Put People and Process Before Technology

There is a major obsession with tools. As marketers, we’re always looking for the one silver bullet that will solve a challenge, and with enough money, we’ll find a tool that will solve all of our problems and answer all of our questions. There’s a new social media tool claiming to optimize marketers’ efforts every day, but that one tool to rule them all doesn’t exist. It will never exist because it cannot replace people.

Start with People

A social media marketer’s greatest asset is the people executing a brand’s social media efforts. Experts across the organization, including customer service, content creation, R&D, creative, HR and so on are invaluable resources that cannot be replaced. It’s far easier to train them on how to use a tool than to train a tool “expert” how to do any and all of those other tasks.

It’s essential to start with people who are already doing a job and doing it very well. From there marketers can determine how their jobs will be affected by social media and what the additional “asks” there will be.

Think about all of the tasks and who need to be involved, establish the necessary procedures and then train them. That’s when technology comes in.

There isn’t a magic tool that does everything you need all the time. Every tool comes with pros and cons and range from being very simple, free solutions to being more complicated, enterprise-level platforms. The right tools are the ones that work for you and your business, so start with the people who will be doing the job, train them and then use technology to fill in the gaps.

Fill in the Gaps

Tools fill in the gaps of people’s abilities and constraints, whether they are time, scale and capabilities. They make the work done by people better. People don’t make the work done by technology better.

While there isn’t a perfect tool, marketers should ask themselves what weaknesses exist and find the tools that will help overcome those weaknesses.

Stop Searching

The best solutions are a hybrid of multiple solutions, but I know that isn’t what we want to hear. The mindset that there’s one tool to rule them all is what has made marketers look at tools like Klout as a number to evaluate influence. At its best Klout is a directional tool that still requires human insight and analysis to truly evaluate influence. It’d be easy to take Klout by itself and use it to quickly and easily evaluate influencers. It’d be quick. It’d be easy. But it wouldn’t be correct.

The perfect tool isn’t out there, so instead of having a tool-first mindset, have a solution-oriented mindset. Focus on the problems that need to be solved and then choose the right tool.

Technology lets us do amazing things, but it shines when it makes what we do in social media marketing better, faster, more effective, more responsive and better for the consumer. That’s how relationships are made, trust is formed and advocacy is created.

Who Owns Relationships?

In July, PhoneDog.com filed a lawsuit against its former employee, Noah Kravitz, for violating trade secrets and misappropriation of the company’s Twitter account.

Kravitz managed the PhoneDog Twitter account, which was also his personal account, while with the company. Well, PhoneDog filed suit to reclaim his 17,000 followers, claiming that they are actually PhoneDog’s. The lawsuit is for $340,000 or $2.50 per follower.

Owning Relationships

Now, the question has bee raised around who really owns the relationships. Kravitz continued to tweet about PhoneDog even after he left the company because he left on good terms. He put a lot of work into the account and built the following on his own. However, part of that growing following could be attributed to the fact that Kravitz was associated with the brand. 

Was it his hard work or his association with PhoneDog that built the following? It’s likely a combination of both, so now the question of who owns the relationship is being decided by the courts.

Instincts tell me that the relationships are with Kravitz, not PhoneDog because people want relationships with other people. Kravitz was the one they interacted with and got to know, not PhoneDog. This is the danger of putting a real human behind a company’s social media presence. Even though it’s a danger, it’s still a very valuable way to build deeper connections with customers. However, I understand PhoneDog’s perspective as well.

Value of Relationships

The $2.50 per follower number is interesting. There’s certainly no shortage of studies out there that claim a follower or fan is worth a certain number, but the problem with this $2.50 number and any other value of each follower study is that they assume ever person is equal.

Not all followers are created equal. People follow and fan for different reasons, and many may never see the brand’s content. In addition, not every brand’s followers are equal. One person may be more valuable to one brand than they would be for another brand. It comes down to purchase frequency, size of purchase, business model and so on.

The outcome of this case will be very interesting, but the true value of each follower depends upon the brand. Every follower is worthless unless the brand does something with them such as converting them to purchase, providing customer service to maintain loyalty and turning their follow into revenue-driving actions. Don’t assume that just because they’re a follower, they’re valuable because that is not the case.

Establish the Ownership Before Relationships

The issue with PhoneDog and other organizations is that they didn’t establish the rules early on. Much of this issue could have been overcome with a social media policy that 1.) outlined who owned a brand account and the relationships with customers, 2.) who was authorized to engage on behalf of the brand and 3.) how social platform management transitions would take place if needed.

Socializing Expertise

One of the most under-utilized and often over-feared aspects of social media marketing is the ability to leverage employees and staff to communicate on behalf of the brand. Now, there are certainly more than a few reasons to ask that employees not interact on business-related conversations in the social space: the need to control brand messaging, unpredictable staff, human resource concerns, etc.

However, there are also reasons to do the exact opposite and mobilize your workforce to communicate with your customers online: put a face (or faces) behind the brand, leverage everyone's expertise, grow and nurture real relationships with customers and so one. It particularly makes sense to mobilize your workforce in B2B communications because it offers a means for your sales force to grow relationships with clientele.

Educate Then Mobilize

There is risk in mobilizing your workforce, but risk can be minimized and benefits can be maximized by getting everyone on the same page, setting guidelines and communicating best practices.

Establish a policy. Create a social media policy that protects your employees and your company. Outline what is okay (e.g., addressing questions) and what is not (e.g., sharing proprietary information). Encourage your employees by letting them know that this is intended to protect them as well as the company.

Agree on rules of engagement. Make it clear to employees when it's okay to participate in conversation, when it isn't and what to do when responding (e.g., providing full disclosure). Give employees enough support and enough guidelines to allow them to feel confident in their understanding and ability to converse in the social space.

Provide best in practice guidance by offering training on how to use the tools best suited for connecting with consumers as well as provide guidance on content. They should use their professional social networks to offer context when sharing information, provide business-related advice and tips and connect personally with consumers by showcasing their personalities.

Make experts and establish credibility. The benefit for your employees engaging is it positions them as experts, thus making your brand appear more credible. They can use tools like Twitter and LinkedIn to provide guidance, share news relevant to consumers and offer tips/ answer questions.

Leverage What You Have

The most social brands will have a major challenge when it comes to interacting with all of the customers that require their attention in the social space. It's a big job for one person or a small team, but a workforce excited to use social media to interact with consumers while following the rules of engagement is an untapped opportunity. Whether or not it's the right approach for your business depends upon several factors, but if it is, set your brand up for success by establishing a policy, educating personnel appropriately and using their efforts to better your brand's overall social media efforts.