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Why Social Media Savvy Is Essential for All Brands

By Andrea Fabbri

Mark Schaefer’s latest book, Social Media Explained: Untangling the World’s Most Misunderstood Business Trend, grew out of a thriving consulting practice aimed at helping executives and companies grasp and adapt to the new dynamics of customer engagement. One of the world’s most influential marketing voices—he pens the {grow} blog and co-hosts The Marketing Companion podcast—Schaefer also teaches graduate marketing classes at Rutgers University. His other books include The Tao of Twitter and Return on Influence: The Revolutionary Power of Klout, Social Scoring, and Influence Marketing. He spoke with BrandingBusiness Director of Strategy Andrea Fabbri about the direction, evolution and core competencies underlying social media strategy.

Fabbri: Social media has been around for a while and yet many executives and companies today are still struggling to leverage social media effectively as a marketing tool. What are the challenges today when considering social as a means to market and sell products and services?

Schaefer: I work with companies around the country and whether it’s a Fortune 500 company or a startup, I still see people struggling with some of these same fundamental issues. That’s why I wrote the book, to kind of set the stage and say, “Let’s really get into what’s going on here sociologically, psychologically. Why do people need to do this? Why is it so popular?” The theory that I have is that we’ve been conditioned—really, for the last one hundred years—to think in terms of advertising, to broadcast our messages. That doesn’t really work on social media.

Social media is social. People expect give and take. They expect interactions. They expect trustworthy, interesting and maybe even entertaining content. If you treat it like a broadcast medium, you’re going to become very disappointed. People are tired of being advertised to. They’re tired of being marketed to, but they’ll be attracted to a company who can help them make money, save money, save time, live a happier life, a healthier life, maybe a more fun life. So it requires a new mindset that I find is very difficult for many businesses to adopt.

Fabbri: Social media has shifted customer engagement from a linear and quantitatively driven model to a nonlinear, organic, a bit chaotic and on its core, qualitative because it really uses conversations to drive preference and sell products and build advocacy.

Schaefer: That is such a key idea. I love the word you used there, “qualitative,” because a lot of businesses miss that. They’re run on spreadsheets. They’re kind of addicted to quantitative measures, and that has served them very, very well for decades. But if you’re building relationships through social media, it requires a different way of thinking and different measures as well.

If you consider that by 2020, just less than six years from now, half of our workforce is going to be millennials. Half of our customers are going to be millennials. This is a generation that manages their relationships, manages conflict over Facebook posts, Twitter, text messages. This is where they go to discover products and services and people. For this generation, Facebook really is the Internet. Search on Facebook has tripled in the last two years. They’re using it like Google.

It’s going to be important for any company, B2B or B2C, to really understand how people are getting their information today and how it should align with their business goals. If you think you know how your customers are getting their information, or how they’re using social media, this is a good time to double-check that and maybe ask them or do a survey or do some research, because there’s really been a cataclysmic shift in how people are accessing information.

Fabbri: You do a really great job in the book translating social media, the core essence of social media in five concepts. To me, those concepts really apply to marketing as a whole.

Schaefer: Let me step back and tell you kind of how this developed. I am being asked to help executives learn social media. “What is this all about? And, oh, by the way, you have one hour.” It really forced me to focus on core elements. The first thing is this idea that humans buy from humans.

That seems like such common sense, but we forget about that. We’ve created this digital divide between ourselves and our customers. When we deal with people online, we treat them differently. We forget that there’s a real human there that might be suffering, that might really need our help. That’s the first concept. The second part of the book, I talk about how social media fits in the marketing mix by providing the small provocations that lead to awareness, engagement, trust and, ultimately, loyalty.

The third point is, I talk about this idea of the information ecosystem. I talk about how we need to populate these platforms very carefully with our stories to help people wherever they may be getting their information. The fourth point is this idea that we need a different sort of mindset. It’s what I call the social-media mindset. I’ve been studying this for many years now.

Behind every success story, behind every case study, you’ll find meaningful content as the catalyst on the social web. You also find very targeted customers, targeted contacts, and this is where a lot of businesses miss. They’re starting to get this idea that they need content, but you have to activate the content. It has to ignite. Then the third point of the social-media mindset is this idea of authentic helpfulness. We need to move from this idea of selling, selling, selling to helping, helping, helping. That’s what people want. That’s what they need right now.

Then the fifth foundational strategy, I get a little bit more into the importance of content and I explain how not all content is created equal. You have to really look inside your company as far as what sort of content is going to align with your resources, your budget, your capabilities. I give some ideas about how to do that and how to leverage your assets in the best way.

Fabbri: The content becomes the central element because it really is the fuel, the catalyst, as you say in your book, that generates conversations, generates sharing, generates interest. The question then is, what does it take to create effective content?

Schaefer: I think this is going to be one of the most important questions in marketing for years to come. The reason is that we are experiencing such information density. If you look at all the research, it shows that companies are producing more and more and more content. They’re flooding the Internet with content. In the next few years, the amount of content on the web is supposed to increase by six hundred percent, which is just mind-boggling. How do we cut through? What’s it going to take to be heard, to be the signal instead of the noise?

That is going to be challenging for a lot of marketers. The first thing you need to assess is the competition. Look at the structure of your industry and figure out where you can maneuver. Is it in an unsaturated niche as far as content, as far as social-media strategy? If you have competitors that have been doing this for years and you’re just starting up, you’re going to have to get very clever, become very resourceful to figure out how to compete in that environment.

There’s going to be an added emphasis on quality. That’s good news if you’re in the content creation business. If you’re in video, photography, if you are a writer, I would expect that rate should be going up because the demand for great content on the web is going to be insatiable.

Fabbri: How do we need to restructure our marketing departments to be effective in this new world?

Schaefer: Let me give you an example of two different company reactions to the issue you’re bringing up. Procter & Gamble announced they were laying off fifteen hundred marketing professionals. It’s not that Procter & Gamble didn’t need all those marketing professionals. They had the wrong kind, and they decided it’s going to take too long to retrain these people to make this shift: “We’ve got to make a wholesale change.”

I’m working with another Fortune 500 company, and they’re retraining. They have tested all of the marketing people in their company around the world and if you had a low score, you have to go through some remedial digital marketing program. If you scored in the middle, they have almost like a little MBA-type of program. If you scored high, then they’re creating like short TED talks on different digital issues. So they’re spending an enormous amount of effort and money and resources on retraining.

I just saw some research… Eighty percent of CMOs said, the number one reason we’re failing is, we can’t find the right people. I think it’s coming down to an HR issue.

Some of the ways that we’re organized in marketing and advertising departments could be slowing down some of these transitions. So we’re in for a turbulent time, I think, until the millennials take over.

Fabbri: How do you see social media evolving?

Schaefer: A lot of people are overwhelmed and, I think, a little bit intimidated by social media because they see that it’s just changing so fast. But if you really think about it… Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn—as far as the major platforms, there really hadn’t been a lot of newcomers. Now, there are shifts within the platforms. The rules of engagement continue to change. New platforms will emerge—for example, Instagram, Snapchat… unique niches. We’ll continue to see more innovation in that area.

I think the next big milestone, the big step change will come with the advent of wearable technology. It’ll be interesting to see how many of these traditional platforms conform to a world where we’re surrounded by the Internet. The Internet will be around just like the air that we breathe… a digital layer across the world. What new platforms will emerge from those capabilities? That’s when it’s going to get really interesting.