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Social Media Tools Don’t Matter

October 9, 2008 

Here’s a question I hear from marketers all the time: “We want to launch a corporate blog, but we don’t know how to go about it. Where should we start?”

My answer is that you should start a couple of steps back from where you are. Social media tools – whether they’re blogs, online communities, instructional videos or something else – don’t solve anything unless they address a specific business need. Don’t use social media for its own sake. Use it to accomplish an objective.

Unfortunately, the temptation is difficult to resist. Lots of businesses are experimenting with social media tools these days. It’s natural to think that they know something the rest of us don’t, but the reality is that most people are still kicking tires right now. There are some very successful companies like Apple Computer that are doing nothing with social media because they don’t have to. If the tools aren’t right for your culture or your business, don’t use them.

Whatever you do, don’t start the decision process with technology. The choice of a social media tool is no more relevant to the success of a campaign than is the choice of paint to the structural integrity of a house. Many tools are flexible enough to be used for multiple purposes and some strategic goals require you to leverage many tools in concert.

Stop and consider the problem or opportunity you’re trying to address. Here are a few possible business objectives, with the best tool options listed in parentheses.

  • Build customer community (blog, video, social network, private community, virtual world)
  • Counter negative publicity (blog, podcast, video, customer reviews)
  • Crisis management (blog, video, social network, virtual world)
  • Customer conversation (blog, social network, private community, virtual world)
  • Generate website traffic (blog, video, customer reviews)

Many more examples will be explored in my forthcoming book, Secrets of Social Media Marketing. It will be available this fall and you can pre-order it on Amazon right now. I also recommend reading Groundswell, the new book by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research. It has some excellent advice on how to take a disciplined approach to social media selection.

Note that blogs appear next to every bullet point listed above. That doesn’t mean blogs are a panacea. They are the easiest form of social media to implement, but far greater leverage may derive from more complex tools like customer communities. You should choose media based upon your budget, staff resources and commitment. It’s often best to start small and grow your social media footprint as you become more fluent with the tools. Blogs are a good starting point, but you may need stronger medicine after a while.

Keep in mind the importance of balancing between ease of use, simplicity of deployment and functionality. Many social media tools can be used for multiple purposes. You may be better off starting with a tool that you understand well rather than deploying a somewhat richer solution that carries a steep learning curve.

If you keep the tools secondary and work outward from the business goal, you’re far more likely to reap the rewards of your efforts.

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