of that one geeky guy or gal that 'gets' social media.

5 - Think about ways you can integrate 'old media' connection efforts with 'new media'. If you blog, try adding links to some of your posts to the monthly email newsletter that you send out. If you are connecting with your customers on Twitter, don't be afraid to give them your phone number so you can walk them through a particular problem they are having. Think about how you can leverage product information on your website, to help readers of your blog find the information they are looking for. Social media didn't suddenly become the silver bullet that will save every bad business plan, just like 'traditional marketing' didn't suddenly become obsolete. Both can and should be utilized together, as appropriate in reaching and connecting with your customers.

CB: Any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers.

Mack: It sounds cliche, but you really do have to care about people. I think a lot of companies right now are excited about social media, because they see it as a cheap (time is often the biggest commitment) way to reach their customers. IOW, they want to find out how they can monetize the interactions they have with customers via social media.

Here's why this doesn't work; because people aren't using social media to be monetized by companies, they are using social media to connect with other people. We use social media to create and share information with each other. We become friends and share our thoughts and feelings. We connect as 'real people'.

So if a company wants to utilize social media as an effective way to reach their customers, they have to shift their mindset and use the tools in the same ways, and for the same reasons, as their customers do. They have to use these tools as real people trying to connect with their customers (real people). If you approach social media as a new channel to 'sell more stuff', then your efforts will likely fail miserably.

But instead, if you use social media as a new channel to connect with your customers and create valuable content for them, to give them information that they can use, then you are giving them a reason to connect with you. You are creating value for them. And a byproduct of doing so, will be that these customers will help promote your efforts, which results in the online conversation about your company increasing, and becoming more positive.

Which ultimately, will probably help you 'sell more stuff'. But that only happens when you enter into social media with the mindset of 'what value will our efforts create for our customers?', and not 'what value can we extract from this space?' It's all about shifting your mindset to using social media as a way to create value for your customers. If you can do that, you win!

CB: Thank you, Mack!

Comments? Reactions? What do you think about Mack's reference to 'groupthink?' What ideas about bridging old & new media do his comments trigger?

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Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

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