So now that Benn Rosales of AgentGenius has jumped into the fray with his latest post, which comes on the heels of Jim Marks’s critique of my Inman column (subscribers only), I figure it might be good to consolidate my responses here. And this is not to mention the various commenters on the Inman post, conversations via Twitter, email, etc. This topic’s got folks fired up — in a good way.
Let me point out that the critiques come in three different flavors.
- Social media is a great marketing platform!
- Interaction on social media, including Twitter, is no different from offline networking.
- Twitter is a great tool for building sphere of influence!
Let us go through each in order, then summarize with what I think is a larger lesson about marketing strategy.
Knocking Down Straw Men
The first critique is that social media is a great marketing platform, and it isn’t merely a relationship tool. Benn makes this point:
Some argue that having a strategy in social media is a sin and treating it like a toy is the right way to go, and if that’s truly the case, then that is your strategy. Being human in social media, not selling, and simply going with the flow as a conscious decision is a strategy.
I guess I agree with Benn… since I have never made the argument that social media (however we define this) is a toy. What I have said is that I treat Twitter like a toy, and have no Twitter strategy, as I view Twitter as a relationship tool rather than as a marketing tool.
Social media in whatever variation of definition does encompass blogs, which I consider to be the single most powerful marketing platform of the Internet era — possibly even more powerful that the corporate website in some instances, for some types of businesses. Social media includes FaceBook and LinkedIn, both of which are powerful marketing channels that demand a marketing strategy. So let’s be clear that Twitter is not Social Media, and Social Media is not Twitter; Twitter is but one tool that has a specific original purpose and a platform built around that original purpose.
So this line of criticism turns out to be just a straw man and not worthy of a deeper response.
Social Networking No Different From Traditional Networking
The second critique is that social networking is really no different from traditional networking where strategy most certainly comes into play; therefore, I’m simply wrong. Benn writes:
As for the strategy, we’ve simply exchanged a business card in the online world for a ‘follow’ and renamed a contact or lead to ‘friend’ and begun the conversation of converting ‘opportunities’ now acquaintances into referral networks and or potential clients. The strategy is within the insertion of the influencer and the tactic is within the indirect marketing of content as a product, and how we build buzz within the tribe, not the act of making friends. But I think some will certainly argue that there is even a strategy to making friends, after all, we’re targeting common interests, goals, lifestyles, and we have conversation to vet ideals and standards before making a choice of doing the business of investing time in the conversion to friendship, although even I would agree tactics in this case would be ill advised if you’re seeking a long-term friendship.
This is more substantive objection, and one that deserves a response.
Equating social networking with offline networking is fraught with danger for the marketer for two reasons: nature of communication, and social context.
Nature of Communication
Exchanging business cards offline is in no way the same thing as following someone on Twitter, which itself is different than friending each other on Facebook. To equate the conversation that precedes exchanging business cards with conversations that happen online is to ignore the profound differences between those two conversations.
Human beings communicate with far more than just words. In fact, research indicates that only 7% of the meaning in a communication is conveyed through words. Tone of voice accounts for 38% of the meaning, and 55% of the meaning comes from “visual” cues — such as body language, facial expressions, dress and appearance, and so on.
This means that prior to the exchange of business cards, two people have received 93% of the meaning from even a brief face to face encounter. Prior to following someone on Twitter that you have never met before, none of that exists. Not to take this into account when constructing a “marketing strategy” is simply irresponsible.
A marketing strategy based on putting on events and seminars, which allow for personal face-to-face contact, should look very different from a marketing strategy based on networking through mere words. You might be able to get away with a dirty joke in person because of your appearance, your folksy tone of voice, your personal charisma, your body language, whatever. That just ain’t gonna fly in most online contexts.
Not all conversations are the same; therefore, not all conversation-based marketing strategy can be the same. What works in one situation does not necessarily work in a different situation. A strategist considers these factors.
Someone attending a networking event is presumably doing so to meet people he doesn’t already know; at a minimum, it is expected that strangers might come up to you and try to engage you in conversation in the hopes of striking up some sort of a business relationship. The expectations are well understood on both sides. Going up to a stranger, introducing yourself, and striking up a conversation is likely acceptable in all networking events — even if the conversation is aimed at selling and both parties fully understand it.
Conversely, someone attending church is not there to learn about possible new business contacts, new products or services, or real estate for sale. Yes, a relationship can start at church and evolve into something more, but the social context is critical. Plus, for what it’s worth, most folks would look at the sales guy coming to church with a networking strategy to get in good with the appropriate influencer with a gimlet eye. It happens, of course, but the salesman in that scenario is basically deceiving his “target” — pretending to a religious interest that he does not possess.
Most of us who have been around the Web for a while know that there is a tremendous difference in social context between sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.
LinkedIn is a business networking site and intended to be one; we expect to send and receive business-related communication. There is absolutely nothing wrong with someone trying to contact me to sell me something. A marketer might come up with a strategy for LinkedIn, making more contacts, creating LinkedIn groups, joining groups, asking for introductions, and so on. Everyone expects it, and if they don’t, they’ll tell you with the little “Interested In” section on their profile.
Facebook, on the other hand, may have become more important for marketing, but at its heart, it is a social site intended for students at college campuses to exchange messages, pictures, videos, and so on. It is far more personal than business. And as a result, there is something uncouth with someone trying to sell me on Facebook; there is something sort of creepy about trying to network with me for a strategic reason. Fan pages were created primarily as an extension of the core purpose of Facebook as a place for friends to meet each other online.
I submit that in the online world, the underlying technology platform indicates the social context. Facebook’s platform is all about sharing photos, videos, posting on each other’s Walls, sending virtual gifts, and playing games. The social context is one of entertainment, fun, and sharing. LinkedIn’s platform is all about expanding your professional network and doing business — tools like InMail and Get Introduced strongly imply it. Blogs all have comments, which implies a social context of interactivity, but with a privileged voice — the blog owner/author. (Blogs without comments are more like online magazines than anything else.) Message boards imply a social context as well — open to all members without any particular authority in any one member.
Which leads us to…
Twitter is a Great Tool for Building Sphere of Influence
Consideration of the social context, as implied by the underlying technology platform, brings us to consideration of Twitter as a marketing tool. Jim Marks writes, arguing that I am 180-degrees wrong on this, that:
Imagine, now if I reached out, deliberately and systematically with all my current friends of SOI. These are people who I have a ton in common and the only distance between then now, a total stranger and members of my SOI? (which they will soon be)One conversation.
Twitters’ relaxed social nature facilitates this type of conversation. I ge the opportunity to reach out and meet new people with whom a have a ton in common and my SOI grows strategically and exponentially. Most important is these are people who have a valuable third party reference of my caring and trust worthy character. (which makes them perfect SOI members and possible future clients)
…Now, instead of meeting people over a course of “you make me feel like a natural women,” and inviting them to hang with me ONLINE. I will be meeting people in a designed manner and inviting them to meet me OFFLINE.
What Jim fails to take into account is the underlying platform of Twitter and the social context that it implies.
First, the follow system is a fundamental part of Twitter’s platform, and it strongly implies that people on Twitter already know each other from some other context. In fact, you don’t have to take my word for it; take it from the makers of Twitter (who hired Common Craft for this):
Twitter’s original intent was to provide a way for friends to keep tabs on each other “between blogposts and emails”. That explains so much about its platform.
Second, the text-only, 140 character limitation further strongly implies the social context of Twitter. Between people who already know each other, “people who matter to her” according to the video above, 140 characters of text is plenty for short updates. With strangers, that limit is quite significant.
Using Twitter as a marketing tool pretty much requires a separate destination — typically a blog. The 140 characters can be used to entice someone to click on the link and hit the actual marketing material, the blog post. Used in this way, Twitter is far more akin to a text link ad than anything else; there is a place for it, but I dare say that if that’s the cornerstone of your marketing strategy, you’ve got issues.
The underlying technology, and the social context it implies, means that using Twitter to meet new people in a target market — especially for a realtor who has a geographically limited market — is somewhat like using a spoon to eat a steak. It can be done, but boy, you sure do have to work real hard at it for minimal gains.
Lacking LinkedIn’s “Get Introduced” module, reaching out to someone you don’t know but one of your follows/followers does know is a more delicate affair. You have to assume that they are using Twitter for its intended purpose: keeping tabs on people they already know and matter to them. You don’t matter to them, yet. Inserting yourself into that conversation, then, requires that you actually care about whatever it is that they are talking about (or at least fake it real well). Doing that “strategically” with an ulterior motive in mind strikes me as being very similar to going to church to sell real estate. Sure, it can be done, but you’d better have the right touch.
Finally, since Jim’s point is specific to the real estate world’s concept of “sphere of influence”, we have to consider whether Twitter really is the right tool for expanding one’s SOI for a real estate agent. There are no geographical limiters on Twitter, nor are there groups. Hashtags might serve as a pseudo-geographical grouping, but that assumes a level of sophistication of knowledge of Twitter on the part of the users.
Then consider that Twitter appears to have hit a ceiling in terms of growth. From Hitwise, we get:
Further note that Twitter still only constitutes 0.17% of the total traffic for the United States. In contrast, Facebook is the dominant player in the “social networking” category on Hitwise, with 58% of the total traffic to social networking sites, which is in turn 9.19% of the total web traffic, or about 5.33% of the total web traffic in the United States.
If you’re in real estate and want to develop a marketing strategy, may I suggest looking to Facebook instead of to Twitter? Indeed, many of the realtors on my original Inman post commented that they get far more success when using Facebook than using Twitter.
The Medium May Not Be The Message, But It Sure Is Important
The larger point about marketing strategy to be made here, apart from debating whether Twitter strategy is or is not valuable, is that the medium matters. Different platforms allow for different types of marketing to be effective.
The most obvious example is that television excels at creating an emotional response, whereas print is better for eliciting a logical response.
That gets the blood pumping and the heart racing, doesn’t it? And here’s print:
The pleasure you get from driving a BMW is the result of ﬁne engineering – always setting the benchmark because it is based on much more than engine power. This is the tradition behind BMW EfﬁcientDynamics. It includes the visionary CleanEnergy hydrogen-powered engine, already used in a number of completely emission-free BMW 7 Series saloons. Also going into production soon is the BMW ActiveHybrid – an intelligent, demand-oriented combination of internal combustion engine and electric motor. And every BMW already includes the multi-award-winning BMW EfﬁcientDynamics technology package as standard that boosts dynamics even further whilst simultaneously reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
That comes from BMW’s product catalogue. (pdf) Sure, the copy is written to elicit an emotional response, and the photos sure are beautiful, but a print catalog cannot get the heart racing like a film/video ad can.
The strength of the video medium is in the ability to generate an emotional response — that is what it is best suited to do. You can use it for an intellectual appeal, of course, having an engineer step through each of the mechanical systems, the innovations, and so on — but that isn’t really its strength.
As a marketer, then, you must take the medium through which you are going to undertake a campaign into account as part of your strategy.
The Internet is a medium, and a fascinating one as it can and often does combine video, print and sound with an interactivity that is wholly missing from broadcast or print channels. But just because the Web allows for interaction does not therefore mean that its form of interaction is the same as other forms of interaction. As a marketer, you have to look at the details, decide what the strengths and weaknesses of each channel are, and plan accordingly.
And if you’re an online marketer, then you have to think about some of the details — at least of the fundamental technology platform — of each tool before you strategize about the most effective way to use it. I submit that Twitter, given its limitations and the technology platform and the social context that the platform implies, is ideally suited as a relationship tool. It isn’t all that well-suited to be a marketing tool.