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How to succeed across the social media spectrum

How to succeed across the social media spectrum Evan Gerber

A marketing campaign that lacks consistency across channels is going to be mediocre at its very best. At its worst, it will be an abject failure. How can a marketer expect to stay top of mind if they aren't saying the same thing in the same way in different channels?

For offline and broadcast channels, it takes some thought and planning, but careful execution ensures that the messaging stays on target. But when the campaign leverages social media, suddenly it becomes significantly more difficult. The intrinsic nature of social networking means that the marketer is letting the consumer dictate the messaging, and necessarily, relinquishing any control. How, then, does one ensure that there is consistency across channels? What is the best way to drive the conversation in the right direction?

While social networking can be risky, it's never a lost cause if the right steps are taken. Choose the appropriate social networks to publicize the messages. Tailor the messages to the particular channels. Identify themes that will persevere regardless of the audiences. Finally, try and find combinations of social channels that are complimentary. With a little careful planning and diligent thought, a social networking campaign can reach across channels and stay consistent.

These things aren't easy
The challenge of social networking is that once the message is out in the wild, it can be very difficult to keep things under control, never mind consistent. Formats vary wildly, from Twitter's 140-character count to MySpace's formatted page. User feedback will change based on the platform, how the brand reaches out to them, and how the message is propagated. Controlling it can be nigh impossible, even under ideal circumstances.

Some platforms provide controls to moderate conversations, but these are dangerous waters. Marketers must be forthright about manipulating the dialogue, or risk seeming inauthentic and untrustworthy. This is compounded by the fact that the different channels employed may provide different controls, and therefore expose the aspiring editor to risk.

If campaigns are thematically consistent, then it becomes easier to manage. It's all about setting up correctly in the beginning, and then letting it go. The best analogy would be giving a roomful of preschoolers coloring books and crayons. If the kids all have the same colors to work with, and the same coloring book, the finished products will all be wildly different, but still retain some consistency. On the other hand, if the kids have blank paper and all the colors in the box, everything is going to be different.

When planning a foray into social networking, it's crucial to understand how it differs from traditional marketing, and work diligently to set parameters and educate internally.

However, there is a significant risk here. It can be grating when someone's status updates flood the newsfeed with garbage. People are using their Facebook accounts for social reasons, not just to read advertising, and it's crucial that brands not abuse the privilege of access into someone's private life. Recently, I saw someone get roundly flamed for constantly updating their Facebook status through Twitter while promoting a concert. Brand managers should be very careful to monitor how frequently they are showing up, and maintain a balance between prevalence and annoyingness.

Become the voice, and let the user send your messages for you
One of the great things about social networks is that consumers are kind enough to send messages along.
Re-tweeting, the act of citing another user by prefacing the message with RT @username, lets a message coast along without changing. According to Paul Irish, one of my very smart colleagues at Molecular and a social media whiz, it's become the de-facto standard.

The trick, of course, is developing a message that is compelling enough to be sent along, or leveraging a network to propagate it for you. Compelling messaging is more likely to succeed, given its authentic roots, but it is much harder.

One important strategy to remember is that users are not going to propagate a message which is blatantly self serving. There must be a reason to send it along; it has to be relevant, insightful, or funny. By creating a message that can easily be shared, marketers can put messages on the social networking wires and know that they will stay consistent.

Or pay attention to Ralph Waldo Emerson
At the end of the day, if there is one thing that can be said about social media, it's "throw out the playbook." Yes, consistency is key for building retention and is crucial to the success of a campaign. But as Emerson once said, "foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

It used to be that marketers would drill a message into someone's head through repetition using as many touch points as possible: "Maxwell House is good to the last drop," for example. But these days, the consumer is much savvier, and brands are much more likely to succeed if they spark and sustain a dialogue. In that case, a number of voices saying different things may do much more to build brand awareness than repetition coming from different places.

Molecular consultants are currently helping a firm whose current marketing goal is to use Twitter as efficiently as possible. By tracking thought leaders and influential thinkers in their space, and aggregating and re-tweeting the messages, this company's Twitter presence will become widely followed and trusted. Interestingly, though, there is still an argument in consistency here. Although this brand will leverage a multitude of voices, they must be very careful to only choose broadcasters who will remain consistent with the brand and core values of the firm.

Consistency is critical to the success of a marketing campaign, be it analog or digital. But in the social networking space, rules change. The definition of consistency becomes elastic in the face of multiple users channeling a voice across different platforms.

To succeed, marketers must take a few important steps. First, research and set expectations internally. Choose platforms where the message and the messenger are known entities and can be managed somewhat. Social networks can be combined to work together automatically, and messages can be crafted to propagate on their own.

Finally, it's not only a question of letting users send the message along; careful selection of representative voices will let the brand send out a message which is simultaneously consistent and diverse.

Evan Gerber is principal experience design consultant at Molecular.

On Twitter? Follow Molecular at @MolecularInc.
Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Since the late ‘90s, Evan Gerber has created innovated technology solutions for unique business problems. Evan is the Vice President of Mobile Design and Emerging Interactions at Fidelity Investments.  An avid technophile and self...

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Commenter: Paul Redfern

2009, June 16

I think you are right on here good job

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2009, June 16

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