Social Media? – Nah, It’s Personal

New way to a shopper’s heart?

ALL THE RECENT chatter about “social media for business” is driving me around the bend.

For some time now, I’ve been searching for a terminology that would rescue us from imprecision and allow a meaningful business conversation to take place around the impact of smart phones within the retail environment.

At the National Retail Federation Conference and Expo two weeks ago in New York, the presentations and pitches frequently turned to the impact of social and mobile media, and I kept cringing every time I heard it. Here’s why it bugs me so much:

When new business phenomena have arisen in retail marketing, sloppy terminology frequently led to poor initial understanding of the business opportunity. Often it is due to a choice of words laden with confusing prior connotationor the absence of a suitable term.

We sometimes used “consumer” and “shopper” interchangeably; now we distinguish between those two customer roles. We spoke of “manufacturers” or “vendors” before the term “brand marketer” was introduced in the mid-90s. A deficient thought vocabulary renders some concepts virtually unthinkable.

In Your Facebook
Today, most of the marketers and solution vendors obsessed with “social media” are in fact formulating new ways of delivering one-on-one messages to targeted shoppers and attempting to influence what they do and say on social networking sites. It’s undeniable that one particular application Facebook happens to be used heavily for social play and sharing of consumer lore. Marketers are dazzled by the massive “audience” it has accumulated and are salivating to exploit the opportunity. How fortunate for Facebook investors.

But setting up corporate pages on Facebook or Twitter does not a strategy make. Indeed the existence of these pages implies a broadcast mentality from us to them. Despite the open visibility of customer comments on the wall, there seems to be relatively little interaction between consumers on these pages. Old comments get quickly buried behind newer ones, and only our social media hired guns bother to track and analyze them – in reports calculated to justify their existence.

Regardless of the channel, shopping is primarily about each individual’s personal success get the best deals; satisfy my needs most efficiently; manage my budget; impress my friends; etc. When a shopper turns to his or her personal mobile device to access tools to enhance in-store success, it’s a very personal action motivated by very understandable self-interest.

Getting Personal
I submit that when it comes to tapping shoppers via those pocket two-way radiowave computers we call smartphones, there’s very little “social” about it. It’s not social – it’s personal.

If we conceive of the mobile device as a personalized channel for interaction between retailers or brands with individual shoppers or consumers, then we would do well to set aside the imprecise term “social media” and start talking shop. These new media are personal media. Much of what happens on them may be social in nature, but everything that happens on them is personal.

The personal mobile device is taking shape as a personal nexus, where online, in-store, social, and commercial communications converge in unique combinations tailored by and for each individual. Each of us shifts roles at will, according to our objectives of the moment – searcher, receiver, reporter, sender, aggregator, re-transmitter, gatekeeper, purchaser, advisor.

Businesses that hope to play effectively in this incredibly fluid and fast-changing media environment had best get their minds around the personal nature of the shopper experience using mobile devices. When we discuss our strategy for personal media, the marketing mindset shifts in what I think is a constructive direction. Better decisions and practices must surely follow.

As for me, I have nothing against online friendships; but when it comes to business you may count me as anti-social. My reasons? Well, they’re personal.

© Copyright 2011 James Tenser

The New Voxology

IS “SOCIAL MEDIA FOR BUSINESS” an oxymoron?

One current LinkedIn Groups discussion loudly and repetitively (2,500 posts and counting!) declares it “CRAP.” I think this oversimplifies what has become a marketing imperative, and clouds a very important opportunity.

As new marketing verbs like tweet, blog, and social networking permeate our thinking, we need to acquire a clarifying thought vocabulary that will allow us to grapple with emerging concepts and put the tools to appropriate and beneficial use. I’ll take a first whack at it here. Perhaps some wise readers can build on these ideas.

For starters, it would be helpful to differentiate between the kinds of activities that take place within online social media constructs. I group them into four familiar quadrants: C to C, B to C, C to B, and B to B.

“Consumer to Consumer” social media are probably the highest profile, as they are manifest on hundreds of millions of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube uploads. The purpose here is primarily social and personal, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. If much of the content posted on virtual “walls” is silly, trivial and self-indulgent, so be it. It is also highly dynamic, interactive, and in its way, democratic. The sheer size of the community is proof of the concept’s power and cultural influence.

Businesses and political groups view the huge C to C audiences as a potential gold mine, and so there has emerged a concerted effort by marketers to deliver controlled messages within the social media platforms. I’d label activities like this “Business to Consumer.” Recent elections showcased this potential, as candidates used online groups, and “fan” pages to garner support, raise funds, and motivate voters. Brand marketers are also in hot pursuit of the social media audience, but they should be cautioned that quaint broadcasting norms may not apply here. Leading practitioners are working out ways to accumulate followers who are receptive to targeted messages and offers and whose responses may also be sources of useful insights.

Which leads us naturally to consider the arrow’s reversal: “Consumer to Business” social networking may be a source of valuable feedback from both supporters and critics. Ardent fan and cruel pan pages can spring up spontaneously – sometimes to the dismay of the brand, retailer or celebrity covered. The object of such public scrutiny typically has little control over its content, much less its veracity. This is a cold fact of life that marketers must simply learn to live with. Wise brands monitor these for insights and to counter libelous talk, but they respond with a light touch, so as not to elevate a lone crackpot into fodder for the salivating media.

Of course, brands, celebrities and pols also take deliberate action to invite communications from loyal and not-so-loyal constituents – setting up their blogs, Twitter feeds, email lists and fan pages to anchor the message and gather feedback. Perhaps B to C and C to B social media activities are inseparable, two sides of a coin.

B2BSM – A Different Animal?

Finally we have the distinct instance of Business to Business social media. This is my real interest in this discussion, actually, because it applies the tools and methods of social media to serious business purposes. LinkedIn is a very good example of a public platform that is used for career networking, personal branding, formation of subject matter communities (“groups”) and sharing current events and ideas. There is also some fairly sound (if experimental) use of Twitter by trade journalists and industry observers (search the #NRF10 hashtag on twitter.com to view interesting and extensive coverage of last week’s NRF Expo in New York, for example).

Another B2BSM realm is emerging around secure-access portals that incorporate social media-like tools. These are used for creating flexible online workgroups, sharing documents and information, even hosting internal and inter-organizational collaboration like Merchandising Performance Management among retailers and manufacturers. The platforms use some familiar functionality, but quickly go deeper to deliver performance dashboards, “fingertip analytics” and other advanced capabilities designed for decision-making experts who are not IT experts.

Some businesses are also using a combination of Web-based and social media applications and tools to manage their visibility, presence, and image with respect to their business community. The portfolio of tools may include any or all of the following: The firm Web site; blog; an email and list management service; a LinkedIn group; a Facebook company page; one or more Twitter or other microblog feeds; an online market research site like Survey Monkey; an online press release distribution tool like PRWeb, and more.

At VSN Strategies, we like to call coordinating this set of activities “management of the commercial online voice” or voxology for short.

Voxology in Practice

VSN WebVox™ is my firm’s name for this business service. We help clients combine multiple Web-based tools and services to create, maintain and propagate a commercial “online voice.”

We craft thematic consistency and interlink the elements to create a high level of Web activity that helps companies score high on search engines and expand their reputation. The result is an evolving Web presence – a combination of visibility and credibility, across the multiple linked channels of the Internet. Companies become more search-able, more find-able, more believed, more in contact, more heard.

At VSN we’re in the camp that firmly believes social media for business is definitely not “CRAP.” Furthermore we maintain that mastery of its subtleties is an essential pursuit for both B to C and B to B marketers. We’d like to see some improved vocabulary emerge to differentiate the activities that take place between individual consumers, businesses and consumers, and businesses with other businesses.

For B to B, I propose “voxology,” the new science of the online voice.

© Copyright 2010 James Tenser