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When it Comes to Social, Small is the New Big


When it Comes to Social, Small is the New Big


Actually, big has never really been the way social works.

Big is the way traditional advertising operates. The bigger the bullhorn, the bigger the brand impact, right? Sure it reaches more people, but as the old adage goes, "It's not the size, it's how you use it." And this matters more than ever in the social sphere.

When it comes to social, I don't mean 'social media', either. I prefer removing the media part of that distinction. Why? Because all too often people focus on the tactics and tools rather than figuring out the strategy first. So if I remove 'media' then we focus on the 'social'. Don't lead with the how. Lead with the why.

Vanity of the Big Idea

Clients often want to hear 'The Big Idea' and, in general, marketing teams froth at the mouth when a campaign is bigger than life. Take the most recent Red Bull stunt: a space jump. It's definitely a big idea. And definitely cool. Red Bull funded a world record jump and a human being breaking physical laws. Was it "on brand"? Hell yes. Red Bull has long established it's brand as an edgy,  risk-taking, rebellious brand. Red Bull aligns itself with extreme sports, high adrenaline producing activities and youthful male culture. Will this increase sales for Red Bull? Perhaps, but CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) is probably a little extreme. Personally, I think the best thing that ever happened to Red Bull was the addition of vodka. Dragging your arse on a Friday night out with your friends? No problem. Skip the beer and wine and go for Red Bull and vodka. Cost of that campaign? Next to nothing. Red Bull is prohibited from promoting the combo publicly in many markets.

"But, Tara, there are all sorts of residual benefits of big campaigns!" Yep. I recognize that. And whether it is employee pride, brand favorability, awards, defensive positioning, market saturation and, in general, social capital, there are all sorts of intangible, unmeasurable, but very real outcomes of The Big Idea. However, most all of them are connected to corporate vanity, not to real customer experiences and needs. Real customer experiences and needs are rarely expensive and showy, but doing a good job of executing on this requires three things that are difficult for marketers:

  • thinking about the customer's needs
  • taking the time to serve those needs
  • doing all of this without needing a pat on the back

In other words: "Sure, Tara, it's effective. But it's not very sexy and I won't win an award for it."

Anti-Social Social

Everything is social, but very few people really understand what that means. And companies think about social as a free way to get others to spread the word about their product. This is not social. This is anti-social.

Imagine a company that thinks that way being a human being on a social network. This is roughly how she would behave:

  • only posting things about herself
  • asking you to like and share all of these posts about herself
  • running contests to get more attention and grow an audience so more people will see posts about herself
  • deleting comments that question the quality of her posts about herself
  • thinking that posts about herself are 'giving to the community' because everybody likes the posts about herself
  • when that doesn't work, buy ads to drive more traffic to posts about herself
  • once those ads + contests work, brag on more posts about herself about how many people love her
  • and so on...

Would you continue to follow that person? Probably not. I may follow her if she was super interesting and posted information that was truly engaging and helpful, but most companies don't remember the engaging and helpful part. And when it comes to imagining engaging and helpful content, instead of taking the time and effort to find out what is engaging, many marketers manufacture it. From "inspirational" quotes to lackluster polls to faux-charity to puppies, too many marketers watch what passes as popular amongst friends then try to recreate it. This mimicry misses the point. It's not about a formula, it's about true engagement. And it can't be planned or manufactured.

Nothing I say can say it better than this Facebook Page I came across recently:

Corporate Bullocks on Facebook

The Condescending Corporate Brand Page uses sarcasm to communicate how fed up they are with corporate Facebook pages. In an ironic twist, the likes on this page have gone 'viral' in the few weeks it has existed. Between the 'Hall of Shame' app where users can point out the lame pages and campaigns they've come across and the often brutal back and forth sarcasm on the main wall (they even poke fun at Felix Baumgartner from the Red Bull jump), they've nicely uncovered how consumers really feel about the brands they follow. Similarly, Things Real People Don't Say About Advertising (Tumblr) may sting many brand managers:

These sites aren't aiming to be mean for the sake of being mean. They are merely an outlet for people to speak back to what is happening as brands enter the social space. This is an opportunity for marketers to listen and understand that consumers are savvy. We may be generally irrational when it comes to what we buy, but we can smell a lame campaign when we sniff it. So stop spending money on stuff that makes us roll our eyes and start spending time figuring out what we need and want.

I've said it countless times, but being social means:

…making your customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better?

It's not about accumulating fans or likes or pins or views, it's about how you make your customers feel. The likes, fans, pins, views, etc will follow from there.

What I Mean by Small

Small isn't always in relation to size. Small is about removing yourself from the equation and focusing on your customer and her needs. Does she need to feel confident? Does she need to feel beautiful? Does she need to feel in control? Does she need to feel important?

Anyone who knows me understands how much of a skincare addict I am. I have the need to live a life of enjoyment while continuing to look youthful. Okay...I never want to grow up, I admit it. I like good wine and staying up late talking with friends, but my skin hates me for it. I tend to get severely dehydrated skin that gets blotchy after one of these nights. So I buy products that placate my dermis and allow me the occasional girl's night out. But the choice isn't clear. There are tons of products in skincare and they all claim to fix wrinkles and reduce redness and quench dryness. And I've bought too many of them that don't work to believe their claims. Skincare isn't cheap, so when I find something that works pretty well, I tend to stick with it. Switching is scary and expensive. So what is that small thing a skincare company can do to reach me?

Good old fashioned samples help. That's why I love Kiehl's (and why many people love them). I can go in and get a free consultation - personalized to my needs. I can tell the specialist that I like wine and don't get enough sleep, but want something that will work hard to repair the damage I cause and she will lecture me, but then hand me samples to try. If those don't work, she'll give me others. And if I like a product and it stops working for me, Kiehl's has been known to let me return a partially used product for credit. It feels like they are on my team. And just recently, I was invited to attend a Dermalogica event where they gave me a full skin-analysis and a handful of samples. Within a few weeks, I've fallen in love with their products...and am making a switch.

This won't always work. Dermalogica and Kiehl's take a risk with me because my skin may not respond well to their products, but by trying, they don't hurt my relationship with their brand at all. I am more likely to blame my skin and continue to recommend their products to others.

Small means focusing your attention on the customer, not the glory. To take the time to figure out what works for your customer, not your own vanity. A fancy YouTube channel may match your print ads and feel all on-brand, but the often hundreds of thousands of dollars you spent to create and promote it is lost on your customer, who is discovering videos through search, related videos and recommendations from friends and rarely, if ever, even visits your channel home.

Small means thinking about how easy it is for your customer to use your application or find the information she needs on your product rather than how cool and pretty your website looks.

Small means using the platform that works to interact with your customer, not going for the flashiest, coolest new thing because you want to look cutting edge. Hell, email is still a great option if that is where your customer feels most comfortable.

Small means listening to feedback, listening to it and responding in good time. Sometimes you will find out that you need to change your product, not the way it's spun.

Small means that you focus on quality instead of quantity, building relationships instead of campaigns, your customer instead of yourself, service instead of flashiness, interactions instead of followers or fans and engagement instead of reach.

Think small and the results will be big. Sure, nobody in the industry will talk about what a genius you are, but I guarantee your customers will.