Your Social Media Campaign is… Stupid.

Dare I say it? You betcha — your Social Media Campaign is… Stupid.

Two years ago Brands and Advertisers weren’t just cautious of social media, they were apprehensive and distrustful.

In as quick of a 180° change as Social Networks opened last summer, marketing interests have rushed to embrace social media… albeit with overwhelmingly pointless campaigns.

Everyone feels they need to have a Facebook App, a MySpace page, a Twitter campaign… the list goes on…

The marketing budgets spent on these endeavors are no laughing matter, and neither are the talents hired — with some of the best and brightest production shops, digital agencies, and creatives backing the efforts.

So what is going wrong?

Why are Facebook apps turning into ( as Advertising Age proclaims ) brand graveyards ? Why are Twitter campaigns failing , when there are so many success stories out there? Why are you all alone, because will no one be your friend on MySpace?

The problem is simple — bad strategy.

In a rush to homestead on Social Media properties, everyone has gone out and hired “Social Media Consultants” — ‘experts’ who overwhelmingly have little to no background in advertising or digital media , they just ‘get’ social media and are avid networkers. These are people who know little about ROI or Branding, instead measuring their success by the size of their contracts.

My friend Phil Gillman has been talking recently about how Advertising has failed online because marketers have been trying to keep too unified a messaging across media – and not tailoring online activity to the interactive marketplace. He’s right – a lot of issue is that television campaigns won’t work online.

But I say this goes a step further — not every online medium is the same. Facebook and MySpace have vastly different cultures — as do all the niche social networks. You wouldn’t run the same mix on NBC, BET and Univision — so why run the same social media campaigns across networks?

Some online projects can be ‘insanely viral’ — others are not. My friends The Barbarian Group are often lauded with their success with the Subservient Chicken campaign for Burger King — and they should be, it reached across demographics with equal appeal. But where is the appeal to Facebook or MySpace users for displaying the latest news from The Wall Street journal on their page? That’s not social media strategy, that’s social media stupidity.

When my company FindMeOn was working with non-profit and political groups to streamline our social network mapping technology, we ran into the same conversation during every meeting — clients wanted to run the same online campaign on 15 different networks. We always gave the same answer — and every time I consult I still give this same stock answer:

– I understand your position, it’s a bad one.
– I’d be glad to take your money and implement that – or you can just give me money for nothing in return, because you’re not going to get any ROI off of this
– Every social network and medium is different — you need to leverage your brand against them

The strategies I always recommend is nothing more than common sense:

– Discover your core audience on each network, and communicate with them. Facebook and MySpace users are not the same, and will not react to the same messaging.
– The key is in communication — you need a two-way brand relationship.
– By building up users across networks, you can leverage their homesteads in each network and reach more people.

Users want to feel like they’re interacting with your brand. Syndicating content or duplicating campaigns across social networks by merely find/replacing logos and names does nothing but cheapen their experience.

Marketers need to be critical of themselves and their campaigns – no one seems to ask “If I’m a common user, why would I download/use/install this?” We don’t live in a field of dreams — ‘If we build it , they will come’ is nothing more than foolish optimism.

Which brings me to my case in point – Twitter. I haven’t read an issue of “Advertising Age” in months that doesn’t have at least 3 articles on the now-ubiquitous service. If someone isn’t already using Twitter for brand reinforcement and advertising, they’re openly talking about their plans to. There’s even a few pay-to-post brand advertising networks coming out on it.

I like using Twitter as an example, because it’s the perfect illustration of who “gets it”, and who doesn’t in social media — it also best-illustrates the key points in Social Media marketing.

Many people gauge the effectiveness of a Twitter account based on the number of ‘followers’ — assuming someone with 50-500 followers is not as effective as someone with 500-5,000. This is a dangerously wrong assumption — and one built on fundamental misunderstandings of both Social Media and basic marketing skills. The success of your brand in Social Media depends on one thing and one thing alone — engagement.

Twitter is not a syndication platform — it is not a newsletter, a RSS feed, or a subscription service. It’s a platform for engagement.

While the most popular Twitter brands have average 20,000 followers ( i.e.: Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and Gary Vaynerchuck of WineLibrary ), their ROI has never been exhibited by their quantity, but instead their quality. The success of these Social Media campaigns lie in their use of bi-directional customer engagement — with the brands not only broadcasting information, but interacting with consumers on a personal level. To reinforce this point, I often like to remind people “It’s SOCIAL, stupid.”.

FindMeOn always advices non-profits and organizations to not create personal/closed whitelabel networks, but build open social networks that leverage their fans’ existing accounts.

One of the 2008 Presidential campaigns *really* wanted us to build them a closed network. Our response? “That’s a bad idea. Why would you want to have a bunch of your fans feeding off each other? They need to be talking out in the open – you need to use them as your advocates.”

Instead of bringing people together behind closed doors, your online property should be a gathering place , a common hub or ‘linkage’ for your followers across websites and networks. For example: if you leverage Flickr or MySpace for photo sharing, instead of building your own photo gallery, their photographs appear across sites. You gain brand positioning within their activity streams and, consequently, gain a chance to convert more followers. This is the social media equivalent of “Collateral damage” – we call it “Collateral Branding”.

Twitter exemplifies Collateral Branding — and Social Media Marketing best-practices — because of how it’s engagement model works.

Let’s take the example of someone with 5000 followers: if all they do is broadcast a bit of information every few hours, all they really have is 5000 passive listeners. That’s nothing to really boast about. Really, what good does it do to your brand to blanket a few thousand people with random news blasts? This is the social equivalent of opt-in spam, and can leave consumers disaffected or damaged.

Now let’s look at a Twitter brand with 500 followers, and characterize them as someone who actively engages with their fans. That means using the network and tailored communication to open a dialogue with users – not just broadcasting to them, but fostering a conversation. This doesn’t just build a stronger, more positive connection with the brand, but has the potential to engage more users in new, unique, and positive ways. While their messaging may only be directed at 500 people, every user-generated message addressed @them shows up on the timelines of those originators’ followers. If the brand receives 50 messages from unique followers each day, and those users each average 100 followers themselves, their realized Social Marketing Imprint is the sum of their outbound messaging ( 500 unique users ) + their inbound messaging ( 50 users * 100 followers = 5000 potentially unique users ).

So in this example, our brand with 500 followers is not only fostering a better brand connection and reinforcement with its consumer base, but is actually creating a slightly larger marketing imprint. Who woulda’ guessed?

Social Media is still a young concept for marketing, but it can be extremely powerful when done right. Don’t just build apps and broadcast messages, hoping people will install them. Actually think about what you’re building, why you’re building it, and what the ROI will be. Having a Facebook app or Twitter page is not ROI – using them to create and foster brand loyalty and sales is. If you’re a brand or advertiser, you shouldn’t question Social Media — online advertising and social media has a proven track record; you simply need to question your strategy and show a little common sense.