There’s Nothing Magical About Social Media Principles

Beware the "magic"

We often hear how social media is “different” – how it changes everything about your communications. How you have to throw the old rules out the window when launching into social media tools. I respectfully disagree.

Too many “social media experts” treat these kinds of principles as though they separate social media from other forms of communication, probably because they’ve never practiced those other forms and only have preconceptions to go on.

There’s nothing magical about the principles people discuss for social media – there are just nuances in their application.

Here are a few principles that get banded about as “social media” principles, but which apply across different forms of communication and across different channels:

  • There is no silver bullet solution
  • Target your audiences
  • Messaging matters
  • Customer service affects your image
  • Tailor your approach
  • You rise and fall on relationships
  • Measurement is key

There is no silver bullet solution

Whether you’re launching a traditional media relations campaign, a store-based promotion or a series of advertisements, there’s no single solution to your problem. Social media is no different.

There’s no stand-alone “kit” to solve every problem – just as with every other communications discipline, you need to create it based on the situation.

Target your audiences

Every so often I see people opinionating about how targeting is an obsolete concept in digital communications. I really want to talk to those peoples’ clients.

When you’re formulating a communications plan, tactics come close to last in the development process. You think through the context, through your objectives, through your audiences and through your strategic approach before reaching your tactics. Why? Because your tactics should vary depending on those factors. 

Is the audience for your raw iron ore on Twitter? Maybe (I haven’t done the research), but I doubt it. Regardless of whether you’re looking online or offline in your communications, you need to figure out how best to reach the people who are important to your business. If you think targeting doesn’t matter, you go ahead with that Twitter outreach on iron ore. Just don’t send me your resume when you’re fired.

Fail to target your audiences, and your communications will fall short regardless of whether they’re social media tactics or not.

Messaging matters

Messaging still matters. The words you use affect how people perceive you. However, communicators need to realize that in traditional media, in advertising, in social media and in other communications, repeating the same messages over and over again (politicians do this especially badly) doesn’t work. People, both journalists and potential customers alike, tune it out.

Customer service affects your image

Experiences matter more than the words in print. You can blather away all you like to that reporter from the Globe and Mail; if you’re leaving your customers on hold for an hour, they won’t care what they read in the paper. Your words will ring hollow.  

The same applies to social media tools. Do a Twitter Search of your company name. What are people saying about you? Do a search on Facebook too, and one on Google Blogsearch, and on BackType, Technorati, IceRocket, EveryZing and so on. Are people complaining about your appalling service levels? Same effect as above.

Unique to social media? No. Important everywhere? Yes.

Tailor your approaches

When you pick up the phone and call an editor at the Toronto Star, that conversation is informed by all of the prior conversations you’ve had with him. You know that he’s interested in certain kinds of stories, that Wednesday is a bad day to call him and that he’s a visual learner who likes to see things for himself. So, tailor your approach to him. When you call his counterpart at the Toronto Sun, you know she approaches things a different way so adjust accordingly.

Blogger relations isn’t some mysterious black hole. The principles remain the same as good media relations. Know your audience; tailor your approach to them; give them content that helps them.

You rise and fall on relationships

It takes a long time to develop relationships, and you can burn them in an instant if you abuse them.

Online or off, the people who succeed are the people who build relationships with other people. It doesn’t matter if you’re calling a client, a colleague, a journalist or a blogger – those conversations are built on your past interactions.

The same goes for your customers, too – do they have transactions with you, or is it an ongoing engagement?

Anyone who suggests that this is unique to social media is in need of a clue as to how to succeed in the real world.

Measurement is key

If you tell me that measurement doesn’t matter in traditional media relations, I’ll laugh you out of the room. Now, as much as ever, companies are being forced to justify their budgets in all areas. Whether you’re producing ads, pitching journalists or building an online community, if you can’t measure your outcomes then good luck renewing your budget.

Closing thoughts

There are plenty of other examples I could give. Shel Holtz and Todd Defren – two guys with way more experience than me – both wrote interesting posts on the subject of “campaigns” yesterday. Again, as they’ll agree, while short-term initiatives work it’s always been more effective to build coverage over time than to go through constant, expensive one-day wonders.

These aren’t social media principles – they’re communications principles.

What do you think?

12 Responses toThere’s Nothing Magical About Social Media Principles

  • Great post Dave – share your POV and appreciate your relating the message back to the tactics used in everyday marketing.


  • Great points, Dave. This is why I am immediately skeptical of PR/comms shops that claim to be focused on social media. That’s like saying you’re focused on press releases. Or direct mail campaigns.
    From the client side, I can’t imagine ever working with an agency that immediately pigeon-holed itself (and, by extension, my organization) in such a way.
    Social media are tools. There a nuances and particularities but the same can (and should) be said for every tool we use. We’ve created a false dichotomy between traditional and social PR. Thanks for helping to bust it down.

  • Yes, yes, yes, Dave. I agree with this 100%, especially coming out of the event I was at this morning, where the topic was regarding marketing in a recession. As soon as social media experts were referenced as a requirement for running these campaigns, I knew the message was lost in the room. Bring in social media as part of your mix, but ensure that the mix is still there. Use it to target different segments, and make sure that your resources that are doing so are the ones you’d have representing your company in other formats. It’s not brain surgery; and yet, so many are still clueless about it – which ironically, fuels the social media “experts'” businesses.

    If you don’t get social media and what it can do for you by now, you’re in big trouble.

  • @Joe: I think shops that claim to focus on social media are just using buzzwords to attract clients.

    This is a good post. I notice you’ve written quite a bit about similar thoughts and the importance of strategy behind social media (just as any other communications tactics).

    You mentioned nuances that are unique to social media, which you didn’t get into. I assume you’re talking about the ways in which you engage with your audience using social media, versus print, TV, Radio?

  • I totally agree with you Dave. Too many agencies try and separate social marketing from other forms because they are so different. But really as you said, they aren’t. They’re just different tools to do the same things we’ve been trying to do for years with other forms of marketing. Social marketing needs to be planned out, executed and measured just as any other form of marketing.

  • @Rick I think the engagement is the nuance. Social tools demand more interaction than other tools. But that doesn’t make them so different as to require a separate agency. It’s like anything else, understand the tool so when faced with an objective you can evaluate that tool’s usefulness.

  • Being new to all things web oriented, I am constantly amazed at what I read. As, though this new approach or this new method is radically a new approach.

    Yet, not being new to business, most of what I read is not knew at all but good old fashioned business. In some cases just plain people to people relationship building.

    Great post, as Always Dave for establishing this point and making it real.

    Now, if you could please get this image out of my head of you in running shorts. LOL

    BTW – watch for my post tomorrow which will show this link off.

  • Spot on with your post Dave. I said similar in a post I recently made. We all need to remember that the old principles still apply to social media and we shouldn’t get carried away with the new stuff, fogetting all we’ve learned before.

  • I agree wholeheartedly. I seem to be reading a lot of articles lately where social media gurus are proclaiming that the PR industry will need to drastically change its approach in order to survive. Yet, the things they’re talking about – transparency, strategy, integrated programs are all things we’ve been preaching and practicing for years. It’s true that PR practitioners need to be up to speed and ideally, participating actively in social media but, if they’re decent, they should already be practicing these principles.

  • Excellent post, Dave. Social media hasn’t changed the fundamentals of good marketing and communications — it’s only made them more important than ever.

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