Lately I've been so busy that I haven't even had time to recap in this blog important, conversation-triggering articles I've penned in my Advertising Age column. I'm hoping to change that, even if I have to backtrack a bit. Below are excerpts from perhaps my most read and "shared" (according to Ad Age metrics) article to date, and my core premise is this: the bigger idea in social media might be as much about business process innovation than next-gen communication. Here's excerpts, and I also encourage folks to skim the comments and blog posts that either build upon or challenge the argument.
What's the bigger idea: social media as marketing stimulus or social media as a way to innovate business processes?
Every brand manager or CMO should recognize that it's both -- and in a disruptive economy, you need to take advantage of both outcomes. And when the potential dividends of a marketing effort include changes to a company's process, we need to rethink the entire notion of ROI.
This isn't an easy task, as marketers typically leave things such as organizational strategy and technology implementation to other stakeholders -- keeping lines cleaner and allowing marketers to focus on, well, their areas of focus. You let technology folks do technology, quality folks do quality and service folks do service.
But social media softens the silos. It's hard to turn over a rock in social media, dip your toe into Twitter or comment on someone's blog without rethinking the fundamentals of a firm's organization, product development and even listening infrastructure. Such firsthand experience begets inspiration. Inspiration powers change. And change is needed more than ever before as we're asked to contract our resources.
Social media and communication
Social media, at the end of the day, is about reinventing communication. Executed wisely, it's a new covenant of interaction between consumer and consumers, and, more recently, consumers and business. You could even argue that it's the long-overdue realization of one-to-one marketing that we over-romanticized back in the 1990s and inexcusably put on the "direct marketing" shelf.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Pete Blackshaw is exec VP of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Services and author of 'Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000' (DoubleDay). His biweekly column looks at the relationship between marketing and customer service in the age of consumer control.
But "organizational" communication, across thousands of companies and brands, is an area so bankrupt with inefficiency and scared of change that it's hard not to wonder whether your latest Twitter "aha moment" is better shared with the chief information officer or human resources than with the marketing team
Then there's innovation -- the engine of value creation and company growth. Social media is one massive feedback loop. It's chaotic on the surface, but unmistakably efficient if you consider the life cycle of vetting a good idea or absorbing the ideas of others. If you really peel the onion on what's happening across blogs, Twitter and other online communities, brands are setting up de facto listening labs that rewrite the rules of gathering and managing feedback. We're getting more ideas faster. The funnel is broadening. The filters are sharper, more immediate and grounded in deeper levels of intimacy with the product or proposition.
The end outcome, whether intentional or incidental, is a disintermediation of existing, and potentially more expensive, processes. That alone should be reason enough for the CEO to personally initiate "Social Media Day" or "CGM [consumer-generated media] Day."
Procter & Gamble's Kim Dedeker, speaking to the Advertising Research Foundation's recent Listening Summit, suggested that brands need to reinvent "how to listen" not merely to figure out how to turn on online strategy or social media, but far more importantly, to reinvent and "inspire" the entire market research department. Put another way, listening is about reinvention.
The irony here is that a free tool known as Twitter was being used in real time by many of the attendees, the resulting data streams inspiring new ideas and playback throughout the conference.
Joel Rubinson, chief research officer of the ARF, called it "an amazing record of our research transformation conference, definitely more insightful than my old-school note taking. The big idea was that listening creates a fast-learning organization, which is the only way marketing can catch up to the consumer."
Driving margins, saving money
Let's end by hitting the sweet spot of practicality. At the end of the day, our foray into social media is teaching us how to save money. Consumer-generated media and social-media-enabling tools allow us to create websites and blogs for extremely low prices -- a far cry from the multimillion-dollar websites we built when I was co-leading interactive marketing at P&G back in the 1990s. Brands including Ford, Comcast, Toyota, Southwest, Sony, Denny's and others are testing new models of customer service on platforms such as Twitter that, under the old "enterprise" rules, would have cost millions to launch or even test. It's not that everything's cheap, but the barriers to low-cost earning have plummeted.
Whether we as marketers admit it or not, our dips into the collective social-media learning lab are making it really hard to justify $5,000-a-pop conference trips where we listen, learn, interact and collect leads. One could easily argue that the collective, real-time wisdom of social media, thoughtfully absorbed, easily substitutes for attending a "live" conference. And online video makes the substitution all the more tolerable. Video is a process innovation that is rewriting all the rules of efficiency.
Across the social-media airways there's no shortage of inspired thinking about what's possible. At a time when organizations are under intense pressure to reinvent themselves -- to take lemons and make lemonade -- it might be the right time to focus our efforts, even for a moment, on the overall "business process" equation. That's probably the easiest and most obvious way to demonstrate ROI around all of these efforts.