Frank Orman, founder of London-based online marketing agency, LeadGenerators, explains why we should be looking at social media from a marketing perspective

 ‘Ouch’ cries Chicken Little after a large plank of wood falls on his head. He can’t see that it was the wily fox on the other side of the farmyard enclosure that dropped the missile. All he can hear is the voice of doom through a hole in the fence. ‘The sky is falling. The world is going to end’. The fox has a plan to drive all the chickens into his den. As predicted, Chicken Little panics, he races up and down the farm shrieking his news: ‘The sky is falling on my head!’ All the other chickens are in an uproar – they must flee. Following Chicken Little they dash into the nearest cave where the fox traps them and tucks into a very large feast indeed.Walt Disney produced this black cartoon as war propaganda in 1943 to warn citizens against panic and hasty action, which cost lives.

So where is Chicken Little in social media? Well, have you ever felt the panic and the peer pressure to own the latest computer, to have a Website, to have a Facebook page, to set up a Twitter account? Because, after all, according to our modern day foxes, those are the only ways you’ll get exposure to trillions of potential customers. Everyone’s doing it. It must be the right thing and if you don’t do it then crucial opportunities for business will be missed. Right? Wrong. Spend thousands on acquiring a social media profile for the sake of having one and, like that unwitting chicken, you’ll run straight into the jaws of the fox. Your product is not going to be looked at and talked about just because it’s there. No one is excited by brand for its own sake or the corporate message you deliver.

The marketing angle Stop reacting to the panic in the farmyard and take a step back to look at social media from a marketing perspective, rather than allowing the techie foxes to dictate your marketing strategy. Real social media is about harnessing passions to build online communities of people who will spread the news of your product by word of mouth. We see this work again and again in case studies – not just ours but other reputable examples too. For the sake of argument, let’s imagine a hotel company called VS Hotels (I made that up, with VS standing for very special). It offers a selection of luxury, boutique hotels across Europe. Most are adequate and some are quite good but, like most businesses, the brand name is probably the most special part of the product. Not exactly a purple cow! They have a Facebook and a Twitter account with the normal number of “likes” and “fans” but between you and me, no one really cares because there is really nothing about their existence that deserves notice.

Capitalising on activity VS Hotels decide to create a specialty interest in gastronomy. They ask their customers to join in discussions about the food in their hotels. They highlight their best chefs and particularly good dishes. They invite some customers to dine for free at one of the hotels in exchange for some written thoughts about the experience. They invite a few notable chefs and local food celebrities from outside the hotel to hold a few special gastronomy evenings for this fledging community. Gradually this becomes a community of food lovers around Europe - a real, not a virtual, community with a common passion, spreading the news of this chain of hotels through their interest in cuisine. After it reaches a certain number of members with a certain level of “activity”, it is then ready to be put online and the company can expect to see this begin to spread virally. That’s when Facebook and Twitter can be introduced - use the tools, don’t let the tools use you. Once you have the people and their passion and you get them talking about it with each other, then you have the building blocks for real community building, a real passion community, and the beginning of a successful sustainable and profitable social media campaign. So when you’re in that farmyard, running around because the social media sky is falling on your head, take a breath and remember it’s very easy to out-fox that fox.

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