Doing social media isn’t the same as doing traditional marketing communications activities. Social media, on a personal level, is about using web technologies to foster and develop relationships. Campaigns to build relationships are cynical exercises. In the real world we would tend to avoid or at the very least mistrust individuals who set out to make “as many friends as possible.”
What’s a social media campaign? You’ll be able to identify a campaign fairly easily. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. The agency that is running the campaign will ensure it starts with a big bang – concurrent activities across a number of social media platforms; Twitter, Facebook, blogs and YouTube and so on.
There’ll be an “exclusive” invitation out to the “influential” bloggers to a campaign “pre-launch” in the hope that they’ll ooze praise for the campaign on their blogs and on Twitter.
The campaign will launch officially, and no matter where you go online for a few weeks you won’t be able to avoid the campaign – the offers, competitions and hype.
The agency report back after a couple of weeks to say that the campaign has gone really well. There are 1,000′s of followers/fans coupled with a “significant” number of people talking about the campaign online – in particular in marketing and PR circles. Yes, there have been a few direct sales, but it’s early days yet. Oh, and we’ve run out of money.
Once the agency money dries up, the agency activities dry up.
The campaign, which was undoubtedly a “success” given the limited budget comes to a close. Hopefully someone will have thought to gather email addresses from the fans/followers, so they can be targeted on a regular basis with product offers. Someone will definitely submit the campaign for an industry award to get some extra publicity.
What’s wrong with a campaign then? In a campaign approach, you’re missing the essence of the nature (and thus the opportunity) of social media. It’s about relationships, and to draw a parallel, a social media campaign is a bit like a one night stand. Everyone had a bit of fun, but ultimately I feel a bit used. You got me interested in you, I gave you something valuable (in social media terms; my time and a recommendation to my network of friends), and once you got what you wanted you disappeared.
A large Irish utilities company recently ran one of these “successful” social media campaigns. They did everything right in campaign terms. However, when a crisis hit the company that affected their customers they simply pulled down the shutters on their social media activities. Their last ever tweet – a link to an “official statement” about the crisis – stands like an epitaph to the campaign. Sure they ran a good campaign, but do they have the lasting trust of all of those fans and followers who ultimately felt frustrated and let down by the campaign ended.
Barak Obama ran a successful social media campaign to get him elected. In so doing he heralded a new era in citizen participation in politics. Politicians of course have mastered the art of the campaign and it is therefore not surprising that the Obama media team took their foot off the pedal once he was elected. It was two months after Obama took office before someone remembered that they should think about updating his Twitter profile.
Instead of “campaign” think “engagement”. In (very traditional man-woman) relationship terms, when you are “engaged” you’ve certainly moved beyond the one night stand and are at a point where there is a genuine interest from each party in the other (hopefully).
It’s not for life (just yet) but you’re saying to the world publically that you are happy together. There is some level of commitment from each party that they’re undertaking to work at the relationship so that it is mutually beneficial – they’ll make an effort to fix things when they go wrong, and above all they’ll commit to talking things through when there is disagreement.
When your customers become your fans online, don’t underestimate the commitment they are making to you and what they expect from you in return. Engage with them meaningfully on an ongoing basis. Don’t target them with a superficial campaign.