Mar 22, 2011

The Gods of Context Say Social Media isn’t for Marketing

@garyvee gary vaynerchuk

Gary Vee telling it to the SXSWi audience.

One idea from SXSW has continued to gnaw away at my conscious since returning home with a head full of new information and ideas.  Many of those revolve around a recurring theme I seemingly couldn’t escape: social media isn’t for marketing campaigns.  Some speakers, like Gary Vaynerchuk, were very direct, stating that push marketing had no place in social channels.

“There’s no such thing as a social media campaign,” Vaynerchuk noted. “Those are just one night stands.”

Angela LoSasso, who heads up social media marketing for Research In Motion, makers of the ubiquitous Blackberry, was more subtle, describing real time presence as being in the right place, at the right time, namely, when the customer wants you, not necessarily when you want to be there.

Anglea LoSasso of RIM shows off some analog marketing gear promoting the new apps for Blackberries now available

Context was the common denominator panelist after panelist mentioned, and no wonder.  Context is the nexus of interest between a brand and its customer, and brands can use data to develop context around their content.  And doing so doesn’t need to be difficult. Simply watching what sorts of questions people ask about a brand can be a rich source of information, LoSasso pointed out, noting that incoming questions are used to guide content curation.   Riffing on this theme, LoSasso advised, “You need to be proactive and curate the questions you get and the answers you give.  Optimize FAQs and create video how-to’s that answer the most common questions.”

The folks at FourSquare take data use a step further, blending time and location data of a subscriber with their friends’ checkin histories to create a real-time recommendation engine that is designed to be useful at a specific moment.

“There’s a lot more context we can take into account,” said Siobhan Quinn, who manages products at FourSquare. “Real time marketing can help customers on the ground. If your venue (business) has a lull on a rainy day, real time marketing can help business owners drive specials proactively. Real time marketing is proactive and provides discovery to audiences who might not even be looking for something.”

Rob Garner from iCrossing offered perspective from the operational side, inviting his audience to think information dissemination as a stream that ebbs and flows, and acts like a digital organism. Many brands, he noted, are thinking of social media as a channel, rather than as a continual presence flowing through everything.

I wasn't the only one listening with rapt attention to iCrossing's Rob Garner talk about real time marketing

“It’s network reach, not just a channel,” he said, before challenging his audience. “You might be connected – but is your brand alive and present?

“It’s not about social media or social networks,” Garner continued. “It’s about the fact that society is networked. Society is wired. Communicating therein is simply communicating in a social environment.”

Vaynerchuk offered a poignant analogy, comparing social networks to cocktail parties.  One mingles, dipping in and out of conversation.

“We are living in the first time ever of consumer interaction,” he said. “Twitter lets you get into the conversation – and it’ acceptable!”  But he’s quick to caution those who are too eager to jump in, noting that companies try to close sales immediately at the mere mention of a product, barraging people with coupons, shipping deals and other spam.  Doing this ignores the context of peoples’ conversations.

“If content is king,” Vaynerchuk said, “Context is god.”

And therein is the disconnect with most social media marketing campaigns. The messaging is pushed by the company into the network. The message is most likely written from the company’s perspective, and goal of the campaign is to get attention and elicit response.  However, the real opportunity to connect with a larger audience depends upon building the contextual connection with your audience, communicating to them that your brand gets it, that you understand their needs.  Folks like Vaynerchuk, LoSossaso, Garner and Quinn would all argue that this is best achieved by creating an authentic presence for your brand in networks, and using your audience as a guide to content creation and interaction. Garner summed it up nicely.

“Use market research, study your audience and know who you’re talking to,” he advised.  “They will tell you what’s on their mind; they’ll show you what language people are using and others who are asking the same questions. It’s really an obligation any more. It’s an obligation to listen and act on that data.”

So what do you think?  Do marketing campaigns have a place in social networks?  Can you create lasting value marketing to your audience?

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s VP, social media.

Fill in your details below: