Your social media programs should focus on your market, not your product (actually, all your marketing programs should, but let’s focus on social media for the time being).
Maybe the reason that so many social media efforts fail is because Web 2.0 technologies and tools are still very new, and lessons learned lead the way to best practices. Or perhaps it’s because in launching social media programs, the majority of marketers are focused on their products rather than their markets, and a shift in mindset is in order before shifting their marketing spend.
Let’s face it, in spending 99% of our time in our office buildings--instead of in the marketplace--makes it far too easy to be product-focused. It's exactly why social media provides a welcome solution, given how it providers marketers an easy way to connect with our markets right from our desks (or desktop computers).
But just as the goals of your social media programs should be focused on results not just "buzz", your programs must focus on your market not your product. And just as your products provide your market with unique value, so too must your social media programs.
Which begs the question, what type of value should your social media program provide, and how can you use these tools to execute against that directive? That answer depends and is case-specific with each company's audience, offerings and competencies. The value could be to make your markets' lives better, make an everyday task easier, provide a platform for them to find others with like interests, connect professionals within the same industries... or provide from several other points of value.
To help you reach your answer, here's a range of questions and supporting examples, which apply to BtoC and BtoB companies:
How can we provide a way to involve our market in the product development process?
Dell's Ideastorm does this by enabling and encouraging users to submit product development and product improvement ideas—and then letting the community vote on the merit of the ideas which directs the development efforts of the organization.
How can we include (and promote) our market as an integral component of our existing offerings?
CNN has done a tremendous job here—be it with involving the general public to ask and upload video questions as part of their YouTube presidential debates or within their regular broadcasts like reporter Rich Sanchez does through constantly scanning, querying and promoting the ideas and feedback of viewers through his twitter stream.
How can we help our market improve at a specific skill or subject matter?
If you help your market improve at something, you are building relationships while building your reputation. Like many professionals, I follow that model at my own blog—by freely sharing my professional experiences, opinions, tips and techniques I help others while I benefit from professional relationships, business referrals, speaking opportunities and a network of dear colleagues and friends that help me improve at my craft.
How can we make our market part of our progress and, in turn, make our achievements their achievements, too?
Charity Water is currently building its first “Twestival Well” to provide a community in Ethiopia with clean drinking water and will be posting daily videos of their progress so that the public at large and those who have donated get to participate in the amazing endeavor. It’s not only the value of feel-good but will also help to raise more funds as people will want to see more progress and share in its continued success.
How can we provide our market with more transparency of our operations--and therefore open communications with them?
Many members of the U.S. Congress are now active on Twitter, with the current White House Administration opening up new streams of communications through online videos, social networking, blogging and tweeting. This not only sets a precedent for a government and its constituents, but a new standard for companies to start opening feedback loops with their customers and prospects.
How can we make a task easier for our market?
AllTop—with its “aggregation without the aggravation” benefit is a great example of filtering various news sites and blogs for readers interested in wide-ranging topics. And TweetDeck, an application that provides a more elaborate interface for Twitter feeds does this through giving users a new way to view and organize their their twitter streams, incoming messages, replies and searches.
How can we remove obstacles for our market?
Through its twitter feed, Comcast is removing customer service obstacles by providing an online presence to help with customers’ questions and concerns. Not only is it making for happier customers but for better public relations, too.
How can we give our market some entertainment while they learn about our product?
Through their hilarious “Will it Blend?” series of online videos, BlendTec has blended everything from the iPhone to the U.S. Bailout Budget and proved that with the right mix (pardon the pun), entertainment can be wrought even from the most prosaic products--and I mean that in a complimentary sense because making blenders exciting is quite a feat as well as exponentially increasing the company's profits.
How can we provide a forum for our market to exchange ideas and connect with others?
AMEX's Open Forum serves as a brilliant example due to creating a resource for small business professionals to exchange ideas, recommendations, problems, solutions, network and much more through its message boards and content—all while tastefully promoting its brand of small business financial services.
How can we reduce or remove “pain points” for our market?
CommonCraft has done an extraordinary job of cutting through the pain of complication for its audience. Their easy-to understand, fun-to-watch online videos provide explanation of otherwise hard-to-explain subject matter…like RSS, Social Networking, Twitter and more. And this series is not only valuable to their markets, it showcases their talents, which brings them plenty of clients.
How can we leverage creativity in order to better connect with our market?
While I’m still not sure if the twitter account of @NatHistoryWhale is actually sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History in NYC it’s easily one of the most fun for me to follow—because it’s a character tweeting as the "museum's famous whale" instead of a twitter account run by the official museum staff (and the author is very funny).
How can we produce something that's created by us but belongs to (and credits) our market?
MarketingProfs recently created the "Marketing Addictionary", a database of user-generated words that creates a new lexicon for a new generation of business marketers. Sometimes the entries are smart, sometimes they're just plain silly. Words can be voted up or down by other users with each contributor getting credit for their ideas--so while the dictionary was created by MarketingProfs, it truly belongs to the community.
While the length of this post would signal I've outlined every possible type of value you can extend to your markets through social media, that's not the case ;-). If you know of programs that serve as exemplary market-focused programs, please share in the comments. Just remember, in social media, value for your market means ROI for you.
PS: And for marketers who are currently working on, or gearing up to launch social media initiatives, here's a post that will guide you through the planning questions.