There is too much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth about social media objectives and strategy these days. We all assume that our organizations are unique and that we must devote great sums of time and money to figuring out what our particular motivation is for social media and how we will carry it out.
We’re wired as humans to believe that we are each unique and different—indeed, this perception shoulders the bulk of our self-esteem. And yes, we are all unique. A little. But in most things, we’re the same and we can usually acknowledge that.
Not in our businesses, though. In the course of hundreds of interviews with companies over my career, the “yes but we’re different” mantra was a familiar refrain. Companies that made commodity products would tell me with straight faces that even their financial processes were unique—GAAP be damned—and that they needed to customize their software to fit “our ways of doing things.” This also meant they paid millions extra in consulting fees to change the software and millions more the next time they wanted to upgrade their software.
I find that we’re applying the same logic to social media. Let’s sit down and figure out our unique objectives and strategies before we do anything.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have objectives and strategies for social media. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t assume, as we do by default, that ours are much different from anyone else’s.
There is only one objective in social media and it is common across all companies—even across the infamous divide between B2B and B2C: Create learning networks.
And there is only one strategy for carrying out this objective: Find people who are good at developing and disseminating ideas to contribute to and facilitate those networks.
What is a learning network?
The reason I say this is that another hard-wired part of us is the desire to learn. And learning is integral to buying—especially in B2B. Recommend products and services that you haven’t thoroughly researched and you will most likely be out of a job.
But it also applies in B2C. Toyota’s market share wasn’t built by Toyota’s marketing; it was built by Consumer Reports.
Every buyer wants to learn at all stages of the buying process. But no buyer wants to be sold during all stages of the buying cycle.
The purpose of social media is to create learning networks that buyers want to join. The enticements are ideas and education. That means social media are extensions of our content development and dissemination processes. By creating content that offers relevant, timely, and useful ideas and education for buyers at all stages of the buying process, we create the incentives for buyers to engage with us in conversation and community. Whether it’s blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, or private communities that we build ourselves, the common thread is that by focusing on learning we build and retain buyers’ interest.
Here are the key elements of learning networks:
- Create an internal learning network. You need to build an internal network that focuses on identifying internal thought leaders and building alliances with external academics and customers who can help develop and test ideas. Primary and secondary research provides the inspiration for some ideas and the objective justification for others. Internal knowledge share sessions and reward and recognition programs provide the motivation for thought leaders to emerge inside the organization and help imbue a thought leadership mindset into the culture.
- Create a content development process. Using ideas from the learning network, marketing needs to develop content. Marketers must become publishers, with a process for refining and presenting thought leadership content through various vehicles, (such as conference presentations, white papers, social media, etc.). Marketing needs professional content developers who know how to collaborate with thought leaders to develop clear, compelling packages. A calendar helps marketing plan out the frequency and focus of its output. Marketing needs to develop materials that are appropriate to each stage of the buying process, so that customers and salespeople can get the right information at the right time. Marketing and sales need to agree on the alignment of content to the different buying stages so that sales will get the right signals about when and how to approach customers for a sale.
- Integrate the internal learning network and content processes with social media. Your internal learning network should integrate with the ones you want to build for customers. Internal thought leaders should use social media as a test bed and developing ground for ideas that they later disseminate in more polished form. So for example, a tweet or a posting in a LinkedIn forum leads to blog post, which leads to a video, which leads to a conference presentation, white paper, or private event for top customers.
If learning is the objective, the rest falls into place. Idea- and education-based content is the fuel for building community. The rest is promotion.
What do you think?