Feeling Socially Inept? It’s Time for a Social Media Gut Check

Can’t get anyone talking about your product on Twitter? Not seeing even a blip in Web site traffic? When your social media plan is turning decidedly anti-social, it’s time to take a deep breath and start thinking differently about social media. It’s possible you may be wrapped up in using your extensive social media tool kit and not thinking about ideas and conversations that are flowing in cyberspace.

Jon Bellinger, VP, Social Media Strategy at Ketchum Interactive Strategies Group, says you don’t have to use social media to successfully use social media. Huh?

Bellinger, who has implemented measurable and successful social media programs for Dr. Pepper, Haagen-Dazs and Wendy’s, among others, believes that many communications pros chase the wrong goals and focus on the wrong things when it comes to social media programs.

“Communications pros want people to watch their videos, create advocates for their brand, to come to their Web site and stay there.” says Bellinger. “They feel the need to get these messages and ideas to the right people, through the right channels.”

Bellinger believes that when many organizations look at the Internet and social media, they see a suite of great new tools and channels for broadcasting their messages like Flickr, Twitter, Google, etc.

Often misled by the media and their agencies, these organizations reach haphazardly into this “sexy” toolkit, and as a result, their social media strategies are merely a handful of disparate tactical executions. Bellinger warns: These tools may be much talked about in the press and among your social media savvy friends. But it’s all just talk. Don’t be lured in by these tempting tools, because it’s not the tools that are important.


You’ll often hear people talking about the digital tools and channels themselves as being “social.” “Just because you’re using Twitter, for example, doesn’t mean you’re being social,” Bellinger says. “Digital does not equal social.”

So what is the social part? According to Bellinger, it’s the online culture and the ideas, conversations and arguments that drive people to engage each other in social media. In other words, it’s the people.

“There are at least 6 billion people out there in the world, and every day they come up with amazingly social ideas, without any help from marketers,” he says.


Those amazing ideas are called “memes.” They are powerful social ideas that drive people to engage each other across both mass and niche social media channels. Many times you’ll see humorous memes make their presence known on the Web. Sometimes memes can be serious, touching on subjects that are important in everyday lives. Regardless, Bellinger says, “They are what get people excited about using social media, and as such, they are crucial to your social media success.”

You must care about memes, because you will compete with them for your audience’s attention. Bellinger cites an example of such competition that hit close to home. Ketchum executed an extensive blogger campaign for the Nintendo Wii, which generated 2,000 blog posts. “Yet during the same timeframe, some random kid posted a video on himself asking people to leave Britany Spears alone,” he says. “That kid generated 16,000 blog posts. He literally stole the thunder away from the Wii.

“When we put a piece of communications out there, we’re asking people for our attention. Nine times out of ten, it’s a battle we’re losing,” contends Bellinger.


To fight back, think about this: Social media is more valuable as a way to source social ideas than as a way to create content or start conversations. Chances are if your social media efforts have become fragmented and ineffective, you’re thinking in those terms. To get your social media mojo back, Bellinger suggests thinking about the following rules that he and his team abide by:

â–¶ Rule 1: Borrow or steal an audience. There is no new idea on the Internet. Figure out what your audience is interested in, and find the communities they are already engaged with. How do you find them? Good starting points are link aggregators like Digg and Fark. Sure, you can have a company Twitter page, but it won’t be as effective as going where your audience already is.

â–¶ Rule 2: Find the organic intersection point between what you want to say and what your audience actually wants to talk about. Rather than setting up message points to push out, put those aside, see what audience is talking about and work backwards.

â–¶ Rule 3: Universal experiences are going away. Don’t think you can go for broad reach—say men ages 20-35 with three kids for example. That’s not how people organize themselves on the Web. Be very selective and focused with your targeting. As an example, Bellinger cites the philosophy of the producers of the show Futurama: “As long as it doesn’t derail the enjoyment of the 99%, Futurama will make a joke tailored to the nerdiest 1% of its audience. That 1% becomes a fan for life…”.

â–¶ Rule 4: Having a point of view is more important than having something to say. This keeps the audience more engaged in the conversation.

â–¶ Rule 5: Find a way to add value beyond messaging alone. This can be done by offering a solution to a problem or even offering something for free.

â–¶ Rule 6: Social media tools are means, not ends. So stop treating them as such, and think more about ideas and conversations that you can shape in cyberspace.

The bottom line: Social media is not just a PR function anymore—it has to be owned by everybody. Companies are starting to recognize that other departments can work together on social media strategies and tactics. PRN


Jon Bellinger, jonathan.bellinger@ketchum.com; Jeff Beringer, jberinger@golinharriscom.