Social Media Marketing: From Monologues to Dialogues

“With social media analytics,” Ed Abrams and Jay Hakami recently blogged, midsize businesses “can calculate the ROI and assess the effectiveness of their social media marketing campaigns by tracking both the actions of consumers and the influence of their top commenters and re-tweeters providing a level of insight on the individual never seen before . . . allowing them to make informed business decisions on how to best leverage their online presence.”

But perhaps the most challenging aspect for businesses trying to best leverage their online presence by using social media in their marketing campaigns is that it involves the presence of voices that they don’t have control over — their customers’ voices.

Social media has transformed word of mouth into word of data.  And, as more companies are being forced to acknowledge, the digital mouths of customers speak volumes.  Social media is empowering customers to add their voice to marketing messages.

“Everyone loves to talk about customers engaging with brands,” Rick Robinson recently blogged.  “But in the process, customers are also taking over brands.  The message for midsize firms is that they can no longer count on shaping the conversation.”

“Social media offers,” Dan Berthiaume recently blogged, “the opportunity to directly engage with customers for real-time feedback.  Social media marketing at its core is a relatively inexpensive and fast way of conducting marketing.”  True, however as Paul Gillin explained during our recent podcast discussion about social media for midsize businesses, the fundamental difference between traditional marketing and social media marketing is that the former is one-way, whereas the latter is two-way.

In other words, marketing has not historically looked to engage with customers to receive feedback.  Marketing has traditionally broadcasted messages at customers — and marketing’s early use of social media has been as just another broadcast channel.

However, “social media is a process of continual conversation,” Gillin explained.  “It’s a very different way to go about marketing, but the natural tendency for people when they see something new is to apply the old metaphors to it.  What you’ve seen during the first five years of social media’s popularity is a lot of use of these platforms as essentially the same old marketing channels.”

“We see more companies every year that are getting the idea that social media is a two-way conversation,” Gillin continued, “but it’s a difficult skill to develop.  Marketers are not taught in school or at work to converse — they’re taught to deliver messages.  So that’s turning around a pretty big battleship trying to convince and teach all these people the skills of two-way engagement.”

Marketing has long been accustomed to controlling a conversation that was never really a conversation — since marketers did all the talking, and customers could only listen or ignore them.  Social media is evolving marketing from monologues to dialogues.

Is your midsize business ready and, more importantly, willing to engage customers in an actual conversation?


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.