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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?

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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Anonymous said...

Nice interview with one of my favorite people, CB.

Mack's observation that Social Media requires a shift of mindset -- from "sell more stuff" to "what value will our efforts create for our customers?" -- applies to "new" marketing generally, and not just to social media efforts. It seems to me that the smartest marketers these days are finding ways to help their customers, to give them information to help them in their lives and jobs, via all kinds of "content." What do you see?

Anonymous said...

Mack is a great leader in the social media marketing community. Great interview and great advice! Much of the reputation management information can be automated as well.

Jonathan Trenn said...

Regarding Groupthink, I fully agree...even though I, um, am guilty of being part of that.

One part that I agree with in principle but have a slightly different view is in the last paragraph. The primary part must be the 'what value will our efforts create for our customers?'aspect. Otherwise, it really isn't social media. But I think the second part 'what value can we extract from this space?' still plays a major role, especially in this recession. I remember back in the 2001-02 recession, companies were kicking the idea of strategy out the window and they wanted tangible ROI right NOW. We as social media strategists need to be able to show some positive ROI.

That's not to imply that Mack didn't say the opposite. Sometimes I think a problem we face is that many clients misused social media by doing the exact things that Mack warns against, clouding any ROI that could be had.

CB Whittemore said...

Thank you, Ann. Mack is a true gem.

I agree with your point about marketing now being about the value efforts create for customers. 'Content' is absolutely part/parcel of value creation as Joe Pulizzi described in today's MProfs webinar on content marketing.

The mindset shift can be a tough one, but an extremely powerful one as Mack notes.
I see that approach as being a critical aspect of establishing relevant relationships with customers.

CB Whittemore said...

Doug, good point about automating reputation management. Thanks for contributing to this discussion.

CB Whittemore said...

Jonathan, aren't we are all guilty of instances of groupthink? I see it as another facet of the curse of knowledge... The trick is being aware and remembering to bring in other perspectives [easier said than done].

I'm intrigued with your observation about greater pressure to extract value/demonstrate ROI given a recession. As social media strategists, we need to demonstrate positive ROI - but don't we also have the opportunity to broaden the definition of ROI? As Mack mentions, most companies consider social media a *cheap* way to reach customers. So, if the investment is low, and we are providing truly valuable content that meets the needs of our customers, we will hear about it from our customers. Which gives us a tangible return on that investment.

Thank you for being a part of this conversation.

Jonathan Trenn said...

I don't know, C. B. Yesterday was a bad day. Lost a client. Redefining ROI didn't work. :( Boo. Hiss. :)

To Mack's point. A play on semantics that he nails perfectly. If companies realize that social media is a relatively inexpensive way to create customer value and thus, increase revenue, then it could easily be a winner. But if companies view social media as being a "cheap" way of monetizing, then the effort may be doomed from the start.

My guess is that many companies - especially during a recession - think immediate ROI first. That's often shortsighted, but it's likely to be more common now than it was a few months ago.

Perhaps a way we can position what we do is to show that we can help companies come out of slow economic times faster than their competitors. Creative value creates loyalty and appreciation. When customers have future money to spend, they'll think of our clients first. That's one way.

Mack Collier said...

CB thanks for letting me do this and thanks for the comments everyone! Jonathan I think your points are valid and I think it goes back to the company's attitude toward the space, as you touched on. If you explain how 'social media can help you better connect, communicate with, and understand your customers', some companies will light up because they will understand why that's so significant.

Others will go 'Yeah but, can we make money at this stuff?'. The former group will understand that the money will come as a BYPRODUCT of the connections (if done smartly), while the latter group just wants to get paid.

CB Whittemore said...

Jonathan, I'm so sorry to hear that.

I like your thoughts about positioning social media as a means of emerging faster out of slower economic times - depending on the quality of the effort, of course. Social media is not a quick solution. Rather, it's a slow build over time that allows you to connect with a qualified audience - ie one that is interested in what you have to say - assuming you provide constant, consistent, relevant and authentic value to them.

Assuming all of that, it's amazing when you start noticing that visitors go from your blog, say, to your website spending far more time there than those coming in through other avenues.

Then, you know you are providing value.

CB Whittemore said...

Mack, thank you so much for participating and for adding as much insight to this discussion.

Anonymous said...

CB, how nice to see this photo from the Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer - thanks for including me in it! :)

I wholeheartedly agree with Mack (and I often do, he's so smart) with respect to using social media only if we can use it to add more value to our customers. Customers don't want to join a brand's Facebook group in order to get "sold to". They join in to affiliate with that brand and to hopefully connect with them.

If brands and others can use social media as a way to bring a more human face to their interactions, then I believe value WILL be added to customers as real dialogue is created.

Thanks for the conversation, Mack and CB. You guys rock!

CB Whittemore said...


Isn't it interesting how much more important is it for businesses and brands to be able to share their 'humanity?' We distrust monolithic organizations. However, when the individuals from an organization come through and express themselves, we are then able and willing to interact on a totally new level.

Thanks for adding your voice. You rock, too!

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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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