Shadows and Tall Trees: what social media marketing can learn from third-world pro-social movements

2010/01/07 at 21:49 1 comment

Trying to nourish the roots from the canopy of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn- what the industry can learn from aid organizations and third world groundswell.

Even if your company, brand or product is not aiming for guerrilla, grassroots marketing models, shouting from the rooftops, no matter how state of the art your audio-visual equipment, may never even reach your traditional client.

The best return to investment ratio marketing tool is word of mouth.  No campaign will beat your best friend, father or trusted colleague raving about real world upside- great results, exceeded expectations, superior service, critical savings or having daily routines eased by a brand or business, wherever it’s found.

The trick, of course, is that those hearing the lauding may not need or want such a thing, and the message is not reaching the audience looking for it. What if you want a new netbook, but don’t know anyone you trust, or with similar usage habits, that just got one? You have no other source but the usual product claims and lures found on company websites or superstore specials.

In the age of brands growing personalities and trying to make themselves accessible and personal by tweeting news, promotions, or links to articles mentioning their wares, the reality is that this approach can be just as impersonal and scatter-shot as traditional media advertising.  Yes, it’s far cheaper and much more nimble (no production and media buying lead times), only with two significant extra hurdles: first, there isn’t the advanced, specific initial demographic data that allows you to target those you want or need to reach and second, even one had this information, one has to get the consumer to follow them to receive the message.

Facebook advertising can alleviate this to a great degree- it’s very nature allows Facebook to offer very specific consumers bases.  It’s not hard to reach out to all the 23-year-old female young urban professionals that listen to Jay-Z and like to knit and eat pepperoni pizza.  So now you’re specific, but are you engaged?

Facebook’s Pages are the middle ground- users opt in, choose to be updated, and have asked to participate with your brand.  Seems ideal- a somewhat captive audience on the world’s biggest social media platform, with people spending so much time there that one grows nostalgic for the (yester)days when parents bemoaned the amount of time their kids spend in front of the tv instead of bosses worrying about work hours whittled away online.

The reality is that those that tend to join these pages join LOTS of pages.  There are users who become fans of bands and stores and designers and companies and products and movements (real and imaginary), nearly every channel or medium you can think of.  There are few users who join just a few pages, and those tend to be solely cultural or political.

Jockeying for attention among a hundred other groups: back to square one.

So what does one do?  How do you “move the needle,” “rise above the clutter,” ‘be heard among the chorus of voices?”  A good road map can be found in an unlikely place: non-profit aid organizations.

Entities like the U.N. and its branches- UNESCO, UNICEF or Government foreign aid programs like USAID and giant NGOs like the WHO’s Sonagachi Project are big, well-funded and in the trenches.  The central, urban trenches.  They tend to focus on the cities (the most visible, obvious areas).  They pour tons of good intentions and money into education, awareness, infrastructure, regional offices and specific initiatives time after time, yet find that they are making little headway in their extraordinary efforts.

Why?  Because they are standing on the canopy, shouting through their proverbial bullhorn, watering these trees, missing every plant, bush, flower and blade of grass in between.

In other words: they’re missing those that need them most- the less visible, the less likely to reach out; the majority of the population.

Project (RED), of which I am an avid supporter, is the poster child for what is happening out there: great marketing, tremendous corporate partnerships, tremendous awareness with the social media universe, engaging campaigns and content, but not reaching the people they were built to serve.  Measure with traditional and cutting-edge metrics, they score off the charts for success in the twitterverse, on Facebook, the blogworld… but not in the savannas and jungles of Africa, where all their social media awareness is not matching the slow, slow progress they’re making in their fight.

They’re getting tons of return when it comes to social media success, but the equation doesn’t balance out- their goal is not being reached, at least not in any meaningful way.  The proportion is so lopsided it’s astonishing.

There is a complete and utter disconnect: the number of followers on Twitter, the legion of Facebook fans, the high awareness are all relatively useless if they are not endemic to the community you’re ultimately aiming for.   If mommy bloggers regurgitate your message all day long, adding up to 100,000 tweets a day for two weeks straight, what does it matter if you’re looking to reach that 23-year-old pizza eating knitter who doesn’t interact with, or is not influenced by, that demographic?  The answer, honestly, is: not much.

The reality is that every one of us in the marketing world- traditional, corporate, digital, social media, wherever, whatever, need to ground ourselves, converse with our real audience, go outside the hubs and online cliques and frankly get our hands dirty.  There is no substitute for an actual dialogue with your audience- no amount of retweets or diggs will ever offer you the insight or tools that a two-way conversation with a couple of real live customers does.

When it comes to social media, anecdotal research, even with a healthy dose of salt, is more valuable than a million twitter shouts into the wind.  Because the reality is that the M.O. of most of us is just that.

We need to dig among those proverbial roots- get out there, observe, interact and THEN plan how to nourish them.  Not the other way around.  There are good case studies out there and they are easy to find and even easier to learn from.  They’re coming from ground up, rural aid organizations led by single and singular people with vision and passion and the humility to listen;  an unexpected, nontraditional place.  Which is right up our edgy, out there, trail-blazing alleys.

For some examples, and a little perspective, pick up Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn’s Half the Sky. You’ll be surprised what a high-powered, high budgeted executive can learn from an uneducated, unconnected former prostitute in Kolkota.

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Entry filed under: advertising, advertising- tv, branding, community, contradictions, culture, digital, engagement, Facebook, habits, linkedin, marketing, metrics, reality, ROI, social media, TV, twitter, web.

Social media housekeeping during the holidays – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook For the record…

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Annette  |  2010/01/08 at 00:42

    Good points, I think I will definitely subscribe!🙂. I’ll go and read some more!

    Reply

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