Companies Are Not Ready, Willing And Able For Marketing 2.0

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Most companies looking at Social Media and Web 2.0 see it as a media channel to broadcast their messages into. This includes most Governments and Associations. This is the wrong reason to do it and the wrong strategy.

If your company is looking at engaging in the social channels, but simply wants to tell the gathered audience about their brands, messages, products and services, here’s the one best piece of advice to make that happen: advertise on those channels.

You can do either mass advertising or you can target ads specifically to the types of people who might be more inclined to act on your messages. Companies like Facebook and Google offer these types of targeting. The common attitude is, "let’s post our videos on YouTube," or "everyone’s on Twitter, we should be on Twitter too," and what comes after is a closed, one-way broadcasting channel that does not engender the shared values of these social systems, including: commenting, being open to differing opinions, responding and – most importantly – making changes based on the feedback and conversation that is taking place.

This is the primary reason why most companies have epic fails on these channels: they’re broadcasting not engaging, responding and adapting.

Don’t ask for people’s opinions or be in channels where that back and forth takes place and not do anything about it. It’s insulting and it’s a huge waste of both your time and the people who have connected to you.

A lot of companies talk about "opening up" or "letting the information free" but what it boils down to is a couple of inches more liberal than their traditional marketing and communications. Have you seen some of the topics of conversation listed at recent Government, Association, Marketing and Public Relations seminars? They hint at how open the topic will be, but the subtle undertones of the conference description and the speakers asked to present stink of, "how can your company understand what people are saying and how your company can control the chaos and broadcast into it."

It’s the wrong way to be looking at things.

Here are the bigger questions your organization needs to be asking before entering these channels:

– Are we willing to not just listen, but to respond and adapt based on the back and forth?

– Are we willing to become active participants – not just in our channels but in the other channels and spaces as well?

– Are we willing to change the focus from being on our company to being about everybody – us, them and the entire community?

– Are we willing to be participants with just as much fervour and passion when it’s not good for us, but good for the community or the industry as a whole?

– Are we willing to be open?

– Are we willing to be really, really open and transparent?

Individuals have an obvious and very real reason to be skeptical of brands and companies in the social media sphere. The majority of companies have done a very poor job of changing that perspective because – for the most part – they are simply using these tools to broadcast their messages in a uni-directional fashion. Most companies see these channels as another mass media tool (after all, they are going where the masses are), this forces them to look at the wrong metrics (still), like how many people are seeing their message and what are they doing? Versus, who is seeing their messages, what are they feedbacking and how quickly can the company change their business to adapt and grow?

What do you think companies must do to shift their thinking and really open up?


  1. The companies that actually open up are the ones that will actually be able to build a tribe of followers rallied behind them.
    They will be the ones who garner organic, sustained links, traffic, attention and ultimately customers over time.
    It is a channel to build upon. As Max Kalehoff has written, this is REAL work:
    You have to be in this for the long haul and truly embrace it as more than a broadcast channel, it is about getting real and honest with your customers.

  2. A great post. I am pretty sure the company I work for would find it very difficult indeed because of the industry they are involved in and the fact they operate in a number of different countries with a range of different products. Add to that the sheer complexity and ‘unknownness’ of the tubes makes it seem an impossible challenge. For a company to change their thinking they have to try it out but try it out smartly. A small team of people ‘who get it’ representing the brand on a few select services to start with would be my approach. As the team and the company learns you expand and adjust as necessary. I think Adams last sentence really sums it up…

  3. I’m growing more concerned about this call for the company | individual engagement as its being redefined.
    While it engagement makes sense when some consumers take an interest in a company, I’m wondering how many companies — especially those that attempt to engage consumers in public spaces — makes sense.
    Would you advise a company to walk up to a couple breaking up in public and share some relationship tips?
    Do you really want to know how your public water is being purified?
    I guess what I’m offering is social media experts are starting to advise companies to speak to greater world of social media when maybe just speaking to their customers is enough. Otherwise, the engagement you’re speaking about is just another form of broadcast, and that is not transparent.
    Always interesting Mitch, but this case, I’m thinking that we have to be mindful about what people learn as much as what we teach.

  4. Well there are two problems: having the people who CAN intervene.
    This hard for companies to make happen, because it’s more complicated than just saying, “do this”. In most big companies, this would generally mean dedicated a specific percentage of one’s tasks (say, 5%) to a job whose results are very difficult to quantify.
    The second problem though is WHAT to do. The third-party companies that do blog seeding and intervention for a living are all over the map in terms of their approach, and in the worst cases they’re downright shady.
    Even the best ones, though, use approaches that I would argue are off-base – trying to influence specific people with a PR-style approach, usually. In fact, it’s more about trying to structure an existing discussion so that even though you can’t (and shouldn’t really try to) control the message, you can still ensure that your information is easily available, and that interaction channels are open and useful for customers and non-customers alike.

  5. Mitch, great post. I detect a degree of frustration here. Did this come out of the feedback you’re getting from the eMarketing course you’re teaching. I’m finding it really hard to talk with Clients who aren’t willing to take the time (and this includes their own time) to both spectate and participate with social mediums to understand what is happening and what is required. The other day I had a client say to me, “we should do something like the Tim Horton’s Story” site. They don’t even advertise nationally, or have the brand affinity that Tim’s has. Pass the bottle, I need a drink.

  6. Mitch, great post. I detect a degree of frustration here. Did this come out of the feedback you’re getting from the eMarketing course you’re teaching. I’m finding it really hard to talk with Clients who aren’t willing to take the time (and this includes their own time) to both spectate and participate with social mediums to understand what is happening and what is required. The other day I had a client say to me, “we should do something like the Tim Horton’s Story” site. They don’t even advertise nationally, or have the brand affinity that Tim’s has. Pass the bottle, I need a drink.

  7. Some great additions above – thanks to everyone (so far).
    Richard and Steve – I think this goes right back to what is the overall strategy of the business, and I think that’s the issue. Companies don’t think about how their consumers and potential clients engage in these channels, they just feel like they need to be there and “speaking” to them in what turns out to be more broadcast than dialogue.
    I think the challenge is in figuring out how a company shifts from mass messaging to a more personal channel and the decisions that come with that.

  8. I relate to this post and repeatedly hit a wall trying to advocate for this type of engagement. People like the theory but they still want to present “polished” content (this word was used this week in a conversation I had with a friend — I’m advocating that she make her company and communication efforts more open). For companies selling services, being polished is linked to being professional and high-quality. I work with development experts and researchers, to whom nuance and getting words just right matters. They feel that control protects their reputation. So opening up is hard. “What do you mean just let all my consultants blog whatever? Can I review first?” Of course, but there is never time to review. It’s a different approach. I also agree with Michael Boyle here. How would a company really implement this? Has to be thought through at the level of people’s daily work.

  9. I think what is being missed is the conversation about WHY “web 2.0” has taken off. Why is it that social sites, online communities, etc have exploded in the last 10 years?. You then explain the relationship in detail as to how that relates to a companies product, service offering what have you. Its good that you are be able to tell them the right way to do it but it becomes much more powerful when you explain to them WHY and then tie that directly back to how it relates to what it is as a company they do. You say you should engage, respond and adapt but explain why that should happen and then give clear examples that will have resonance with your audience.

  10. I think we’re forgetting a simple 4 letter word: lazy.
    Companies are too lazy to bother changing the way they market themselves and think about how they communicate. They’re too lazy to think about their customers as humans. They want to be able to reach everyone with one broad stroke of marketing fluff. But finally the pressure to jump in to the social media arena hits, not because they’ve heard of some amazing stories about how web 2.0 brings people and business together, but because *gasp* their competitors are there so they better be too. They don’t know how to act in this channel. As Christine mentions above, they believe that their content must be polished, carefully vetted and airtight. Speak like a person? Are you kidding?
    Predictably, they don’t think the etiquette of new media apply to them so they fill up these channels with gobbledygook and carefully worded PR, just as they’ve done with other channels since who knows when. And when their SMM efforts fail, they’ll dismiss all of these amazing tools as a fad that not ready or suitable for business.
    The idea of loss of control over content, comments, and the spread of opinion (potentially negative) frightens these people to death. “What if somoene says something mean about our product/service?” My answer to that is: “It’s not mean if it’s true. Can you truthfully refute that opinion, can you suck it up as constructive criticism and improve?”
    Here’s the overall message I have for them: if you feel compelled to control every aspect of the message and conversation, it can only be because you have something to hide and I’d rather not hear from you at all.
    If this sounds like I’m venting my own experience, it’s because I am!

  11. I agree with the above… And would add that — it is a very basic step — having someone spend their time participating in online media (chat rooms, blogs, etc.) in the name of their brand is not necessarily easy for a hierarchy to monitor and certainly would require some new guidelines in terms of G&Os. Helping hierarchy to know how to track and then establishing measurable parameters in the G&Os would render the action more credible and concrete.
    Another longer term issue to be considered is that, ASSUMING that the company mgmt agrees to commit, the employee who might be assigned such a role will only do so for the stint of his/her job. Keeping consistency in the brand’s presence therefore, over time, will become a challenge.

  12. Guess what – I DISAGREE. Ok ok in general you are right. But for the VERY SAME reason social media in general and all participants in particular can’t forced to do this or that – companies can’t be forced either. Yes, there is not a general WE ARE GOING SOCIAL – and that is OK but there are some who start a very powerful truly social initiative. They don’t advertise it, they don’t pride themselves about it – it’s what we call THE NEW ENTERPRISE.
    About every six hours Xeequa builds a new presence for a corporation. with a lot of differences: It is not yet another corporate marketing push – it is not another “channel” it is not another business process automation project. It is simply and very carefully executed a way to win back customers. to reingage, to listen, to help, to learn, to touch base… It will take a few years until many are that way – and it will be extremely painful for those who missed the train – but we call that evolution.
    We need more resources to help our clients – see our Social Media Academy – maybe you can help Mitch.
    Help the ones who get it and don’t try to convert the ones who don’t.

  13. I am an unbridled, incurable, optimist. But on this point, I just think that there is nothing you can do to help most mainstream companies. We are talking here about attempting a philosophical overhaul. Something as radical as a religious conversion. Frankly, I don’t think most companies are capable of that. Perhaps their best hope is blowing themselves up and starting all over again.
    Now, the real game is to be found in those new, scrappy, start ups who have nothing to lose (for now). They are more likely to adopt this new way. I also think that it is no accident that they are also more likely to be the successes of the future.

  14. Well, as I was saying in a previous comment, companies have a strong fear of the web 2.0, the 2-way communication system. The companies worry about what could their customers say if they had a voice as strong as theirs.
    They are not used to listen to their customers every day. Except when they’re making a market research.
    What should companies do to really open up? That’s a tough question. Young companies tend to be more open. So maybe the old ones should work out to grow younger. But that’s not enough.
    Obviously, companies should build their businesses with a very different mindset: what are we doing? who our cusomers are? what do they think about what we are doing? are they talking about us? if yes, what are they saying? do our customers form a group or a tribe? if not, what can we offer them to unite?
    Big companies don’t think this way. And they are struggling today.

  15. Fabulous point. I just came across this the other day: I was asked about what social media channels a client should explore. I inquired what the message was.. they hadn’t really considered the fact that social media is about engagement, so you need to give people something to talk about.
    The suggestion to advertise on these platforms is a good one. Some companies simply are not willing (or able) to be more open and engaging. But at least being present in the same venue as people are talking is something.

  16. p.s. the error messaging on your commenting could use some help. My spam filter captcha was “l”, which could have been a lower-case L or an upper case I. I incorrectly typed an I, but received no error message when I tried to post my comment. Ideally, you’d let me know there was an error in the processing-as it was, I thought perhaps the “post” button wasn’t working..

  17. That’s very much spot on – sadly, I find, as it adds to the notion that many organisations simply don’t want to move out of their cosy corner. Interaction is far away as that would mean to move towards power-sharing, inclusion and a much more equality-driven approach. It’s fascinating to watch how many individuals as well as collective agents fail in grasping what potential they are wasting. Haves/haves not will be newly defined, it seems – now it becomes all about opening up and engaging with those many fear the most: citizens, users, consumers – and the previously invisible crowd/audiences…

  18. Mitch,
    Great post, and lots to think about. I wouldn’t presume to think I have the answers to your question, but I do have one recent observation to add to the conversation.
    I recently had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion on using Web 2.0 to drive top line growth for a group of CIOs. Our group is a mix of financial, education and manufacturing CIOs, and it was really interesting to track the questions asked of the panelists to the companies represented.
    In a nutshell, the “old school” companies are still struggling to understand the concepts and still push to directly connect social channel investments to results, rightly so. More progressive organizations understand there is a long term commitment here to the channel itself and part of the payback at least lies in the quality of the conversation.
    So my one observation of what companies need to do is be honest with their understanding of the new channels and create teams that can take advantage of them. For many industrial or manufacturing companies, that may mean pairing an executive with a college intern, or someone from Marketing that “gets it”. I don’t think either side has all the answers, and the synergy of the two veiwpoints could add real value.

  19. Late to this party, but still wanted to offer a thought. What if the move for behemoth corporations is incremental?
    Yes, we are experiencing a communications revolution, but what if the changes some are embracing and experiencing quickly comes more slowly and deliberately to large organizations. They don’t have to “Get It” now. As the culture changes, won’t change scratch at the doors of corporate and govt and seep in?
    Patience is not a natural quality of mine, but I can see that change is happening. At various speeds. Your analysis is spot on, but I am more optimistic. It’s not an all or nothing equation.

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