Confused about this whole social media thing? Well, worry no more. New York interactive shop 360i is here to help. The agency today released a 56-page Social Marketing Playbook that attempts to cull all the agency's wisdom about social marketing in one place. To explain why 360i felt the handbook was needed and what marketers can expect to learn from it, Brandweek editor Todd Wasserman spoke with Sarah Hofstetter, vp-emerging media and client strategy, via e-mail. Here is their conversation:
Brandweek: So why did you come out with this playbook? Who's it for?
Sarah Hofstetter: Through our recent conversations with CMOs and senior marketers at large brands, we were finding a recurring pattern of marketers who wanted to get into social marketing but were either daunted by the landscape or were looking for guidance on how to take the first step. We also discovered that, oftentimes, the individuals responsible for the stewardship of the brand are uncomfortable with social media and those heavily immersed in social media tend to not have formal brand training. This Playbook aims to bridge the two by providing a framework for establishing a set of clear objectives and strategy when approaching social marketing, and encouraging thinking of social marketing as an opportunity to have a continuous, valuable exchange with customers.
BW: There have been a couple of reports recently that most people who sign up for Twitter only use it once. Do you think the importance of Twitter might be overstated?
SH: There's a chapter in the Playbook called "The Arenas" that addresses some of the more buzzed about platforms, including Twitter. We highly advocate avoiding the "checklist" approach to social media, where marketers just develop a "Twitter strategy" or a "Facebook strategy." The goal is to develop a communications strategy based on where a brand's audience is aggregating. For some marketers, Twitter is an excellent tool to engage with their customers, build loyalty and garner real-time insights. For others, it simply may not be worth the investment to do anything but listen. It depends on the brand, their goals and their audience. Regardless, Twitter is an excellent tool for listening and brands may learn key insights that they would not have been privy to previously.
BW: It seems like common sense that if you're in a situation like Domino's was a few weeks ago, you should get your message out ASAP, but at the same time we know that such messaging usually needs sign off at the highest levels. How do you react quickly with the CEO's blessing?
SH: Preparation is key. We recommend all marketers actively listen and analyze the chatter about their brand online. Should a problem arise, the critical first step is delineating between a true crisis or a minor flareup. Either way, an escalation and crisis management process must be put in place in advance, no different from having an emergency preparedness plan for your office building. You hope you never have to use it, but it's there and you're ready just in case.
BW: Isn't there a value for a brand to be somewhat unapproachable? I'm thinking of Apple, for instance. They don't have someone out there Twittering 24/7 and it doesn't seem to hurt them. Does everyone have to be approachable?
SH: Having a social marketing strategy in place doesn't mean that you're Twittering 24/7. Every brand has a different approach and strategy for their communication across social channels. Some choose to actively participate and engage, while others simply listen and keep their ear to the ground for real-time customer insights. The conversations are happening and available 24/7 across the social landscape; what a brand chooses to do with that varies based on their communications plan and strategic lens, and it really varies by marketer.
BW: At the same time, if you make a good product, won't the good buzz perpetuate itself? Isn't engineering social media an attempt to make up for a shortcoming in whatever product or service you're offering?
SH: If you follow that premise to its logical conclusion, then there shouldn't be marketing departments or budgets at all. But really social marketing is not about pushing or engineering messages. It's about engaging your customers, whether you're listening and responding to feedback, or amplifying your brand's messaging.
BW: What's the biggest misconception about social media?
SH: That social marketing can be done by anyone, regardless of experience or strategy. This is a marketing channel that gives you unprecedented access to have a direct relationship with your customers without a middleman. It crosses organizational boundaries and can have a profound impact on numerous areas of the organizational chain - from marketing to PR, product development, HR and sales. Entrusting that relationship to just anyone, outside of any strategic marketing program, is a travesty. The irony is that this should be at the core, not at the periphery, of a successful marketing strategy.