I’ve been a little slow in making this mental leap but it occurred to me today that we have (or at least should) now finally seen the end of push-based marketing activities. For years people in PR, advertising, direct mail etc have created marketing campaigns designed to push information at consumers as a way of engaging with them. While brands may well have done research on their customer base they had limited contact with them outside of the sales and customer support processes. All that has changed with social media. Brands no longer ‘control’ what messages get put out OR when those messages are communicated. While brands do still push messages out, consumers create their own messages and communicate them when they want. Messages like: “the PlayBook from BlackBerry/RIM is a me too product.” Indeed, managing this aspect of the conversation around a brand or product is now at least as important than managing the company created content. Yet I wonder how many brands really do manage the conversations consumers are having? I meet quite a few senior communications people in my work and many talk about the importance of this but it still seems that 90% of the effort is directed towards the content they as businesses create. Listening and shaping the conversations already taking place? Well they may do the former but rarely the latter. I believe this is largely because they don’t know how to, or have never really tried.
Why wouldn’t brands try and shape existing conversations about them? In large part brands seem to feel that it’s much harder to try and change someone’s argument than it is to start a new one. That may be true but in reality, shifting the debate is a way of shaping a conversation. It just needs some careful thought, planning and action. It’s my belief that brands should be sitting down every week (at least) and discussing the conversations taking place on-line about them. These online conversations are really a digital version of what their customers believe be it good or bad. By understanding these conversations they are getting a valuable pulse check on their customer-base which in turn should enable them to join in discussions with real integrity. Again though, I don’t see enough brands doing this. All too often brands will monitor the conversations but then review them long after the debate has moved on or take little action when they do see a rising topic. This isn’t true of all brands of course. Some have jumped in to the social marketing world feet first and are learning some great lessons in the process.
In closing I want to talk briefly about the worst way to tackle social marketing. This is where brands simply replace their current marketing tools with social tools. This largely means they carry on trying to push messages at consumers, they just use Facebook, Twitter etc to do it. Ironically some brands believe that by doing this they have really embraced digital/social marketing and are being progressive. In my mind all they’ve really done is swapped one bad habit for another. In short, I’d urge brands to give some thought to how much of their marketing is them joining in the conversation versus starting it. If you are always the one starting a dialog, it isn’t really a dialog, it’s a speech. So unless you are Martin Luther King or Winston Churchill you’re better of using those things on either side of your head that Apple designed the iPod for. RIP Push.