Making the Commitment at Middle School Marketing

It seemed natural, given that marketing and social media are all about relationships, that our Middle School Marketing discussion for October spent a fair amount of time exploring commitment – and it should be no surprise that the darling of social media marketing, the corporate blog, was the center of conversation. Ryan Moede threw out the commitment question. Paraphrasing: “How do we set expectations around the level of commitment inherent to social marketing?”

Reflecting on the discussion that ensued, I found some humor in the parallels between social marketing initiatives and other personal relationships.

A la Dr. Phil or Carrie Bradshaw, here’s my recap of some of the discussion on commitment:

We started with some soul searching. For those of us at agencies, we posed some self-directed questions. Are we making thorough assessments of our client’s readiness and commitment to a social media engagement or are we blinded by their willingness to put a toe in the water and our own enthusiasm for social tools? Are we willing to commit to the engagement-long education on best practices that is often required? In relationship analogies, are we asking them to buy the cow when they can get the milk for free or asking them to move in without a first date?

For the social media reluctant or new entrant, one variety of “free” discussed was encouraging clients to comment on well-read blogs in their space. Not a new idea, but a fundamental aspect of community participation and one that is often set aside when the prospect of starting a corporate blog is on the table. So many advantages are inherent to “dating” the blogosphere – like getting in to the habit of blogging, gauging the time commitment, and an undeniable opportunity to be a part of the discussion that in turn can build name recognition and thought leadership. Dating the blogosphere increases the likelihood of a well attended wedding should a company decide to get hitched to their own blog.

Dependant on goals and audience, some companies may choose to never marry. Achieving their community-building goals may mean choosing an alternative social media lifestyle. Many of us work with B-to-B companies that offer products and services geared towards niche business audiences. A company selling servers or VOIP to small business may not find great benefit in a blog, but has an opportunity to gain mindshare by listening and demonstrating an understanding of their audiences needs (which most would argue is key to any productive vendor-client relationship anyway). One of my favorite examples of this is TIBCO Software’s microsite and webisodes, Greg the Architect, which uses humor and viral marketing to connect with people who are purchasers of Service Oriented Architecture solutions. Greg is a tool that allows TIBCO to tell their users “we get it, and we’re people you’d have fun working with” without a single page of marketing collateral.

Justin Thorp always has great examples of widgets that ClearSpring is syndicating for organizations to bring targeted content to their communities, like the Obama-Biden Tax Cut Calculator, and the McCainSpace Player. While geared towards voters, the content could just as easily be an ROI calculator for a new software product or a platform for customer video testimonials.

Not dissimilar from the social strata of school, Brian joked that the cool kids are using social media and everyone wants to be one of the cool kids. We discussed that many companies put themselves in a position of trying to be cool, which usually backfires because it translates that way (anyone ever use Sun-In or QuickTan in the 80s?).

Which brings me back to the question of setting expectations on commitment and my ridiculous relationship analogies. Be it a blog, Sun-In or endeavors that can require less day-to-day commitment like a widget or friendship pins, the general consensus was that we have to be realists – about goals, audience, bandwidth and budgets – when it comes to counseling clients or committing to social media efforts, most notably blogging. There are lots of kind of cool and not so cool kids, so as long as what a company puts forward is reflective of its authentic self (now I’m stretching), it will be that much more successful in developing relationships and building community.

Until November….