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I confess, I admit: I could never ever coach an American Football team. I have never played it, never watched a full game, I do not understand any of the rules, and I am completely ignorant to all the habits and sensitivities. I would probably do about as good as a drunken rhinoceros in artistic skating.
In my book, to be good at something requires enthusiasm, sheer will, track record and hands-on experience. And that is exactly what I see as lacking in how most influencing agencies cope with social and digital media. They line up their usual experienced heavy weights to provide their clients with strategy and guidance on how to integrate digital and social media into the overall marketing and communication mix. Little side note: an alarming high percentage of these heavy weights have no experience in the digital and social media world. Even more alarming is that the teams they roll out, into the field have none either.
A fascinating amount of power is given to people who have no clue what’s what in Social Media land. It’s not because you’ve read Groundswell or The New Normal that you are fully equipped to deep dive successfully into this fast moving area. It’s not because you know how a journalist thinks that you should take it for granted that a blogger thinks or behaves in the same way. It’s not because you’re a hotshot in direct marketing that you understand –at all- how twitter works. It’s not because you were fab in influencing through 25 square meter advertorials that you can safely assume that a banner on a site will actually benefit your client or cause in any way. It’s not because your toddler is reasonably good with Lego that it is statistically safe to let him/her play with a fully loaded Kalashnikov.
I’m confronted on a daily basis with blogger relations experts that have never blogged, community managers that are online rookies, and twitter experts that have less reach and followers than my 83 year old gardening neighbor on a rainy day. Robin Wauters of TechCrunch gave a PR professional a full broadside years ago for not playing online engagement by the online netiquette rules. And Wauters was so right. Too many arrogant old style off-line influencers think they can take the online new interactive digital scene by storm… and birthright. They look down on this booming online realm with an explosive mixture of denial, ignorance, arrogance, even disdain: an ideal cocktail for guaranteed distaster.
Not so long ago, agencies tried to offer top-notch journalists, analysts, Pulitzer Prize nominees and politicians a job to get extremely valuable hands-on knowledge, credibility and experience in house. To think that these same people will make the difference in online engagement is a huge mistake that cannot be remediated by an over lunch training session. Big time for agencies and their clients to go hunt for social media wizards, top-notch bloggers, proven star-profiled tweeps and highly connected social networkers.
Only by upgrading their workforce with Digital Wizards will companies, organizations and agencies stay afoot in this morphing landscape. How did Cary Grant say it again: it takes a thief to catch a thief….
It is happening. Campaigns with a heavy social media component, start driving a lot of traction. From The Hunger Games, Twilight, Star Wars, and the British Imperial War Museum to a growing number of brands; it looks like social media can claim a growing part of driving the needle. But what most are forgetting while looking at the award winning entrees or the mind boggling engagement figures is something disturbingly simple: it is not magic. It is hard work.
Social media success, and its golden unicorn “going viral”, is not based on luck, on a throw of the dice, or on a beneficial line up of some obscure stars and planetary constellations. It is based on careful planning, iron metrics, dazzling creativity, and a perfect understanding of the sociologic –and technical semantics of the social web.
It requires hybrid people capable to find seamless interaction between on- and offline components of a campaign, it requires access to influencers and amplifiers who can give the initiative enough boost to give it enough velocity. It requires specialized analytical brains to sift through data, and to translate these figures into actionable intelligence. It requires people ahead of the curve.
Success does not happen overnight, it’s not based on luck. As with most pieces of a business, success is directly linked to skill, empowerment and passion. Brands and agencies capable of harnessing the best talent, and setting up a suitable multi-lingual cross border operational structure see their initial investment returned in tangible results. It starts with investment, it ends with the harvest. As every farmer knows: What you do not sow, you cannot reap…
All too often, the wishful thinking is that social media can be bolted on as an afterthought. Reality is that it is a hard fought métier, requiring deep empathetic skills, innovative thinking and an uncanny ability to spot the right touch points within the target audience.
Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder)wrote all you’ll ever need to know on the possibilities to drive real ROI through social media in his book Social Media ROI. But before the cash machines will spit mountains of 4 digit bills, before sales will skyrock, before reputations will turn around… investments will have to be made in the very bone structures of brands and agencies. Going to war without modifying your army profoundly, without new weapon systems, without strategic experts that have inside knowledge on how the other side operates, you’re in for a certain Waterloo.
The first prize is a fancy car (well, a hybrid one with limited impact on the environment that is), the second prize is a set of steak knives. The third prize is simple: you’re out of business. Darwin was right: evolve, or die…
The biggest take-away for me at #SxSW is that Social Media is not hip and cool anymore. There are tons of applications, tons of new tools. But there is nothing that really made the audience go wow. And… that is a good thing. Social Media is getting mature. People use it to find their way around, locate sessions, comment on content, book cars and taxis and hotels, hunt for food.
The different applications on the smartphones are used, often on daily basis. There might be less applications in average per phone than a couple of months ago, but the applications that make it to the phones’ homepage are truly used. Most people even forget that the app or service they are using was once called Social Media. It turned into the stuff they use every day: tissues, car keys, chewing gum, twitter, facebook, google maps.
Social media is mainstream, it is everywhere, and it slipped into people’s lives and became quietly ubiquitous. As people do not get excited about car keys and bottle openers any more, they do not get easily excited about social media anymore either.
Focus goes clearly on functionality: does it work, will it work better, smoother, quicker? Will it interact with my social ecosystem? Does it link to my social networks? Do I really need it? The crowd became picky, asking for proof before want. Having new is not cool anymore, having best in class is. That forces developers and strategists to shift down a gear, and to push the pedal to the metal: that download from the app store will from now on have to be earned. The days of cool and shallow are buried somewhere with the left-overs from #SxSW 2011.