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MarCom Matters

November 2009
Issue: #1

Social Media and Beef Stew

I’m not especially fond of cold weather. Or darkness either, for that matter.

It’s a combination that puts me at something of a disadvantage when it comes to surviving wintertime here in New England. Particularly in midseason, when it’s totally dark by 4:30. Which means I’m usually ready for bed by 8:00 – right after I wake up from my nap.

If that isn’t enough, it seems that even the Siren of the January Thaw has completely passed us by in recent years. Most likely on her way to Fort Myers to get a good spot in line for Red Sox spring training tickets.

But between the splendid heat and light of summer and the blustery snows of dark winter lies autumn, a period of soft light, brilliant colors and moderate temperatures. And a time to make that bittersweet transition from outdoor grilling to indoor comfort food.

In our house, nothing marks the season like that first pot of beef stew. Meat, vegetables and spices simmering in wine-buttressed gravy on a mid-October Sunday afternoon. Quite tasty.

So, what does beef stew have to do with social media you might ask?

Well, there continues to be a lot of buzz around social media as a transformative communications platform. Some folks see blogs, wikis, forums and social networks as completely replacing more traditional forms of communication.

Consultants often talk of social media strategy and conversations and influence as the sole criteria for measuring social media’s success, without necessarily relating those things to business requirements or overall communication goals.

So when I think of marketing communications in the autumn, I think of stew.

While beef is the headliner – not unlike your company’s website – the other ingredients turn that plain lump of meat into a blend of  textures and flavors. Sort of like how your white papers, data sheets, webinars, demos, and case studies add texture and flavor to product and service pages.

Social media is that pile of carrots – peeled and sliced and sitting on the countertop.

They add savor to the dish, but they are not the main ingredient. Nor are they even absolutely essential. If by chance I forget to buy some at the store, I can toss a few more potatoes into the pot and make due. The stew will be lacking for sure, but still satisfying.

Describing social media as monolithic communications entity that can replace other channels is like saying those carrots can replace the entire stew.

While the suggestion may delight my occasionally-vegan daughter, it’s one that does not work for the rest of us, including the cat.

So how do you approach social media? Here are some suggestions.

1. Think of social media as part of the stew, not a side dish.
Instead of creating a separate “social media strategy,” revisit your existing communications strategy and see whether and where social media might play a supporting role.

2. Add some flavor to your company brand.
The key word in social media is “social.” It can help get you out from behind the shadow of bland corporate speak and allow your audiences to see real faces and know who’s doing the talking.

3. Experiment with new recipes.
Consider social media not in terms of lead generation, but rather company and product awareness, organic search optimization, an extension of your customer support process, or a way to keep the members of your user groups connected.

4. Watch your proportions.
If social media is new to you, avoid throwing it into the pot willy-nilly. Starting and then abandoning blogs and forums or LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter pages is counterproductive. Better to take it slow so you can taste test and make adjustments as you go.

Above all, don’t ignore that pile of carrots.

Social media will not replace and may not even dominate other forms of business and marketing communications. But it is here and is not going away.

On the contrary, owing to the constant arrival of new platforms, tools and applications, it is becoming more of an influencing factor in creating and maintaining business relationships – even inside fairly traditional B2B industries.

So, somewhere between the extremes of all or nothing lies the blend of ingredients where the stew is just right for you.

Now, is that lasagna I smell?