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Twitter is not a strategy

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I was speaking at an online marketing event recently and I got an interesting question from an audience member.

"What's your Twitter strategy?" he asked.

Without even blinking, I responded, "I don't have a Twitter strategy."
A collective gasp could be heard in the room. I mean, how could any self-respecting marketer not have a Twitter strategy in this era of social media? So, after appearing to lose all marketing street cred with the people in the room, I continued.

"We have a strategy,” I said. “Twitter is just one of many ways that we execute our strategy."

Then there was a collective head-nod in the room as people realized the point: Twitter is a tactic, not a strategy.

Now, I love Twitter and Facebook. But for marketers, these tools present an interesting dilemma. Are they popular? Yes. There are 500 million Facebook users and 145 million Twitter users. That represents an attractive audience for any marketer. But, are Facebook and Twitter effective marketing tools? Well, I think the verdict is still out.

I’ve talked to many marketers who swear by Twitter and Facebook, giving those sites huge credit for everything from increased satisfaction to higher sales. But I think the vast majority of marketers out there are saying, “We’re just trying to figure it out.”

Several years back, I worked for one of the big media planning shops in New York. Almost daily we were meeting with sales reps pitching everything from branded eggs to logoed urinal cakes. I’m not joking. Urinal cakes with logos on them. Now, I’m not sure what marketer would want people literally peeing on their brand. But maybe I'm just old school.

The problem is that these sexy new media tools can distract from the important work—developing the right strategy for your brand. Because if your strategy isn't right, it doesn't matter if you have a killer Facebook idea. You will probably fail.

Figuring out these new marketing tools isn't easy. Not long ago, I was working at an ad agency and we were doing a branded Web-based reality show for our client. For the time, it was an incredibly innovative program. This was when YouTube was exploding and Web video was all the rage. We went all-in and spent a lot of money and even more of our time focusing on this branded entertainment play.

When it was all said and done, the show turned out very well. Hundreds of thousands of people watched it. We got some modestly positive results from our brand-tracking study. The show was written up in several trade publications. But it was a huge resource-suck. For about six months that was all we could work on. Meanwhile, the business was struggling and we were more or less unresponsive because of the focus on this one project. Looking back, we probably would have been better off trying to fix the business.

In my current role at AutoTrader.com, I see this same kind of thing happening with many of our dealer customers. Many car dealers love Facebook and spend a lot of time managing their Facebook presence. We actually did a research study on social media and found that only 3% of car buyers were actually influenced by sites like Facebook. So if a dealer wants to sell more cars, maybe Facebook isn’t the best place to invest a lot of energy. Especially if that time could be better spent promoting and merchandising cars on the sites where people are actually doing the shopping.

Marketing is all about experimentation. You have to try lots of new things to see what sticks. But at the same time you can’t let yourself get so distracted by the latest and greatest media tactic that you neglect what made you successful in the first place.

And, most important, please make sure not to confuse tactics with strategies. At the end of the day, you have to look at your overall strategy for your brand and decide if Twitter, Facebook or any other media tactic fits in. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. If it does, what’s the cost in both time and resources? Could that money or time be better spent elsewhere?
There’s no right answer to any of these questions. But that’s why we love marketing, right?

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