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Don’t Throw Out the Social Media Rulebook Yet…

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[ Social Media]

…use some of it as a reference guide instead.

I have to hand it to Chip Griffin. His recent post, "Throwing Out the Social Media Rulebook" is thought provoking to say the least.

In his post, Griffin assertively proclaims, "I’m here to tell you that most of the rules are bunk, and we as an industry to ourselves a disservice by frightening off potential participants with absurd proclamations of the way things must be."

I like it.

I agree with the premise.

I found however, that many of the reasons aren’t grasping the full story of "why" some of the rules do or do not make sense. I think I know what he was trying to say, but it wasn’t coming through in the post. And, since we’re migrating through times of debate and confusion among the general marketing community, it’s important to tell a balanced story.

If it’s to get people thinking, then mission accomplished. Like I said, I absolutely agree with the premise of his discussion.

If it’s to tell people to break the rules, hey, go for it. Rules, what rules? We don’t need no stinking rules.

I’ve only offered recommendations and guidelines based on the work that I’ve done to help steer people away from making asses out of themselves and the companies that they represent.

Rather than speculate however, I asked Griffin via twitter what he wanted us to walk away with after reading his post.

He updated his story with the following statement, “I hope what people take from my comments is that we should encourage even baby steps and small words in the social media space and not get caught up as much as many of us do with being quick to criticize lack of adherence to all of our ideals.”

Amen.

Baby steps are all steps in the right direction.

The only reason I’m writing this post, is to offer an extension to the discussion he started. It’s my way of helping people find resolution, answers, and direction somewhere in the middle.

I can tell you that I have said some of the things in the very rulebook that he suggests throwing out. I have also backed up those statements with everything that I have learned in both the successes and failures that I have experienced to date. It’s theory debunked or reinforced by practice. Nothing more, nothing less.

But, don’t use the principles as a playbook. Use them to create your own guidebook.

If anything, this discussion represents the dire need for people to stop marching in the "Social Media Love" parade and start practicing what we preach.

At the end of the day, I am standing up for, and contributing to, the evolution of marketing and public relations in a way that’s meaningful and sincere across traditional and social media practices.

Without further adu, let’s address Griffin’s points, one by one:

1. It Isn’t a Blog Without RSS.

It has less to do with whether or not RSS is mainstream, as it’s already is starting to impact not just how people read information, but also how they sync data across multiple platforms – even if they don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.

Giving people options to subscribe to an RSS feed is no more technologically advanced than entering an email address to subscribe to a newsletter. Companies like bloglines and netvibes are helping people jump into the world of feed readers. But people are also getting introduced to general readers through new incarnations of popular Web browsers as well.

It already represents where everything is moving. Therefore it’s important, and really simple (syndicate – that’s a geek joke) to integrate it into a blog and anything else a company produces. RSS helps your appeal to a greater variety of people, but also feel free to offer other ways to access your information.

It’s not just for geeks.

At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with bookmarking sites and reading them outside of a reader. The point is to cater to a wider variety of people who prefer to have things their way.

2. It Isn’t a Blog Without Comments.

Comments are part of the conversation. Closing them is one thing. But measuring the success of a blog based on the amount of comments is just lame.

Reading blogs via RSS versus reading posts through a browser is a different experience for now. Soon, however, the RSS feed will include everything.

I can tell you quite honestly, as is evident by many great posts, that sometimes the comments are better than the post itself. I have my most meaningful conversations not in Twitter, or blog posts, but in the comments section of posts across the blogosphere. The post on MediaBullseye proves that point.

The post is only the beginning of the dialog. Let it extend in comments or across the blogosphere, but at least provide trackbacks so that you can listen and respond accordingly as well as promote the responses of those who were compelled to write based on your words.

3. The Press Release is Dead.

Trumpets please….

Press releases are not dead!

Crappy press releases should be killed off however.

There’s a difference between well-written press releases and spin, hyperbole and message filled documents that try to stuff so much garbage into one story that you have no clue what you’re reading.

In fact, some of the greatest campaigns right now are including traditional releases (well-written of course), SEO press releases, and an experimental concept of releases that tell a story.

I’ve dedicated an entire series recently, which I still plan to continue, as to why there’s value across all of the release formats – when done correctly.

4. The Social Media Release is King.

The Social Media Release is an extension to the press release strategy and can benefit the entire PR process through social channels not yet reachable by traditional release distribution methods.

I’m not a fan of the bullet points as I believe that’s best served in the summary that precedes it. However, like SEO and story telling releases, a good SMR will show up in blog search engines and help reach not just bloggers, but customers as well who use those channels to find information.

Trust me when I say, you have to try it to see its unique and new value. Discussing it otherwise is pointless.

However, SMRs are not replacing traditional releases. And, just to be fair, I don’t think anyone ever said they should. If they did, they’re wrong.

5. It’s All About Conversation Not Messages.

This is a very explosive subject. No one speaks in messages; not you, not your friends, not your customers. Yet, marketers and PR professionals tend to start all activity with a template of messages and positioning statements that make it incredibly difficult to decipher exactly what you do and why it matters.

We’re all leaders and innovators in what we do and therefore are introducing revolutionary and groundbreaking techniques to shift the paradigm with our disruptive, bleeding-edge, shiny new, and the industry’s first, social media toolbox.

:)

Conversations are rooted in so many things other than intended messages that companies wish to instill. We tend to forget that this is about people.

The way I try to explain this process is to place yourself in the shoes of the very people you wish to reach. After all, you’re a consumer. You have experience. You know what you’re talking about. You make decisions.

There’s a difference however in trying to guide a conversation and trying to control it.

Messages are inherently different than value propositions, though they shouldn’t be. And while many of us have the right intentions, most slip into marketing speak and therefore pollute the very value propositions that companies wish to seed in the market.

As long as you back up from the traditional "messaging process" and think about why what you represent matters to the people you’re trying to reach, specific to the market you’re engaging, then you’ll find that messages "can" be OK.

Why?

Because they’re really, at that point, no longer messages, but benefits.

Humanize the story.

6. The Customer Controls the Relationship.

The customer is always right, right?

Nope.

Cluetrain aside, the customer doesn’t control the relationship, but the customer does control their perception of what you do and say, and in turn, how they share that perception. And even more interestingly, they control the conversation in the domains and communities where they decide to start conversations.

There’s a stark difference here. And, customers, especially in the realm of Social Media, are actively talking about your company, products, and competitors whether you care or even know about it.

But let me be clear, customer do not own the relationship with the company. As well, companies do not own the relationships with customers.

Relationships are based on mutual benefits.

Customer relations starts with listening. There’s no way around that. It is also reinforced by talking to people across the various communities that create the overall market opportunity. They’re just looking for answers, clarification, assistance, or support.

This isn’t new though. Many have been doing this since the 80s by embracing user groups and online boards, the 90s with online groups such as deja, google, and Yahoo, and today within social networks and online communities.

There’s a lot to learn by shifting focus from inbound to also outbound. But all of this is simply based on listening, respect, and value as a way of instilling trust.

7. Authenticity and Transparency are Immutable Truths.

What’s wrong with being sincere and genuine?

If it’s anything that we learn here is that companies earn the trust and loyalty they deserve. And, we’ve seen what happens when people feel duped by companies who don’t tell the truth.

Not telling the full story is very different than running a fraudulent campaign. Both run a strong risk of generating anger and revolt within the community.

What "we’re" supposed to be saying is just be more human in thinking about what your customer wants and why. This isn’t new because of Social Media either. The only thing that’s new are the social tools we can use to reach people. The premise should always be about helping people make decisions.

I have to vehemently disagree with your example of CEOs who use ghostwriters and people who rely on speech writers to put words in their mouth. This has been a point onf discontent for so long its not even worth digging up.

No one is putting a gun to their head and telling CEOs to blog. If you don’t want to do it, then don’t. The world’s probably better off without it. And if there are consultants out there trying to force their hand at blogging, then they’re wrong.

But along the same lines, don’t have your best friend write love letters to the person you want a relationship with because you don’t have the words, or the heart, to do it yourself.

There’s nothing wrong with providing a human side as long is it has a positive impact on brand loyalty.

Ghostwriting still works in many cases on the traditional side, but why even play with it in an era where people out fakes on the Social side everyday. Obviously there’s a sore spot to contend with.
But there are other ways to approach this.

Many companies are empowering the "LINE" of people who would gladly wear the corporate blogging hat to write because they’re passionate about what they represent.

Passion and enthusiasm are incredibly contagious and even inspiring.

I, along with countless others, will argue that PR, as a whole, never engaged at a deeper level, and that’s why there are so many problems plaguing the PR industry. All I’m saying is that we should look outside of PR sometimes to find the best person within who can truly do a job beyond what most can only try to pull off.

However, these are only points of advice, not rules. Take the steps you feel comfortable with to learn.

8. Audience is a Word of the Past.

This one really has nothing to do with Social Media, but it is still a point of contention.

To imply that there is one audience is exactly the same as assuming that there is one message for everyone you want to reach. Yes, there can be many audiences.

When I refer to audience, I am trying to highlight that we’re really talking about people who have different pains, needs, wants, etc., and most importantly, they go to different places for the discovery and sharing of information. They’re just not lining up at any one place to hear what you have to say.

This discussion really took off after NYU’s Jay Rosen wrote, "We Are the People Formerly Known as the Audience."

The idea was originally aimed at big media to remind them that the "eyeballs" that they owned or wanted to own were really not in their control and that they needed to be reminded of the fact that, "The people formerly known as the audience are simply the public made realer, less fictional, more able, less predictable."

The point that everyone should get here is that the intelligence of people can not be underestimated. Blasts are dead. Spam is dead. However, communities specific to interests are flourishing.

Rosen merely inspired me to take the concept further. It’s not just about eyeballs in the media world. It’s about "targets" in the world of marketing.

As I mentioned in the section about messages, there are different value propositions for different sets of customers. Social Media is only fueling the growth and importance of vertical and niche markets, each creating and sustaining dedicated and thriving communities.

They require dedicated strategies.

This particular point of reference is merely designed to get you to "think" about the very people you want to reach, because there is no one magic bullet. All we’re trying to do here is add one more step to the process of figuring out our benefits specific to groups of people and where they go for their information.

When we start the process by looking one step beyond "audiences," we are able to peel back a more revealing layer to see people directly. It encourages us to strengthen our approach.

Again, it’s not directive, but it is a helpful point to help expand the ways to reach people – because that’s what it’s about, people.

9. Lack of Comments Means Lack of Influence.

No argument here. However, links and trackbacks are indicative of influence and reach.

OK, so that’s it.

Chip mentioned a key point. None of this is edict and he’s right. Most of it will help you jump in if you at least think about the stuff that’s out there.

But, jumping doesn’t mean you have to drink the punch, forget about your own beliefs, and cannonball into the pool with other Social Media zealots.

Take baby steps. Learn from others. Apply your experience. But do try, your way…based on the research and experience of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

But remember this, there is still a point of caution everyone must take before engaging in Social Media. Rules or not, optimism or defiance, marketers aren’t welcome as is. All of these discussions over the last several years have been designed to help you learn about why what you represent matters to the very people you’re trying to reach.

Use the writing of others as guidance, not as rules.

Just know what you’re talking about, why it matters to each group of people, and be helpful…that’s a great place to start.

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Don’t Throw Out the Social Media Rulebook Yet…
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