Stephen Collins and I and a bunch of Twitterati got into a discussion about social media marketing campaigns and whether they should exist earlier today. Stephen followed up with a blog post called “Social Media, It’s not actually about selling anything” (actually about social media marketing) which of course is questionable on a number of levels. First, marketing is not sales. We don’t sell items through marketing, we sell concepts, ideas. Spin and spam if we’re bad. Education and information contextually relevant if we are good. Secondly, my blog is ‘selling’ my opinion. Oh you don’t pay me (you rotters!) but you do decide to buy or not buy my ideas. We enter into communication (marketing is comms, not sales) and discourse.  Most bloggers are promoting (marketing is promotion) their passion. If they aren’t and they take a neutral approach, they are journalists reporting other people’s news, facts not passion, promotion, self-marketing.

Unless you are blogging anonymously, and even then in some cases, you are not immune from selfpromotion and selfmarketing.

In terms of working with and using the tools and classes of software we’re now calling social media – wikis, blogs, social networks, ideas markets, and their various predecessors – I’ve got more than a little experience as a user and implementer of them throughout my career.

Because of this experience, I have well-formed views about what the greatest benefit these tools can offer are. And it’s not in marketing.

To be fair, Stephen’s blog post doesn’t actual mention anything that is “campaign” specific – there’s nothing to disagree with, by saying that

Finding the connectors on Facebook and giving them a video camera and a Summer’s worth of beer does not a connected, nurtured, collaborative community make.

Well, any marketing campaign, online or offline, doesn’t work if it doesn’t fit in with what the community of customers perceives as core values and the company sees as being useful and achieves goals.

By the way, I first raised these points in February 2008 in a post called Of course there ARE social media marketing campaigns.

I think that it is worth re-interating: anyone that promotes an idea, concept or opinion to a group of people online is engaged in online social media marketing. Marketing doesn’t exist only in a narrow channel of “companies” or “spammers” or “salespeople”, it is a function of promoting one view over another within a communication channel or community.


David Armano's Learning Curve

This image is sheer brilliance – from engagement in online communities to broadcasting in social media channels in one sorry heartbeat.

My description of a “campaign” (vs an ongoing strategy) is that it must be:

  • task-based, have a purpose, a declared target and an outcome
  • finite, limited in time, bound by a start and end,
  • maximises social tools to create an “interest spike” around the date of the campaign – interest leading up to, during and immediately after the event
  • and of course have an ethical exit strategy. If it’s a game or competition, a known and obvious end date.

Campaigns give Corporate a chance to baby-step into social media. No, of course they are not your full social media strategy, but they offer an entry point, the opportunity to get one’s feet wet without alienating the shareholders and board of directors from the get-go.

These are the types of campaigns that I think are important – if not critical – to run in your community (with examples of stuff I’ve been involved in):

  • Meetups, united purpose for coming together e.g. Australian Idol online pre-show chats, keeping brand awareness front and centre.
  • Competitions, ask for content then community assesses content – submit articles about the online game, create a funny cartoon etc.
  • Rituals, welcoming new members, anniversaries of longterm members e.g., Founders Clubs etc.
  • Live podcasts, Q&A sessions, training, virtual conferences, interviews e.g. heaps – mostly developers, industry leaders, famous on the internetz. In the late 90s we ran modded main channels for official discussion, and a backchannel on IRC for the riffraff. Works well to promote a new featured product.
  • Fun stuff, always make sure you campaigns are fun for both members and staff. e.g. In world Olympics (run through monsters, fastest one gets a gong).

None of these (except rituals) will be day to day events. These campaigns should pull old members back in, reinvigorate flagging general members, and often spotlight leadership members. They often lend themselves well to spotlight sponsorship, with co-branding campaigns doing well if the community favours both brands.

But to help rather than hinder the discussion, here are Jeremiah Owyang (Forrester’s Research) features of a social media marketing campaign.

Marketing Campaigns on Social Networks share the following attributes:

Meets a business objective: First and foremost, any marketing campaign or activity should match with a business objective, regardless of the tools being used.

Supports Community Goals: Every community is different, and each has unique goals (from supporting products, to each other, or to just be entertained) the campaign focus should therefore meet the needs of the community, before the needs of the marketer. Effective campaigns will first understand the core drivers, interests, and rituals of the community and learn how to meet those desires. (Expanded by Laurel Papworth)

Encourage Member Interaction: The most successful social networking campaigns and efforts involve the audience.

Quickly scale: Social networks are designed for information to quickly move from member to member, so campaigns that lean on these capabilities perform the best. These attributes known as Velocity, Viralness, and Spread are key.

Utilize Media: In some campaigns, the best way to get members to return is to offer them media. Depending on demographics and community needs, this could be audio, videos, or demos

Foster self-expression or communication: Members in social networks like to communicate with each other, or self-express. As a result, campaigns should satisfy these needs with the appropriate tools

Offer a satisfying User Experience: This encompasses the overall experience of the campaign, the content and navigation items should be where expected, the language familiar to the audience, and overall look and feel of the site appeasing.

Provide longer term utility: Successful campaigns have a longer term value, rather than a short term ‘disposble campaign”. These campaigns add value by being a useful application to the members, rather than just quick dose of entertainment.

Enhance Value as Community participants: As more people contribute or interact with the campaign, the value is increased. This can be in the form of content that is created by the community, contests, voting, or games.

Integration with other marketing activities: Successful marketing campaigns aren’t single channel, in fact they utilizie multiple channels and mediums to enhance the overall activity. The same thing applies to marketing campaigns on social networks, those that are promoted from other locations such as (corporate websites, email newsletter, blogs, podcasts) outside fo the social network have a great chance for success.

Maintain agility during the campaign: Social networks are living, breathing organisms made up of real people connecting with each other. Marketing campaigns also should share these attributes and show be flexible to change in-flight, yield to legitimate requests or complaints of the community. Those campaigns that reflect the same dynamic behavior as human interaction have a higher chance to be interacted –and accepted –by the community. (Submitted by Graham)

Company Participation: In some cases, companies that participate in the discussions or conversations will yield to a more successful marketing campaign. Activities can range from recognition, company interaction, or attention to members perhaps from a community manager (Submitted by Whitney McNamara, Esther Lim, Crimson Consulting, Warren Sukernek)

Here’s a high level overview diagram – and without the involve (= listen, watch, understand), any marketing campaign will fail.

Diagram Social Media Marketing Campaign

Diagram Social Media Marketing Campaign

Please note: First, the link that Jeremiah was pointing to, was an old blog of mine, no help there. Also, there will be a bunch of people who don’t read this post, assume that “marketing” and “campaign” are somehow seperate from “community” and leave some comments that would challenge a pedant to understand the difference between social media marketing and social media campaign and so on. Engage them at your peril.