The introduction of social media tools has made transparency in marketing not only important, but critical. Social media enhances the ability to listen to what customers and prospects are saying publicly for any size company and brand in almost any industry today. I would argue that listening to customers has always been one of the key tenets of good marketing, and I agree with Dave Kerpen’s precept that that it has never been cheaper or easier to do so because of social media. There is no longer any excuse for companies to be ignorant of what is going on with both their customers and, I would add, their competitors.
Highly readable, this book is just the right mix of case studies, guidelines and suggestions. I read the book in one beach sitting. It is broken into digestible chapters of 12-15 pages in length, and the style is conversational yet substantial, with suggested “Action Items” at the end of each chapter. (I do always wonder if readers actually stop to write down their answers to these exercises. I just wanted to keep reading the book!)
Start By Listening
Kerpen starts with the fundamentals of any good marketing plan: Listen First, Define Your Target Audience, and Think Like Your Consumer. His anecdote of buying a highly targeted Facebook ad to send his wife a message while he was away on a business trip is both personal and compelling, and counteracts the seeming overwhelming enormity and anonymity of a huge social network like Facebook. From there, we move on to the Dialog phase, where Kerpen covers everything from how to create a dialog to how to respond to customer comments – all of them, good and bad. He highlights an important phenomenon of the “crowd sourced customer service” method: customers will often answer questions, and even defend a brand against negative comments and complaints. If companies can get over the idea of controlling customer conversations on social media, this idea is a powerful one.
Authenticity Breeds Trust
In the chapters on authenticity and transparency, Kerpen points out that authenticity breeds trust. He emphasizes that making mistakes on social media is okay, it is how a company handles them that is most important. One area Kerpen could have expanded further on, however, is balancing the need for transparency with two other conflicting goals: keeping company proprietary information private and unifying messaging across a large corporation. In this area, using social media as an internal communications tool may well be as important a step in a large company as using it for customer-facing communication. In a world where almost every employee becomes a spokesperson and brand ambassador (which Kerpen covers in a later chapter, Integrate Social Media Into the Entire Customer Experience), it is critical that employees know what information should not be disclosed, and what messages should be used to represent the company. Having worked at two large companies (AT&T and Microsoft), I know that both of these communications issues are the reason why PR departments were created: to control messaging and create consistency. It’s not always an issue of trying to hide or manipulate, sometimes it’s just an issue of coherence and effective corporate communication.
Define Your Value Proposition, Create Customer Case Studies, Publicize
Another area the book emphasizes is the power of free dynamic content, offers, and information in building trust, reputation and, ultimately, sales. By sharing visual content like low-budget videos, writing blogs, and curating information from others, a brand can bring value to customers, create dialog, and cement the company-customer relationship. Storytelling is the new marketing buzzword, and Kerpen does not disappoint here, with a whole chapter on how to use stories to leverage the most passionate customers and employees to provide valuable brand-building content. In many ways, what Kerpen is advocating are the very same core marketing tactics I learned in business school and applied in my career as a corporate marketer: define your value proposition, create customer case studies to highlight that value proposition, and publicize those stories. Allow your customers to speak for you, because good customers are both knowledgeable and credible. Toward the end of the book, Kerpen addresses the sales funnel, and emphasizes that social media can be used to facilitate sales, thus turning engagement into actual purchase. By staying focused on “buying, not selling,” Kerpen argues that companies can transcend the old “push-marketing” tactics and simply “create buying opportunities.” If we build it, they will come. Or perhaps if we post interesting and funny videos and talk about it enough on social media, eventually they will come. Most importantly, if we make it easy, eventually some of them will even buy.
Key Networks and What They Are Best For
The appendix of the book is a valuable Refresher Guide to important social networks that includes examples of well-designed brand pages for all the major networks: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, LinkedIn and the blogosphere. Kerpen’s succinct “Best Uses” section for each platform is very useful, especially for smaller companies or non-profits with extremely limited staff and budget who are just starting out with social media and are trying to figure out where to focus their resources.
Not A Silver Bullet
A key point Kerpen makes is that social media is not a silver bullet: it cannot make up for a bad product, company or organization. I would argue that not only can it not make up for such, it will actually accelerate the discovery of those flaws in a company. Social media accelerates the communications cycle of company/customer interaction, and will eventually expose both product weaknesses and company messaging/value inconsistencies. On the positive side, social media, like any marketing tool, can amplify a positive message and sell a great product. With social media, the customer becomes an important extension of the marketing team, helping to smooth product and customer service issues, and promoting a good product by word of mouth.
For additional excellent recommendations for social media marketing reads, check out this list by Ed Keller and Brad Fay, Five Essential Marketing Must-Reads for Summer.