Social Media – Beware of Shiny New Objects

by Ted Simon (Just a Marketing Minute)  Reprinted with full permission

Many of us like “shiny new objects.”  You know what I mean — the latest cool gadget, thingie, possession or hooha to hit the market.  The iPod was such a thing (before it became ubiquitous), like the SONY Walkman before it.  HDTV’s, luxury SUV’s, designer jeans, cappuccino makers…all shiny new objects (some literally!).

The business world has “shiny new objects,” too.  Take social media for instance – it’s the business equivalent of the latest “hot, gotta-have” thing.  The problem is, that can be downright lethal in today’s business world.  If you’ll give me just a marketing minute, I’ll explain why.

SNOS – Shiny New Object Syndrome

There’s a disease that I call “SNOS,” short for Shiny New Object Syndrome.  In general, here’s how that disease works: There’s something new and cool and leading edge out there.  It’s so cool that we just HAVE to have it, and we need it now.  Do we need it? How will we use it? Is it right for us?  We don’t care…we don’t even ask the question.  We just want it.  And, we buy it.  If we’re lucky, it works out as a wonderful possession.  And, some times it ends up gathering dust in a drawer some where (it happens to all of us…c’mon, admit it!).

SNOS is particularly insidious in the business world.  It’s distracting.  It sneaks up on us when we are not paying attention.  It hypnotizes us.  And then, it strikes.  In comes the CEO who tells his team that they must “get our Facebook page up, pronto!” to remain competitive.  Or, a company establishes a Twitter account and inundates the twittersphere with discount offers.

To be clear, in today’s world I see nothing wrong with experimentation or getting into an area to learn what works and what doesn’t.  In fact, I’d say that if you’re not willing to do that, you should get into another field.

But, the above are real-life examples and emblematic of a critical mistake all too frequently made.  These examples represent tactics leading strategy.  They skip important questions: what do I need this for?  How can I use this new tool?  And, most importantly: What are my overall goals and objectives and what role can this new tool play in helping me accomplish those goals/objectives? And, how will I evaluate if it’s helping me/us to accomplish our goals?

In this headlong rush of confusing a tactic with a strategy, organizations waste time, energy, resources chasing a “shiny new object.” By skipping these questions the organization can find itself distracted from its main goal and/or mission.

What’s the SMADer With You?
Is this the fault of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare, etc., etc.?  Hardly – they are merely platforms and tools.  In fact, they are potentially powerful tools if handled properly.  Breakthrough tools.

The sad part is that once a company or executive has fallen prey to SNOS you are at risk of a very serious side effect I call “SMAD”Shot, Missed And Disappointed.  That happens when you try something new; it doesn’t perform miracles, meet expectations or achieve your objectives (often because objectives/goals have not been clearly articulated) and you feel like you’ve been burned by the results.  You’ve shot, you’ve missed and you are disappointed.

So, you discard the shiny new object; those potentially powerful social tools are shoved in a marketing drawer, declared not worth the effort or money.  And, you miss the opportunity.

That happens all the time with marketing tools and it’s happening with social media.  Sorry to say, we are living in a world of instant gratification, quick returns, overblown expectations and a lack of forethought and patience.  If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has taken in any VC money in the last 15 years.

A Cure for SNOS and SMAD

Fortunately, there’s a straight-forward and ready cure for SNOS and SMAD.  I call it BTBBack To Basics.  (this is my week for acronyms…I hope to recover soon)

Objectives lead strategy, strategies lead tactics.  It’s fundamental.  And, all too often, forgotten when a shiny new object gets us all excited.  But, while undeniably exciting, folks, social is just a tactic, a tool.

Begin at the beginning, like we all are trained to do.  Business objectives/strategies and marketing objectives/strategies precede and direct whether, how, where, when, and IF social (or any tactic) plays a role in your efforts.  If you follow fundamental strategic practices in developing your business goals and marketing plans, social may very well be included.  But, it’s not a driver, objective or strategy any more than a TV commercial, print ad, end-aisle display, market research study or price discount promotion.

If included in your marketing efforts, social should be a part of an overall integrated marketing plan, synergistic with other tactical efforts, not just putting up a FB fanbook page to say your brand has one.  In this regard, it serves much like a channel, albeit a channel with unique differences to all the other channels that have been employed by marketers for years.

Put another way, social should be used as one way to help achieve the overall objectives of the organization, Brand, department, individual, etc.  It should be synergistic with other efforts and programs you may be deploying.  And, approached properly, social tools can/should be broader than just “marketing” efforts; it’s an enterprise-wide opportunity.

(For some good perspective on a strategic approach to social initiatives, I highly recommend checking out the work of Charlene Li and Jeremiah Owyang at The Altimeter Group.  They’ve got some excellent perspective and advice in this area, like this presentation.  Other good tools can be found on Jay Baer’s Convince&Convert blog.)

If you take a strategic approach you may find that your organization’s business objectives don’t merit a major foray into the social world right now.  Not all tools are needed for all people, organizations or circumstances.  If that’s the case, then fine – don’t spend the time or energy right now.  At least you’ve asked the key questions and made decisions for reasons that make sense for your organization or company.

The good news?  I see signs that SNOS has been recognized by more and more organizations.  The excitement and rush to shiny new social objects “just because” is ebbing as people become smarter about how to properly employ these tools.

This won’t happen overnight.  But, by thinking strategically, moving thoughtfully, implementing consistently, monitoring regularly and practicing patience with the view toward a long term goal you’ll be taking a healthy and smart approach.  Get back to basics…it’s the way to avoid that dreaded Shiny New Object Syndrome.

In upcoming posts I’ll share more thoughts on how to strategically cure SNOS and SMAD.  In the meantime, ask yourself: “Am I or is anyone I know suffering from SNOS?”  Are you SMAD? Let me know your thoughts…the doctor is in.

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