Oh the things those (fear!) demons make us do. The only thing more dreadful? The things those demons make us NOT do.
I've come to the realization that I'm not a marketer. Or maybe I should say I'm not only a marketer. Over the years, my role has evolved into 2 parts marketer + 1 part guide + 1 part therapist. 'Twas not intentional. But it's certainly called for in these disruptive times.
Because in transitioning companies to social media requires my tapping into all these roles. Why? The short answer is: fear of the unknown. Marketers now find themselves in uncharted territory that's defined by change and rife with ways to falter.
And hey, that's scary stuff.
You see, Web 2.0 (aka "social media") is more than a set of new technologies. Conversely, social media heralds an entirely new era that places customers in control because it puts dynamic media tools within everyone's reach. As a result, it changes so much of what marketers have learned up until now--and has companies of all shapes and sizes scrambling to keep pace with consumers. My how things change, and quickly so.
Exciting times? Definitely. An age that's ripe with revenue opportunities? Most definitely. Scary era for marketers? Definitely x infinity!
So while the marketer and the guide part of my role helps me teach companies the opportunities and best practices, and facilitates the necessary shift in their mindsets, the therapist part of my role is laser-focused on their fears. Because fear tends to make us not act, instead of take action. And we want companies to be proactive in their use of these new tools, not paralyzed by their fear of them.
Thus, it is here where we let the (fear) demons loose. Oh if only I had the budget to stream some CGI graphics where I could simulate demons encircling the room... maybe one day.
Now, let me be clear on how I go about it: I'm not focused on shoving those fear demons to the side so that they're out of central view. Because in focusing on 'getting rid of the fear,' one finds themselves still very much centered (haunted?) on fear, being those demons are still alive and well in their peripheral vision.
And when one is so sidetracked on ridding themselves of fear, and avoiding it at all costs, they're still paying those demons a lot of mind share.
Instead, I advocate (and practice) placing the fear front & center. In dueling these demons we accept their presence and then we start robbing them of their power. Much like in a group therapy session, I hold a workshop where everyone is free to share their social media insecurities. And true to therapy, it's a safe, confidential environment where nothing--no demon too big nor small--is off limits.
And once all fears are out in the open? Then we walk through each and every scary scenario and create marketing plans for how to deal with the implications should those demons ever rear their ugly heads.
Sure, we hope and plan for the best. But we also prepare for the worst. Because then the worst isn't so bad since I've not only had them face their fears, but I've also armed them with a strong plan. And where fear is enervating, a plan is empowering.
After all, a plan is a pathway out of the fear. Tunnel meet light. Demon meet your match. You get the 'gist.
With that said, here are six of the main fears that I hear echoed so many times I've given these demons their own names, along with some of the advice I have for slaying even the most dreadful among them:
#1 Bad Buzz Demon: "We're scared that people will say bad stuff about our brands."
This ranks #1, and rightly so. With reports on backlashes and boycotts making the headlines, companies are very fearful of negative buzz. But here's the thing--if people are talking negatively about your brands in public forums online, it signals that they're also speaking unfavorably about your brands offline... and now you know if products, enhancements or customer service processes are not performing at optimal levels. And whether or not your brand is active in social media, people are avidly using these tools to freely discuss their preferences "out in the open." So, ironic as it may seem, these markets are actually doing you a favor. In the case of bad buzz, you should respond by thanking them for their feedback and then communicating how improvements will be made, and by when. And you should absolutely make a list of whom all to personally contact once improvements are made (you should also give thought to asking several of them to sit on your Customer Advisory Board so you have an ongoing feedback channel).
And if you find yourself in a controversial situation or crisis? While it might be tough to understand amid the chaos of the moment, what you're afforded is the spotlight and attention. So marketers should use that platform to react quickly and with a detailed response on how they'll improve the situation. Ask your audience for suggestions and have resources at the ready to respond to them. Remember, information breeds confidence, where silence breeds speculation, and cynicism. Once you've established that feedback loop, and once the crisis has cleared, continue those relationships--don't lose what you've gained. Lastly, and hear me well here, if ever you want management to move on an improvement or new product idea, show them the unfavorable feedback as you'll be amazed how that can set an otherwise tabled project in motion, and at warp speed. (See, I told you negative feedback can be doing you a favor--so perhaps that demon is a blessing in disguise!)
#2 Out-of-Steam Demon: "We fear that we won’t be able to keep up with our blog/podcast/wiki/twitter/etc. once we launch it."
Many times marketers are so focused on launching a program, that they forget the imperative processes that support it. Think of it as such: a program gives birth to an idea, but a process ensures that the idea has a long, healthy life. Thus, be mindful to (1) identify the necessary processes to support your social media presence and programs (2) ensure that you have adequate resources to perform these processes and (3) review the programs and processes at regular intervals to ensure they are meeting goals (it might need to be optimized).
#3 Dull Demon: "We're concerned, since our product/service is boring, that no one will be interested in talking about it."
Technology gadgets, fashion and music are inherently sexy subject matters. Nuts, bolts and accounting software not so much (accountants, I mean no ill will here and I respect you greatly!). But you may work for a company whose products or services might address subject matter that, while dry, are altogether important and necessary. This happens a lot in BtoB, yet professionals are an avid audience. So here you want to think much broader than your specific products/services and give thought to what they enable, or the parts of people's lives/work/interests that they affect. But you don't want to go so broad--or so off the beaten path--that your product doesn't complement the content that you're focused upon. In your content, your product doesn't need to be the *star* so much as a supporting character.
Two other ideas here. First, do your research and see what other writers/bloggers/experts are publishing content on your subject of focus and ask them if they'd like to have their content featured at your site as well (they can even republish existing content to an entirely new audience that drives readership to your site and theirs as you'll give them a great bio and links, and even feature them as a part of your newsletter). And, second, instead of carrying the entire content burden, give thought to engaging your community through forums where they can ask questions and address relevant subject matter between themselves... you'll be amazed at the conversations they'll hold and the content they'll inspire. But you'll likely want to plan for a community manager or moderator that can fuel and facilitate conversations.
#4 Oppressive Demon: "We fear that we'll be so constrained by company policy that we’ll come off as more machine than human."
Before you have a discussion with your customers and prospects, you first need to have one with your management and legal department. While much of what cannot be discussed online is common sense, these rules and policies need to be clearly outlined and codified.
Companies understand by now that the conversation is taking place with, or without, their consent. And they also understand that marketers are wholly focused on "reaping opportunities" while lawyers are fully centered on "minimizing risk." But one area where all departments--and I assure you, ALL departments--are in agreement is that the company needs to remain profitable and thus, needs to remain relevant. And just as other companies have done, yours too will find a common ground on policies and protocols so that your conversations are more flow than ebb.
#5 Outsmarted Demon: "We’re already so behind our competitors that we’re scared we'll be left in their dust."
If you want to differentiate, then you’ll blaze an entirely new trail… so in planning around this fear you'll be planning on how to differentiate from everybody else. This differentiation might take the form of a using a different social media tool (they may use a blog, where you build a Wiki), it might be in how you use Twitter (they may want to promote their developments, where you want to provide another customer service channel) or it might be the unique focus of your content. Further, it may also be in the company personalities that are the voice of your social media programs.
So long as you are mindful of how you're differentiating--and how that differentiation provides unique value--you will avoid the "me-too, same-old" trap. (And this holds true in all your marketing programs and strategy, not just your social media ones.)
#6 Uncool Demon: "Unlike, say, Google and Twitter, we’re not a “technology company” so we're afraid that we’ll sound or appear out-of-touch, or un-hip."
The first thing to remember is that if you're not a tech company, then it's not likely that your market is on the cutting edge either ... and even if they are, they will not expect you to be. But, insofar as ensuring that the technology you're using is both bulletproof and user-friendly, there are many resources that you can retain to that end.
Most of all, it's not about providing the "coolest" content or features, but providing benefits that are truly useful and helpful to your audiences. Take the simple benefit of solving problems--if your content or program can help people do something more easily, much faster and equip them with more knowledge, they'll be thankful. Keep in mind that adding value is wrought through adding a benefit or solving a problem (or both). Just remember to map your content and benefits to ones that support the competencies and the benefits of your products and services. And then you'll be hip to your audiences, too.
The demon of our own making... and our own demise
So, give it a go, and sprinkle some therapy in your own work when transitioning companies to social media. Along with regaling the many opportunities of social media to companies, try your hand at helping them to identify and admit their fears--and then amply prepare them with plans for turning any negatives into positives.
But don't forget to remind companies of the biggest fear (risk) of all: if your company is paralyzed by these demons, you'll miss out on the many rewards of this new era and run the very real risk of being perceived as outdated and irrelevant... all while your savvy competitors--who have already faced down their demons--have leveraged these media to amass a greater share of hearts, minds and, yes, market share (and taken part of yours in the process).
And that's truly a demon of your very own making.
Update: I'll be speaking on "Slaying The Web 2.0 Fear Demons" at an upcoming conference, details here.