Do big, well-known brands have it easier or harder than start-ups trying to make an impact and leveraging social media? Jeremiah Owyang, the well known social media analyst from Forrester Research, recently wrote a very thoughtful post on the current challenges in social media. I also recently attended Social Media Camp Boston, which had a number of enterpreneurs presenting on tactics they take to leverage social media platforms. This got me thinking – what types of companies lend themselves to social media? I see three major factors that can help to answer this question, among others:
1. "Traditional" Marketing and PR
2. Budget for Social Media Efforts
3. Community Leverage
Traditional Marketing and PR
Many large companies and established brands have yet to embrace and understand some of the tenets of social media. They are unwilling to relinquish control of the message. They struggle with fears of engaging customers directly and giving them a voice – looking to avoid negative PR instead of embracing customers and engaging customers. They term "audience" is still used prevalently because of the one-way communication mindset, where "community," "listening" and "conversation" are not words some of these companies would associate with marketing.
In some ways, this parallels a presentation I attended at Forrester's Marketing Forum called "The Interactive Marketing Maturity Model." Shar Van Boskirk did an excellent job capturing four levels of maturity in embracing interactive marketing, which I believe also applies to leveraging social media:
- "Skeptics," characterized by little or no interactive experience and assessing if interactive has value for them
- "Mavericks," organizations that have a few isolated team members that appreciate interactive and run stand-alone programs but lack support to improve current efforts
- "Practitioners," companies who have several years of experience and are piloting emerging media, and
- "Optimizers," who have company-wide support for interactive efforts and are working to optimize multi-channel (including offline) efforts.1
With very few "optimizers" out there in the big corporations, it can be difficult for those companies to bridge the gap and trully leverage social media. They need to retain talent in the industry, like Ford's recent hire of Scott Monty and Nationwide's recent hiring of Shawn Morton.
On the flip side, smaller startup organizations can be more nimble and have few constraints around controlling the brand message. A great example of this is Freshbooks, led by chief "magic maker" Saul Colt. Their entire marketing approach is to build a community of passionate users and embrace their customers with open and earnestly helpful dialog.
Budget for Social Media Efforts
More traditional organizations will ask the ROI question. As Jeremiah points out, it's difficult to measure ROI on "engagement" and no industry standard exists. Larger established brands may be less willing to take risks – where startups practically need to take a risk to differentiate themselves. An untapped, unproven landscape in social media is ripe for startups (even though they may be spending funding rather than profits). Albert Maruggi of the Marketing Edge, thinks companies need to get past the ROI question, using magazines' spending $14 million to buy a baby picture of Brangelina's kids as an example.
I think it should be easier for larger companies to allocate budget (including resources) to focus on social media due to their scale and the relatively low barrier to entry of leveraging many of these tools. Sometimes process and a lack of executive sponsorship get in the way.
Another factor in determining whether big brands have it easier is whether they already have a community to tap into. Nike's Jordan division is a well known and loved brand – leveraging social media platforms and tools should be easy since there are passionate fans out there who would willingly participate. For crying out loud, people fight and even risk lives in getting a hold of the latest shoe design.
Smaller startups need to build communities, one person at a time. Melanie Notkin has done a terrific job at building a community over months leading up to the launch of SavvyAuntie.com, using her blog, Facebook, and Twitter. It can be arguably harder to build a community than to engage one that exists, but I'd be interested to hear from folks who have more expertise on each before I decide on that one.
So which is it?
Do big brands have it easier or harder leveraging social media? Are there other factors to consider? Please take the poll and let me know what you think.
1 Source: The Interactive Marketing Maturity Model, Shar Van Boskirk, Forrester Research, April 9, 2008.
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