Isn't it time for Marketers to let Social Media to sit at the Grown-ups table?

I attended a marketing conference put on by my daughters university. While I only attended one day, I was fortunate enough to hear the 4 finalists to present their Unilever case study. Sponsor Unilever, presented a scenario of one of their consumer products with poor market-share. The students were challenged with coming up with a plan to change that.

First, I was blown away by the polish and professionalism of the presentations. I was disappointed by the lack of social media as part of their plans. The majority of the room had probably not been near a TV that day, but I would bet every student checked in on Facebook. Yet social media was barely on the radar of the first few presentations. Happily, the final presentation, and the students who ultimately won the case competition, factored social media big into their plan.

The conference closed with Christopher Luxon, president of Unilever Canada giving a presentation. I think his words were as relevant to veteran marketers as they were to a university aged audience. Key messages that stuck with me were "Seek conversations with your consumers", and "Small actions big differences". Both very actionable via social media tools today.

Even with that positive endorsement of social media, I talked to a few students and company representatives and there is still lots of caution. I don't blame them. Giving your message to the masses to be forward on through their social networks is ripe for abuse and prone to error. AdAge has a great article called "Marketers Rushing to Haiti's Aid Hit Twit-Storm of Misinformation" that talks about well intentioned people forwarding the wrong message forward, or event chastising companies who the public thought could do more. There's lots of "goodness" in the article though so have a read.

So what's the solution for a marketer? Wait until social media grows up? I think the answer is to treat social media like it is grown-up. Knee jerk, poorly planned social media campaigns can fail just as a misprinted coupon, or a misplaced media-buy could fail. Sadly the ease at which we can launch a campaign in social media lets us run off half-cocked.

Factor social media into every campaign. Plan it. Plan how you deploy it, don't just shotgun it to as many locations as possible. Measure it. Deploy the content in such a way that you can track the success. Something as simple as a "Tweet" with a measurable URL might mean the difference between knowing IF social media had impact or wondering later. It might also ensure the original message does not get lost.

Get the data and keep the data. Marketing is a business of metrics and predictability. Next campaign, know what worked, what did not. Feel free to experiment, but don't make the same mistake twice.

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