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February 15, 2008

Are organizations more or less able to get involved in social media marketing than individuals? Embrace mass conversation and let your humans be human

Dana Theus posted a comment to my last post, Antisocial media: Why most associations grasp the 'media' part, but not the 'social' part, of social media, that I agree with, right up to the conclusion, anyway...

Interesting take. I think you're right about what you say, but I also think there is another dimension to the struggles that organizations have establishing a role/identity in the social world, and this makes them appear antisocial.

Specifically, social implies that on some level you get personal. And yet, organizations are not living breathing individual beings. There are decades of marketing/branding practice, theory and philosophy that go into how they create and express their identity and it all adds up to "no one person can be the organization." With this being the case, they can't just traipse out into the social realm in the same way individuals like you and I can.
My emphasis in bold.

I believe organizations just need to start rejecting marketing and branding orthodoxies. They do us precious few favors anymore. These vestigial theories are ingrained with concepts that are rendering most organizations conversationally impotent in today's marketplace. Thirty months ago I walked out of an intimate gathering with one of the founding fathers of modern marketing (I use the word 'modern' very loosely). Even back then, I found his perspectives to be dramatically outmoded in light of the Cluetrain and utterly impractical for organizations of the size and scope we most often work in as association professionals.

These antique practices and theories on marketing and branding were developed in and for an era that has seen numerous new eras pass it by, each one profoundly different than the last. The degree of control companies exercise over their brands has diminished to the point of being virtually inconsequential. And more importantly, over the years marketing has fundamentally changed: it has evolved from mass customization to mass conversation. Talking at your customers from a script is far less effective than listening to them and holding an ongoing conversation.

The new marketers know this: They say that in the customer's view, every person employed by the organization is the organization. This is true whether at the cashier's desk, on the phone with the call center, and even in the web's social media hangouts.

So although organizations themselves are not living, breathing individuals, they are made up of living, breathing humans. So I say, organizations should give their humans the right to act like it. I'll take it a step further: organizations should encourage their humans to act like it: express their personality, show some empathy, deviate from the script, and so on.

In other words, I believe it is all too possible -- and frankly, necessary -- for organizations to just stop doing what stopped working best many moons ago and start venturing into the realm of social media, which holds much more promise for today (for some organizations) and the future (for all the others).

Photo cred: atp_tyreseus



D Theus said...

Hey Ben. I'm just now seeing this (can I plead social media overwhelmingness?). I agree with most of what you say, I just think it's more complicated than any of us know yet to know how to "encourage your humans" while still doing your marketing job of building/focusing your brand. I'm pulling my thoughts together and will respond will something more thought-through.

I'd love to continue the conversation via blog. I'm also open to accelerating the discussion over lunch (really - like "in person").

I think this subject is probably going to completely reshape the marketing discipline over the next few years and I'm enjoying the burbling conversations around what it means.

Dana Theus said...


Ok. I finally got around to responding to this post. Sorry it took me so long! Thanks for the great conversation.

BTW-I'm glad you survived the Tornadoes!