Saturday, February 7, 2009

Why Social Media is like Parenting

For those that have been following me on Twitter or reading this blog or just know me in general, you've probably heard me complain about the state of social media. I've been talking about how the "conversation" is not going anywhere and how it's time that "experts" start showing the world real uses of social media and product innovation like mobile apps for insurance agents (as an odd, but doable, example).

All this "talk" about the space has me thinking about how B2B companies, big consumer brands, mid-tier market players and non-profits the like can use Twitter, Facebook, Ustream, Qik, Plurk, Flickr, etc. for real and tangible interactions with their audiences - interactions that sell products, support a cause or raise money (which ever the case may be).

As I've struggled with a post on this very topic - a post with real examples of success, how-to's, etc. - I started to think about how social media is like parenting.

As a blue collar-type guy working in a white collar business, I consider myself a no non-sense thinker. I'm not going to write 700 words that will blow your socks off. I'm not going to write something so heady that it'll take you three reads to digest. I'm going to give it to you raw. And, for those that know me or follow me on Twitter or read this blog know, my first priority in life is my family.

With all that said, the wait is over, here's why I think social media is like parenting:

  • When you find out you're going to be a parent (in most cases), there's this wave of jubilation that crashes over you. You experience excitement and nervousness all at the same time. It's the unknown, but something that you're eager to experience. Social media is the same way. Companies are excited about using available technologies to engage with their audiences but have no clue how things will turn out. It is still the great unknown.

  • When the baby is born, you are sent on an emotional roller coaster. You are overwhelmed with the responsibility of taking care of another human being - feeding them, bathing them, ensuring they get enough sleep, take them to the doctor, etc. You are constantly monitoring their progress and are amazed at all the little things you notice: how they grasp your fingers; how they look when they sleep; how they scream in the middle of the night and you don't want to get up. Social media is all about discovery. Companies and organizations have a plethora of tools at their disposal, but really don't know how their audiences will react once they are engaged. Companies and organizations should constantly monitor how their program is working; what their audiences are saying about their brand; how their audiences are embracing or not embracing the "conversation." The process is forever evolving and companies and organizations need to be nimble and quick to react to changes beyond their control.

  • Once you think you have this parenting thing down, your son or daughter starts to crawl. No longer can you sit on the couch with the baby in one hand and a beer in another. The kid is on the move. You have to kid proof the house and make sure he or she can't snatch anything off a table that they could choke on or break. Luckily enough, you're quicker than the baby at this point so you can be prepared, sorta. Then the baby starts to walk and you find yourself constantly chasing after him or her. At this point, the kid is mobile and there's no stopping them. They want to get into everything, all the time. Social media is similar to this stage of parenting because just when you think you have your program running like a well oiled machine and all your ducks are in a row, it can blow up in your face. See the Motrin Moms case study as an example. Lesson learned here is that companies and organizations need to be prepared for the worst case scenario with all social media campaigns. Whether it's a technical or content issue, good crisis preparation and constant monitoring are keys to success. In the case of a crisis, quick strategic actions are needed to ensure the fire is put out quickly and mending can start immediately so the existence of the program is not jeopardized.

  • With parenting comes great rewards. The best part of my day is when I come home from work and I open the garage door. At the top of the stairs are my two girls who are beyond excited to see me. The feeling I get with that reception is something I will never forget and something that motivates me to work harder and provide everything humanly possible that my family needs and wants. With social media, the rewards are very high. Today's media landscape is such that a mommy blogger can have as big of an impact on a brand as a front page Wall Street Journal article. If executed in the right way, companies and organizations will receive a wave of support from brand evangelists who in essence will spread good will amongst your core audience. Basically, social media can fuel the fires of change in basically any corporate or non-profit environment.

  • Finally, as a parent you wonder how your kids will turn out as they get older. You wonder if they will do well in school. You wonder if they will get into good colleges. You wonder what career path they will choose. You wonder if they will be successful and have a family of their own. It's THE big unknown. Social media is the communications unknown. Where is this space really heading? Will Twitter ever mainstream like mobile banking? Will the investments you make up front pay off in the long run? There are just no answers, just more questions.

    As you strategize about what your company or organization wants to do in the social media space, think about tangible, measurable strategies - like crawling then walking. Don't announce that you're going to be on Twitter or launching a Facebook group. How are you going to use it as it relates to your business model? What's the strategy behind it? What are you looking to get out of its use and how are you going to measure it? How will you continue to mold it so it's continuously of interest to your audience (keeping in mind the short attention span of online audiences).

    Let's move the "conversation" to "conver-actions." It's time to stop the talking and time to start acting.

    So you might say, "great post Don, but you're basically saying the same thing as everyone else is - all talk, no action." Well, you're right...for now. Stay tuned to the PR Finish Line - the work-related blog I write for - as we'll be rolling out something on this very topic: an actionable, tangible point of view on cause marketing with a social media slant that really can help companies and organizations move the needle.)


    AnaRC said...

    This is a great comparison! I love it! As a mother of 3 and the 4th one in the oven I can totally relate. Our clients normally come to us for Application Development (Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and so forth) or for Social Media Marketing Services. During the last year I’ve observed that they go through pregnancy stages too. First the uncertainty of how this Social Media campaign will turn out but the noise is so loud that they can no longer ignore it. At the beginning my clients go through the first trimester with nausea, hormonal changes, fear, anger, excitement, hope and so forth. Once the campaign is out and it becomes viral quick they pass a period of satisfaction, reassurance and joy. Just like the second trimester. Then when the first few speak their mind and make negative remarks, the fear comes back. The finger pointing begins like the third trimester (whose idea was it in the first place?). It’s really hard for companies to interact with the mass. The big guys are used to passive marketing methods on TV & Print. How hard is it to have a bunch of people give an honest opinion mind about your product! They great thing is that the magic is right there, in the buzz, in making conversation, in becoming the subject of conversation.
    Finally when the results in revenue come! the relieve!!! they forget how insulting they became during the painful period. They love you forever. What I love about your post is that I always tell them that this is not the end. New challenges will come! From Now on, I'll just direct them to your blog!

    Don Martelli said...

    Thanks! The funny thing is that social media is really like life's journey. NO one has a clue where it's going. Yea, you can point to some things that have worked and guess where this is all headed, but it's not math. There's never a right answer. Audiences are too complex - even within the same demographic - to slap the same band-aid on it.

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