system two

system two
start-up thinking in the enterprise

Monday, 19 October 2009

The Last "c

I've just completed the final installment in a series of articles I was writing about social media for DFF clients

"Our scoot around the boundaries of social media marketing is nearly complete. Our last “C” stands for control. And like any good estate agent or a climate negotiation – we have left the most contentious issue till last….

Digital networks take control out of the hands of the few and hand it over - abet often in a clumsy and contradictory manner - to the many. Social media is part brand therapy, part populist revolution and part return to a norm. The mighty changes taking place in political institutions, the media and the wider economy are in no small part, down to digital networks enabling far more of us than ever before to talk to each other, more easily than we’ve every done in the past.

But control is about more than just the standard horror stories from the web (Untied airlines breaking guitars here (their share price took a 20% hit when the story broke in old media), Habitat exploiting death to sell cheap sofas here or Motrim’s young mother misunderstanding (was there anything really that bad with this viral?) – hit delicious for a complete disaster-paedia).

PR disasters will be with us whichever form of media a brand chooses to use. When we talk about control we’re thinking bigger – and more we like to think - more positively.

5 years ago a blogger called Jeff Jarvis started a thread called “dell hell” in which he berated the company for its lacklustre customer service and after sales support. The blog and its effect form the basis of social media folklore. Discovering that their “share of voice” (how much talk online they actually controlled) was effectively 0 – Dell realised instead of trying to ignore or kill the conversation they had better act more positively. The result was a transformation in Dell’s marketing strategy. Not only did they address the specific issues Jeff Jarvis raised – they began to reengineer their business model to make sure it couldn’t happen again. Years later, 17 people sitting in a room talking to customers on blogs twitter and through other social media channels is Dell’s online marketing strategy. They are said to sell $250,000 worth of linx computers through their Twitter channel every month.

More recently Obama’s presidential campaign pushed the control envelope still further. For the first time (possibly in history) a politician did a u-turn, and havign done so made it clear instead of closing the issue down, he was happy to host the debate about it - on his own time - spending political capital in the process.

As in all good herpay - he understood he needed to “own” the problem to be authentic.

Many people didn’t like u-turn but he was widely credited for the leadership he showed in accepting criticism and over time, with the specifics of the issue long forgotten, what people were left with was a residual feeling of openness and transparency.

The message for other brands is becoming clear. Participating, openly and honestly in the debate that is your brand online (see Cluetrain Manifesto for more details) is the only approach that makes sense in an interconnected world. Brands can no more hope to beat their customers into marketing submission than the Iranian government could hope to stop twitter traffic about the aborted election, or the Chinese government could manage people’s discussion of their response to earth quakes in Xinjiang province. Whilst it is entertaining to watch power and ego in the age of the “mad men” - their reign in the real world appears to be over – for now.

Control then is a brand “state of mind” – not a policy, or strategy. The brands that succeed online are those that, at every levels of their business accept their customers being part of their everyday lives – more than this - actively embrace their involvement as the quickest way to a closer - more mutually beneficial relationship. Whether it is customer service responding quickly to issues that arise in social media channels - or product development launching crowd sourced applications - or marketing nurturing the key people talking about the brand online – the understanding of the balance of power in the relationship with the consumer is critical online.

So there it is. “The 5 C’s” – what we have begun to refer to as the “understanding” section of our new digital planning framework. In total there will be 3 sections:

Understanding – The 5 C’s
Strategy – 10 Questions to a social media strategy
Engage – 15 tactics to action your social media strategy

The 5 C’s then is a start - an aperitif. The main course – the “10 questions” you’ll find as a sketch on our slideshare account here This is where you can take what you’ve learned here and start to make more concrete plans.

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