Social Networking Is Not Free Marketing

This is the third in a series of blogs about Social Networking.

Today’s Internet tools can be seductive. There is relatively little or no cost to set up a web site, blog, construct a presence on LinkedIn and facebook, conduct podcasts, post videos on YouTube and tweet. Based on the enormity of those connected to the Internet, reaching only a small percentage will yield a fantastic return.

Has nirvana arrived? Unfortunately, not yet.

There are costs, both obvious and hidden, that are required in order to be a successful user of the current and emerging social networking tools. For example:

Policies. Before leaping into the use of social networking tools, corporate policies must be established. Who will blog? Is training required? Is there an editorial policy? If facebook pages and tweeter are going to be used as customer input media, who is going to monitor them, and what is the expected response time? Unless buy-in is obtained by all functions, the risk of being flamed in blogs as a poor vendor potentially offsets any gains using other tools.

While there are no out-of-pocket costs in establishing policies, the energy and political capital expended by the Marketing Manager may be significant.

Training. If there are going to be several people blogging, tweeting, appearing on podcasts or YouTube and responding to customer requests, they should understand what they are doing, how it fits in the larger context of the Marketing/Corporate message, and what ground rules, if any, must be followed.

Once the policies have been established, training can follow. However, a curriculum must be established and the message delivered. If no-one on staff is available to do this, outside resources must be engaged to do construct the courses and do the first round of training.

Blogging. If this is to become the unofficial voice of the company, the person(s) chosen to blog through the company site must be a mixture of Marketing, CTO, Sales and Management, with a sense of humor. If successful, this person will be the spokesperson at events and may be one of the leads in closing large sales. Few people can cover all these bases so using multiple people helps, especially when the bloggers are expected to respond to competitive blogs or analysts’ reports.

The costs related to blogging, whether it is one person or several, is ensuring that the blogs are timely, accurate and content rich. To the extent that each blog can be reviewed by someone for grammar and usage is a plus.

Our experience, confirmed in conversation with others, is that it takes the equivalent of one person, full time, to originate content, respond to news/comments, and attend shows and seminars, etc. in order to generate 3 blogs per week.

LinkedIn and facebook pages. While the initial posting can be relatively static, reflecting the official voice of the company, comments and discussions require origination, monitoring and responses. These pages can be used to communicate with “fans” or “contacts” to deliver specific messages or announcements. These can also be the place where fans and contacts take the company to task for poor performance or perceived slights.

The size of the company and their inclination to use these tools will drive the cost. Certainly daily monitoring is required. Responses will depend upon policy, but must be timely. One estimate is that if a company is going to engage in this area, ½ of a full time employee is required.

Twitter.If multiple people are using twitter, under their own name, there is no cost other than training and potentially monitoring. If the company chooses to tweet, i.e. @Acmetoolanddie, then the intent of the tweeting needs to be defined and executed. It is possible that one of the bloggers could be assigned the role of corporate tweeter, but some one should be monitoring all the tweets, both originating from and about the company.

Again, depending upon the size of the company and their intent, the resource requirement will vary. At a minimum, ½ of a full time employee may be required.

Podcasts. One of the surprises that came out of the silent film era is that several of the silent film stars could not make the transition to “talkies” because their voices didn’t work. The same may hold true in trying to move bloggers to podcasts. Some will work, some won’t. If a new personality is required, this will be another added expense.

If the thought is to use podcasts as a vehicle to distribute information about the products, i.e training manuals, installation manuals, etc. careful consideration must be given to the nature and tone of the presentation. Here, using outside professional talent may be the best long term approach.

YouTube. One early approach was to have the summer intern go around the office and shoot video of all the players. While still interesting, and part of the social networking fabric, savvy Marketers are using YouTube to enhance their brand and deliver messages.

The resource requirement in using YouTube depends upon the intent and message.

Have you scoped out all the obvious and hidden costs in using social networks? Have all the policies and procedures been put in place…is there complete buy-in by all functions as to their responsibility? Are you budgeting for an additional 2-3 people, plus training and professional expenses, for social networking in 2010?

Next – What is the right mix of “traditional” and social networking tools?

RHM 7/9/2009

2 comments to Social Networking Is Not Free Marketing

  • This is a great post, rich with examples of potential pitfalls. Like you, my sense is that social media is very expensive to implement although the return is likely worth it. As you note, it takes a tremendous amount of time to monitor the conversations and respond in a way that enhances your brand–even with all the tools that are springing up to automate parts of the process. Looking forward to your next post. Too many people don’t obtain maximum leverage because their efforts aren’t integrated.

  • Donna Michael

    Fantastic discussion. After using every medium available for the past 20+ years, I find that wild and woolly social networking is great for creating buzz, but as leaky as a sieve.

    To be effective, I think that Social Networking needs to be part of a fully integrated marketing solution, where messaging is developed to take advantage of LinkedIn, Blogs, Twitter, etc. , while at the same time, given the same vetting process as any other medium. We can’t all be company spokespersons, and in fact, we SHOULDN’T. And we all don’t have the correct answers for customers/prospects.

    I love the freedom social networking offers us, but I think it requires finesse to implement it correctly in a marketing plan.

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