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A piece of advice to CEOs (and everyone else interested): The Social Media is not the silver bullet

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The response of businesses to the Social Media as marketing tools is overwhelming. It is getting hard to find any company home pages that do not display proudly Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, RSS and other social links. To many managers the Social Media hype has triggered euphoric expectations and the illusion that jumping on the Web 2.0 bandwagon will magically solve all their problems and give them “competitive advantage”.

The countless Social Media aficionados and self-proclaimed “gurus”, “experts”, “evangelists”, “specialists”, and “prophets” I wrote about earlier are also contributing to the confusion; a very similar picture to the frenzy that some of us still remember but obviously many of us have already forgotten.

One of the big management fallacies (shared and distributed by most of the ignorant “experts”) is that the logos of the trendy apps on the web site will make customers believe that things have suddenly changed: our products got better, the customer service works, we listen to the customer. Some serious research is of course necessary here to see whether these management perceptions have anything to do with reality and whether the introduction of Social Media is really by itself leading to any improvements.

Until such evidence is available I would rather advice some cautiousness: the Social Media is not the silver bullet. I consistently explain to those who follow my lectures on the subject that the Social Media is only part of the solution. Other parts are the Customer Advocacy and the of course the Marketing strategy on different levels. I explain them that you should not start investing (or rather throwing) money in social Media strategies if you do not first address the issues in the (E)-Marketing Strategy Pyramid.

Borrowed from the well-known Hierarchy of Needs Maslow model my pyramid simply says that in order to be able to apply any Web 2.0 / Social Media strategies you should consistently address ALL lower levels of the model. In simple words you can not have Social Media ambitions with lousy products and customer service, a marketing organization in a permanent state of winter sleep and a dysfunctional web site that was last updated in the previous century.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that indeed such situations are not the exception. I recently read the post of Tom Davenport and the post of Umair Haque in the HBR blog that discuss the problem from different angles.
For those who want to address effectively some of the issues arising I have a few simple advices. Before you start talking about Social Media Marketing:

- Place yourself in the place of your customer
- Try to listen (and hear) the real customer voice
- If you have outsourced your customer service to a Call Center break today the contract with them (if possible). If you do not do this you can never apply the first two advices
- Look to your organization carefully and without bias (or maybe let someone else to look to it).
- Have you ever heard the terms CRM (not the software packages that are called so) and Customer Advocacy? If not go to Google (or maybe in an old fashion library) and try to find out something about them.
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