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08/31/2009 Ads are like hookups; Social Media is like dating

It's amazing to see how businesses are going nuts over social media. Everyone wants to talk about it. Everyone wants to do social media marketing even if they don't really understand what it is. Robert Scoble had an interesting article about how he monetarily values Twitter and everyone I talk to in the industry says the same thing: All of their clients want Social Media.

While it's great that there's such a desire for this relationship marketing, the people asking for it often view it as the same type of quickie marketing they're used to: Create a sexy ad and let it run. It's like a hookup: Fun, flashy, not much commitment and you can walk away in the morning.  You have the idea that people are waiting for you to show up in a place they can't avoid you, too.

Social media might not cost as much as advertising but it takes a longer commitment and honest assessment of your brand. You might actually find that you need to change a few things (gasp!) to really attract the people you want and need. It's more like dating because it's going to take some time, you'll make mistakes along the way, and your ultimate measure of success will be how much you put into it. The end prize is also the same: A real relationship.

So here's my dating advice for Brands dipping their toes into the Social Media scene:
  1. Most people are not that into you - One of the most eye opening experiences for businesses is when they find out how little chatter there is about their brands online. Yes, if you have a big national brand that's done lots of advertising over many years, there's probably some chatter. But the reality is that once you start listening, you often don't hear that much. And why should you? Most people have much more important things to talk about beside your brand. Like their lives or their interests. You didn't honestly think they were obsessing over your product or service, did you? Like all self-centered daters, it's a challenge to realize that you're not that interesting naturally. You'll actually have to work at making yourself interesting so more people will talk about you.
  2. People tire quickly of other people who talk incessantly about themselves - One common mistake in dating and social media is that you burst on the scene and talk only about yourself. In social media, this can result in a stream of tweets and Facebook updates which are nothing more than small sales blurbs. If you run a discount business, or one where your value proposition is low price or deals, this may work for you. JetBlue and Southwest do this successfully with Twitter as does Dell. For people looking for a specific low cost deal, this is a good social media strategy.  For the rest, restating your marketing and sales pitches in social media is, well, boring. Hard to get a second date when you're boring us on the first one.
  3. Take the long-term view - Getting social media right requires planning. If you whisk your first date off to a moonlit dinner in the Bahamas, with champagne and calypso band, what on earth are you going to do on the second or third date? Taking a longer view means you have to have a content plan online on what you want to share and talk about. While this usually doesn't require lots of outside costs, it does require internal staff time, since they're the ones with the stories. You need to gather your stories, figure out how to tell them correctly, and decide how and when to put them online. Whether you're Scheherazade and the 1,001 nights or Salome with the Seven Veils (ooh, bad endings both), stretching things out to see what will happen next works. This is the hardest part but it's the one you need to keep your people coming back.
  4. Reward good behavior - Remember, in dating you want to show what parts you like too. If your date does something good, make sure you reward them, whether that's publicity, deals or letting them get to second base. You better start thinking about your reward system too, so they don't get unrealistic expectations.
  5. Own up to your mistakes quickly - Boy, the last thing you want is to have your date hear something bad about you first without addressing it. If you've made a mistake, online or offline, own up to it. Hearing it from you is better than hearing about it from others, especially if you're in denial. Things like this can be the kiss of death for a budding relationship. Make sure you have a process in place for dealing with this.
Of course, once you pass the dating phase and into a real relationship, you'll have to keep that spiced up as well. But that's really another blog post.

If you're the Eliot Spitzer of Social Media and just want to pay for it with no emotional ties, you can expect a bad ending. If you just want the quick hook up, well don't start complaining about feeling lonely or some unwanted "attachment" you might've picked up.


Social media is a commitment. If you're not ready for one, you should probably stay away.


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