Monday, November 7, 2011

Waging a Social War or Earning Social Capital?

Remember when you first put your company web URL on your business cards? It was sort of a big deal back then. This became an alternative channel for digital demand generation and awareness. But, as more and more brands bred more and more websites, the challenge became finding a way where people could reach “my brand’s website” over others (remember that distinct point when you had too many "favorite" bookmarks in your browser folder?) There were just too many dot coms to remember.

Enter Larry Page and Google. Search. A simple concept, powered by a system of algorithms which indexed keywords. Suddenly we had a solution which could influence people in finding “my brand website” over others. Then Google monetized it - and the marketeers went to war, bidding for keywords, fighting for click-throughs, jostling for banners and strategizing over sponsored links. We starting behaving like those street vendors who stand at their store entrance, coaxing and cajoling you to come in "Madam, madam, come in! Excellent quality, best price for you!"
Till then, we did most of the talking. One way conversation. Our websites gave information, but we really did not allow our audience to engage in a dialogue. The advent of Web 2.0 changed that. Suddenly, everyone has the power to become a publisher overnight (including me it seems). The consumer could now publish what earlier she could only tell her select friends; and by the same guiding principle of search, billions of people could read it. The pendulum has swung. Consumers were doing all the talking and we were standing by at our storefronts sort of baffled on why our website traffic was declining. Where did everyone go?!
And thus, the corporate blog was born. But no one trusted corporate blogs. Especially when a slew of reports came out that companies were hiring agencies to put up these blogs. If anything, it hurt many corporates more than helped. CMOs retreated. Many became fearful of social media and set up teams to monitor and manage what is being said about the brand online. The corporate social media team became online reputation managers/watchdogs.
Enter Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Facebook created a social network platform which was embraced by millions by creating a platform that allowed an individual’s social layer to be integrated with her interest and activity layer. If brands made the right "friends", CMOs could influence people to converse about our brands. Then Facebook went a step further. They monetized it- and CMOs went to war over the open graph, Facebook ads, and gaining “Like” buttons.
Not surprising that CMOs are constantly waging a war, drafting the best agencies to come up with killer strategies (which must also use social media!). CMOs are competitive creatures and they keep a close eye on each other, especially in their own industries. The CMO Study shows that 81% of Indian CMOs use competitive benchmarking as a source to influence strategy decisions (followed by customer service feedback (74%)). Agencies are a great way to understand what the competition is doing. But is that really customer centric?
Not when it comes to social media. That is because social media is earned, not owned like web or paid like search can be. And earned media cannot be bought. It is why it is called earned media. It does not come in a schedule or a package. And more importantly it does not come as per quarter plans to suit our business sales cycles. It has to be earned. Literally. We can't just throw people or marketing budgets at it. It requires a complete shift in how we think of our roles, our team's skills, how we partner with other parts of the organization like sales and customer service to understand the entire customer experience so that we can turn them into brand advocates.
What are you doing to earn your social capital?

P.S. Many thanks to Devdulal Das, my digital coach, for contributing to the post!


  1. Hi Virginia , Thanks for this beautiful blog.Nonetheless here is my personal opinion on the said subject.

    Social Media is not a cultural revolution,Its just a marketing an PR revolution , We can albeit , Say its the PR 2.0 ,which is going around now. ie , An email campaign, new letters etc were probably one way communication .Social media has tried or is trying to ,make is two way. Social media effectively relies on a brand " But you need to have one first; Which starts with basics of advertisement and marketing.Its like , Moving the trees to see the forest :).Social media does not fit inside of PR or Marketing, PR and Marketing fit inside of social media.Today's CMO need analyze more critically , Not the question of How to use Social media more for corporate branding ?,but , Where would your personal brand or your company be today if Facebook and Twitter disappeared tomorrow?
    Well what branding is need to be understood more by analyzing two important brands in itself :
    1. How a sweetened water manufacturing company became such a big brand ( Coke and Pepsi's of the world.
    2. How De-beers associated diamond with Romance " Which by the way was no were in history "To make what diamond is today.
    "While I believe social media is important, it is not the end all be all ".

    On advertisement , branding Innovation front , I would recommend, if you get time to watch a movie called Hard Wired

  2. Seth Godin beautifully described the price of earned media. Notably, he points out: "Earned media isn't free media, because the amount of time and energy and risk you have to expend to get it is hardly free."

  3. I would completely agree with Earning Social Capital. We as marketers can start the conversation both internally and with our customers. In my opinion, all it requires is courage. We as marketers can reach out to services, HR, PR, Finance and spend 15 min. within the organization. This can help move social media forward internally. We can align social media capabilities with the problem each business wants solved. And similarly reach out to your customers. Social media gives a great platform for a two-way interaction, no other media can match this. We as marketers, have always held onto WOM (word of mouth) being the biggest communication channel. In today’s age and time, there is no better way to earn than embracing Social Media to earn Social capital.

  4. So true, social media definitely has its roots in word of mouth, which continues to be a powerful and well understood concept. Earning social capital requires the engagement of broader ecosystem of brand SMEs who are constantly out there participating in forums and generating a following. That is sometimes harder than just paying an agency to run something social. Thank you for your comments!