Social Media Marketing: It's a Conversation, Silly

Lately, I have been researching the social media efforts of a number of companies here in the Dallas - Fort Worth area.

I've read their Facebook pages, if they have one. I've read their Twitter streams, if they are using Twitter. I've read their blogs, if they are blogging. And I've also visited their YouTube channels, their Flikr accounts and their MySpace pages, if they are on those platforms as well.

The results have left me scratching my head.

I'm left with the thought that these social media campaigns are being run by people who don't really "get" social media. A lot of these activities seem to be run out of the various firms' public relations departments, who are using Twitter and Facebook as merely distribution channels to pump out press releases or announcements.

In other words, all one-way communications.

Hardly a conversation in the bunch. I've gone through page after page of Twitter messages and not seen a single "RE-Tweet," or a single @ symbol indicating that a message was sent in reply to something someone else said.

  • No #hashtags to make their messages easier to find on keyword searches.

  • No responses to good or bad experiences with their brands.

  • No asking for feedback. No asking questions at all.

  • No following other people back. The number of people who follow them vs. the number of people they follow is way out of whack. (This sends the signal that they couldn't care less what other people are saying).

  • No comments on YouTube videos showing customers using their products or enjoying a gathering at their place of business.

All these companies seem to be doing is carpet bombing Twitter, Facebook, et. al, with media releases.

I really felt like handing out copies of David Meerman Scott's book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR directly to every executive with every one of these companies. (Sorry David, that just wasn't in the budget for now).

I kept hoping I would find one shining example of a company using social media as a way to reach out to individuals, like this example of 1-800-FLOWERS.

What happened was this:
Lena West ordered a Mother's Day flower arrangement for her mother through FTD, but what was delivered was not what she paid for. Her complaints repeatedly fell on deaf ears, even when she sent a certified, return receipt letter to the CEO of FTD.

In the mean time she was Tweeting about her growing frustration with FTD's awful service. 1-800-FLOWERS, a competitor of FTD, picked up on her Twitter fit and offered her a 15% off coupon without expiration date or restriction. They even offered to send her mother flowers on her behalf.

What FTD did not know, and did not care to know, is that Ms. West had influence. She was a Twitter user, although she did not have a huge following in her personal Twitter account.

But here's the point: If a company will not have a conversation with its customers, they will have conversations with one another. We ALL have influence these days. Practically everyone you know is either a regular Facebook user or has a family member who is.

1-800-FLOWERS appreciated this fact and stepped in to help a disgruntled customer of its main rival. To pull this off, they must have had keyword searches in place with not only their own keywords and brand names, but also the brand names of its competitors. They were not just listening, but they had also empowered their social media professionals to act with something tangible like a flower arrangement to correct a problem they weren't responsible for.

As I was researching these companies, I noticed that a lot of people were talking about their brand names. People were saying both good and bad things about them, but these companies were completely unaware.

If you do a Google search of the top brands in the United States, you will find that the top listings for these brand names generally are occurring on social media sites, not the companies' own websites.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, The Importance of Being Human: How to Achieve Real Success With Social Media Marketing, old-school marketing, advertising and, to a lesser degree, public relations, was often an exercise in throwing a lot of spaghetti against the wall to see if some of it sticks.

Spaghetti-throwing is not a conversation. There is nothing two-way about it. There is no engagement, no gradual building of trust and credibility, and no "humanization" of one's brand or organization.

Social media marketing is all about conversations. Two-way conversations. That means listening and responding to individual people, one at a time.

To succeed with social media, a company must first understand that it is more important to listen than to tell. To this day, I wonder if FTD is still oblivious about Lena West and her experience with 1-800-FLOWERS.

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June 28, 2010 at 1:43 PM Cam Swegman said...

Loving your site and this post in particular! Have been shocked at the number of companies on twitter (and other social media sites) that tweet "at" people instead of taking part in real conversation. Finding lots of good info here and have a feeling I'll be retweeting your stuff regularly. Thanks!

June 28, 2010 at 7:49 PM Charles Brown said...

Thank you so much. Me too, I guess it is hard to break old "spaghetti throwing" habits of marketing/advertising on old media.

The great thing about social media is that engaging with a few (very targeted)people can lead to them telling others about you.

I think conversation marketing goes hand in hand with building a fanbase rather than a database.

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