Social Strategy – Listening is not the same as doing.

Listening is a social strategy. I used to tell people that. I even used to believe it.

Then again, I used to believe in the Tooth Fairy and My Little Pony.

But there was certainly a time when online marketing fear and social strategy paranoia meant business to business companies were reluctant to engage with something they, ‘weren’t sure about’. They would set up an account, press their noses up against the window, but fail to actively participate. They’d just ‘listen’. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was a little, you know, deviant…

It was particularly true at the executive level of business marketing. Social media was all very well for the youngsters, but not in the boardroom. Social media for the C-Suite? Good grief, whatever next…? So the received marketing wisdom was to encourage senior business leaders to, at the very least, ‘listen’. It was better than nothing. It was a start. It was a strategy.

My arse.

Listening wasn’t a strategy in 2007 and it isn’t one now. It’s an excuse. It always was.

B2B Marketers of every description have wrestled with their social strategies in the hope that they will find an answer to the recurring C-Level request to demonstrate ROI from social media investment.

It’s the wrong approach of course – not least because it automatically assumes that social activity can and should be treated in the same way as traditional tactical marketing activity. But it can’t and it shouldn’t.

Traditionally, marketers have made tactical campaign decisions based on materials and widgets. We send X thousand widgets, we receive a return of Y% which results in revenue of £Z.

No one factors the intangible value of relationships or emotions or personalities into that equation. The sales team’s relationship with the prospect base, for example; or the combined years of knowledge and experience of the directors; or the awareness of the brand in the marketplace; or the thought leadership the organization commands or the influence of the people within it.

Those critical factors don’t fit within the X = Y = Z equations. That’s because they’re strategic goals. Short-term tactical campaigns are not the same as longer-term strategic goals.

And yet it remains easy for senior marketers to use traditional tactical measurement as an excuse to avoid some harder strategic social decisions. They, ‘just listen.’

That’s why I enjoy ‘The Death Grip Of Old Marketing Ideas’ by Steve Farnsworth. Steve’s post recognises that senior executives keep funding traditional marketing with dubious returns, and yet still fail to invest in new channels as a way to improve brand preference and shorten the sales cycle. His point is nicely illustrated by David Meerman Scott demonstrating that while only around 2% of a (global) business audience responds to direct mail or advertising, 100% use online tools to buy a product or service and 95% act on the online advice or URL/link provided by a (social) network connection.

It’s a sobering thought for the majority yet to commit to an online marketing strategy. A structured, planned and well-implemented online strategy has the potential to directly and/or indirectly influence around 95% of business decisions, but you’re still counting your failing  email responses. Oh, and ‘just listening’.

Scot McKee