I am excited about the contributions that social media will eventually make to marketing. What's most promising is that social will help to transform marketing communications into what it should be: a two-way interaction between buyer and seller. Presently, much of our marketing communications is just the opposite: a one-way push of the vendor's voice. ¶ But social media is not marketing ... yet.
Two things need to happen for social media to earn its rightful place in the marketing mix. First, it must contribute to the inbound side of marketing. Web 2.0 conversations about your company's product and services need to be mined and gleaned so that they become valuable components of your product management decisions. The litmus test here is that your product managers start to depend on those contributions.
The second development is on the outbound side of marketing. Social media needs to become a primary preference for how buyers inform their decisions. IDC research shows that buyers almost always prefer to receive information from independent third parties and from their peers. Social media should shine when applied in this fashion.
But there is important work ahead to make these things happen, to “operationalize” marketing organizations to reap the benefits of social media. “Operationalize” may not make it through your spell-checker, but it's a term on the lips of the best marketers in tech today.
My sense is that marketing leaders know that the following three operational tasks need to be completed before the inbound and outbound marketing benefits of social media can be realized.
Centralize: While I'm not a great fan of heavy-handed corporate marketing policies, in the case of social media I am pressing for them. When a privacy breach involving a social media campaign occurs, I bet the blame is going to wind its way back to the marketing department, regardless of its role. For this reason alone, corporate marketing needs to have basic social media governance policies in place.
Train: For every 100 people casually involved in social conversations, you probably have only two or three in-house experts. Find those two or three, and have them train the rest.
Measure: Poor metrics can give good marketing activities a bad name. Because it's easy and we are all lazy, we slip into measuring activities and not results. Measuring the number of tweets or enumerating the cast of your followers are examples of this. Instead, measure how many buying decisions you influenced. Measure how many customer-service issues you identified and passed on to the right area for resolution.
Richard Vancil is VP-executive advisory group at IDC. He can be reached at email@example.com.