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The Truth about Social Networking
Deliver freedom, not hype.
Posted Jun 25, 2009
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People have a passion to be heard. In a world rife with time constraints that make it difficult merely to listen, let alone to have real, in-person relationships, social networking has proven to be the proxy for people too busy for real-time connections. Paradoxically, giving face time to customers is now seen as the ultimate compliment.

Social networks have unleashed a freedom and candor of communication never seen before. One can pull back and try to analyze the exponential growth of social networks using concepts such as The Network Effect, theories of information velocity, or collaboration theories — but the appeal is really just all about the passion people have to be heard and the desire they have to be free in doing so.

The passion people have to communicate on social networks reminds me of the word Eleftheria (Greek for freedom), a word that reverberates with strong emotions of being able to do what others said you could not. Never mind if those who said you couldn't were governments,  or merely bigoted people who judged you because of the color of your skin or your gender or even your appearance. Eleftheria says those people don't matter. It's a beautiful word and one my Greek immigrant grandparents said with passion and reverence.

Eleftheria: Too Valuable for Any Marketer to Waste
The best marketers get it: They don't waste or trivialize the Eleftheria bestowed upon them by social networks — the power to serve customers and enrich others. Instead, these leading-edge marketers capitalize on Eleftheria to enrich, serve, support, and strengthen their customers, and to help those customers realize goals. (You have to love the paradox of how the best marketers involved in social networks look to free, not ensnare, their customers.)

For any marketer looking to excel at social networking, the most important questions to ask are:

  • How can I free my customers from inconvenience?
  • How can I rid them of unnecessary costs?
  • How can I reduce or remove their problems by sharing more-relevant information?
  • How can I better listen to them?

Imagine how much more valuable many of the social networking sites would be if marketers asked themselves these questions rather than seeking out virtual bullhorns. Trivializing a social network as a virtual bullhorn is to throw away Eleftheria.

What Makes a Great Social Networking Marketing Strategy?
I'd like to suggest a contrarian thought to those companies and persons on social networks: The more followers you have, the more people you have to serve.

Followers are not there to serve you; you are there to serve them — with encouragement, insights, support, and, most of all, the chance to reach their goals. That's what Eleftheria is really all about: freeing your customers (and followers) to reach their goals. Self-aggrandizement is nothing more than a distraction. Better to be part of customers' passionate pursuits than to tell them how great you are.

Here's what matters most:

  • being honest;
  • being real;
  • helping your customers (or followers) reach their goals; and
  • reorienting every social networking platform strategy to embrace these values.

Think of it this way: Instead of sending thousands of tweets to promote your brand (or yourself), think how powerful it would be to deliver Eleftheria to just one customer (or follower) through social networks? Freeing just one customer or lightening the load of just one follower — so much more worth it.

Yet it does not need to stop there. There are so many more ways marketers can use social networks to free their customers — from time drains, from annoying problems, from costly errors in the approach to doing business. Circumstances may vary, but no matter the situation trust is earned when you can deliver Eleftheria over and over again to your customers. Here are some ways to go about it:

  • Be very selective in choosing social networking platforms. Marketers who attempt to be on every single social networking platform often fail. Why? Because they can't scale to support the conversations on and unique needs of each. Seeing social networking as a means to an end — delivering Eleftheria — is the real value. One of my favorite authors, David Meerman Scott, has used the analogy of a cocktail party, noting how annoying it is when you attempt to have a conversation with someone who keeps watching the door for interesting people to arrive. Don't be that person. Actually listen to conversations.
  • Own your problems in public. Only a handful of companies — certainly not enough — are doing this on social networks today, but they're the ones powerfully creating and extending credibility. Comcast comes to mind as one, and there are a few others. By owning even the ugly, messy problems online and striving for a solution together with customers, these are the companies delivering Eleftheria.
  • Assign an "Acronym Assassin" to seek out and destroy gobbledygook. Seemingly an obvious step, but be sure that all content makes sense to those outside your company's four walls. Check out the Gobbledygook Grader, developed by HubSpot and marketing expert David Meerman Scott. This is not meant to be snarky or mean; it's meant to reinforce the importance of clear communication as another step toward delivering Eleftheria.

Bottom line: Think about those companies and people that really matter to you, the ones you are fiercely loyal to. Then consider the full meaning of Eleftheria — chances are, those companies and people are the ones that delivered Eleftheria to you over and over again.

In that experience resides the essence of how social networks can be used for marketing.

About the Author
Louis Columbus is senior manager, enterprise systems, with Cincom. He is a member of the Cincom Acquire marketing team, writes extensively on the company's blogs, and occasionally speaks at industry events. A former senior analyst with AMR Research and the author of 15 books on technology-related topics, he teaches International Business, Global Competitive Strategies, and High-Tech Marketing courses for the MBA Program at Webster University.

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For the rest of the June 2009 issue of CRM magazine — The Social Media Issue — please click here.

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