Megaphone image CC larimdame
A lot of the conversations I’ve had during the Digital Champions project have started with a blank piece of paper and the question: “how can we promote ourselves using social media?”. In a lot of cases it’s a tricky one to answer not because it’s a hard question but because it’s the wrong question.
Now this is where you might think I’m going to go off on one about discourse, and start talking about “conversation” and how brands “don’t get social media because they want to broadcast not engage”. Not today, though those points are often valid. There are two problems with asking “how can we promote ourselves using social media?”: the question is too limited in its scope and is also leapfrogging over a number of other more fundamental questions.
Social media marketing briefs often seem to make the same mistakes that briefs about e-marketing used to (and still do) make, namely seeing it as one thing that is done over here while all the other stuff happens over there. Newness often has a sense of otherness, and so can become ring-fenced in our thinking as something entirely novel and discreet. This is the sort of thinking that leads to a social media campaign which doesn’t get further than “we’re doing a bit of Twitter”. Campaigns that are about doing a bit of Twitter tend to be the campaigns that look wrong, for example the classic Twitter account that pumps out links to press releases or items in the product category and doesn’t do the “conversation” thing. So, what’s needed is a brief that sees social media not as the thing that we have to do but a set of processes, tools, protocols and methods that might be used in any number of campaigns in any number of ways. We’re talking holism. Social media can be pretty effective if it’s used in an holistic manner within wider promotional tactics, but placed outside of the context of other campaigns it often becomes burdensome or gimmicky.
Start at the beginning
The other issue is that “how can we promote ourselves using social media?” skips to the end of a thought process without picking up key bits of contextual information along the way. I’ve found the need to rewind partners to more basic questions:
- “What have we actually got to say?”
- “Who do we want to speak to?”
- “Why do they care about what we want to say anyway?”
And those questions are pretty hard. They don’t look it, but they are, especially if the brief lacks that holism I’ve been talking about. I hate to drop the “b” word but these are some pretty fundamental brand questions, and if the brand lacks clarity they can be hard to address without pulling a long way back. In a client-consultant relationship that may be too far back for all concerned – too far back for the client’s budget, too far back for the consultant’s expertise.
This might help us to understand why the world is full of shallow social media campaigns that didn’t seem to work, perhaps:
- the client didn’t ask the right questions and the consultant didn’t challenge the client
- the budget didn’t allow the ideas to be thought through fully
- the consultant is good with tools, but lacks the confidence to be conceptual and think about brand
(There are other reasons of course for things failing to click. This example assumes that the client has initiated the project themselves, rather than having social media marketing pitched to them pro-actively by a consultant).
Over the coming weeks as I wind the Digital Champions project to a close I’ll be returning to these questions and themes in a little more depth as I unpick some of the case studies from the project. Along the way we’ll pick up on some ideas Dubber has discussed here previously but spin them in a different direction. We’ll also discuss some other ideas from digital culture theory to explain what I’ve been up to for the past year. If that’s your thing (and I know it is) then make sure you’re subscribed to our RSS feed. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or observations that will help to sharpen my thinking, they’re always most welcome in the comments below.
This project was part of the “Working Neighbourhood Fund – Stimulating Demand Programme 2009/11 – Web 2.0 Presence” package of support being delivered on behalf of Digital Birmingham and Birmingham City Council.