Social Media: A Different Approach for Businesses

Jeremiah Owyang’s recent post about The Many Challenges of the Social Media Industry got me thinking about how social media requires a different approach from the way that many companies approach traditional marketing or customer engagement. Jeremiah’s post seems to be more targeted at companies whose main products and services are based on social media, but I’m going to take some of the ideas that he discusses and outline how they can be applied to companies using social media as part of their strategy for engaging with customers or communities or users.


Jeremiah talks about a current lack of profits where few bloggers have been able to generate significant revenues from their content. Companies (and even most individual bloggers) should not be focused on generating revenue directly from social media efforts. I always tell companies to think about social media as being in the early awareness portion of the marketing funnel (you know, the part way at the top far away from the bottom of the funnel where you generate leads and make sales.)

Blogging, community engagement and other social media efforts should support other efforts that generate revenue. For example, this blog generates $0 revenue for me; however, it has made a big difference in my career. I’ve been invited to speak on panels, been offered jobs, and had consulting gigs come my way as a result of the expertise demonstrated on this blog. In other words, I receive a substantial financial benefit indirectly related to my blogging efforts, while receiving no direct revenue from the blog. Companies can get similar benefits by using blogs and social media to get the word out about the company. While generating revenue won’t happen directly, it should be an indirect benefit.


Jeremiah also points out that “excessive noise drowns out signal“, which is an increasing problem for individuals and companies who create content. This is actually two separate, but related issues: first, how can you create content that rises above the noise; and second, how can you find what others are saying about you online.

Content creation. Too many companies and individuals have blogs that no one would want to read. Company blogs are often little more than press releases and marketing fluff (see my “Are Corporate Blogs a Joke” post for more details), and many individual blogs have mostly regurgitated content with little original thought and analysis. The outstanding blogs (corporate or individual) focus on thought leadership with interesting original ideas and deep analysis of industry trends. The posts focused on interesting original content will get linked to more often and will show up more prominently in search results; therefore, rising above the noise.

Monitoring discussions. You also want to be able to monitor and respond quickly to what others are saying about you, your brand, your content, your competitors, your industry and more. You can buy expensive software to monitor all of this, or you set up a few Yahoo Pipes with RSS feeds to track what people are saying. I go the Yahoo Pipes route with searches of Twitter, blogs, and other places to find where people are discussing the content that I create.


As Jeremiah points out, “brands –and individuals– can easily be brandjacked as others take their user name, domains, and assert themselves as someone else.” The best thing you can do to minimize the threat of being brandjacked is to be already participating in the community. Monitoring is also critical (see above), but even with monitoring, it can take a while go through the process of getting the content removed even if you find it quickly. By participating and having an active presence on places like Twitter and Facebook, it will be easier for people to figure out which is your official presence and which is the fake one. When you don’t already participate, it will be easier for people to assume that a brandjacked presence is the real one. The recent Exxon Mobile Twitter account is just one example.

Marketing and Communities

Jeremiah makes an excellent point about how “marketers move in without community consideration“. I spend quite a bit of time thinking about how marketing should / should not participate in online communities, and there are important nuances that marketing should understand before engaging with online communities. I won’t elaborate in detail in this post, but I suggest that you look at my recent Online Communities and Marketing presentation for more information. This presentation offers some fairly comprehensive advice for how marketing can participate in online communities. It is also worth the time and effort to put employees (not just marketing) through at least a little training before you turn them loose on the community.

These are just a few of the examples from Jeremiah’s post, but I think that this post is long enough already. If I missed anything critical, please feel free to elaborate in the comments.

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7 thoughts on “Social Media: A Different Approach for Businesses”

  1. Dawn, this was a very well written post that highlighted one of the core misunderstandings of many who seek to adopt social technology.

    You bring up a fascinating point that many new corporate bloggers don’t understand; that blogs are pathways to goals, instead of goals themselves.

    They are profitable as means to ends, but come off as forced and insincere if businesses try to use them as ends in and of themselves.

    My blog has connected me to so many people, and allowed me a different type of mobility online. My blog exists because of my community. If I simply wrote top ten posts, or didn’t care to reach back out to the interesting things happening around me, the blog would fall flat and be ignored. I feel that blogs are so much about exchange and sharing — the best blogs become resources for members of a sort of fast moving guild that creates new ways to develop productivity and understanding.

  2. Amber,

    Thanks! You bring up some really great points about how blogs help connect us to other people and to our community. I’ve had so many interesting experiences that started with someone I didn’t know reading my blog. Two years ago I was invited to speak on a panel at sxsw being organized by Elisa Camahort. Prior to the panel, we had never met in person, but she found me through my blog, and we’ve kept in touch and done other panels at conferences. These connections with random people are what makes life so interesting, and I learn so much from these people!

  3. Dawn,

    I have been going through something of a “professional vision quest” after running a web services company for 9 years. The issues you raise are great — too often my clients come to me and ask for a specific technology. I used to be chat rooms, now it’s blogs.

    The problem is that they want that immediate return on the tool, and they don’t understand the amount of work that goes into managing content. Ultimately they waste the money they put into setting up the technology and the time they spent on their initial content because they don’t know have anything to say.

    What your article has made me consider is that the content IS the company asset. As with any asset, it takes work to build, and work to maintain. It’s that “authenticity” we talk so much about that makes this so difficult — if you hire someone else to create and maintain that company asset (i.e. your content), don’t you end up with someone else’s vision of your company?

  4. Michael,

    Absolutely! I talk to too many people who think that the work stops when they have the community software platform installed or the blog live. Anyone can install some software, but the real work comes in the content creation, which is an ongoing process lasting … well, forever.

    To make this more difficult, really great content takes even more time to develop. Then this great content generates a bunch of comments, which also require responses. The best people to create this content are the employees of the company. I don’t think that blogging or community building are activities that can be outsourced to a PR firm or a consultant.

    What? But I’m a consultant, and why should people pay me to help them? …

    I do think it helps to have someone being the guide (or community manager or official nag) to help a company manage the content roadmap or community. This can be a consultant initially, but ultimately it should be an employee who is responsible and accountable for the success of the blog, community, or other social media efforts. This role should include finding good topics, encouraging people to develop content and respond to the community, nagging when necessary, and helping proofread or polish. Too often, people get stuck because they don’t know what to say, or they get stuck in rut of product announcements and press release post. I don’t think that this outside voice is the best person to be the voice of a company. Like you said, this is a little like ending up “with someone else’s vision of your company”.

  5. Excellent points Dawn, thanks for sharing the counter-thoughts to my post. To be clear, I’ve solutions for the many challenges I’ve outlined, but that wasn’t the point of my post. You’ve triggered some important points here, thanks.

  6. Jeremiah,

    Your post mainly got me thinking about some ways that I see companies solving a few of these problems. As you said, your post had a completely different point, but it was a nice way to frame some of what I’ve been thinking about recently. Thanks for providing the inspiration 🙂

  7. Hi Dawn-

    New reader, first time replyer (sic)-

    Most businesses, whether Brick and Mortar or online have a difficult time understanding community ROI since there’s no GL line that has a direct causal value. Respect, involvement, value contribution and dialogue are all are concepts difficult to monetize until business gets the idea that these efforts bolster the bottom line by building confidence with the customer. You capture this point very well.

    To expand on it slightly, each effort for each company needs to be an organic experience- I don’t think any one formula or approach works for everyone- although there is the universal truth that if you feed your community shit they will most definitely hand it back to you. It takes months sometimes years to find the right tools and voice to start building confidence and a connection with a customer base. As you stated, thoughtful, intelligent and genuine communications have to be the core of any effort. The flip side is listening back.

    Thoughtful analysis and a focus on the community, not the General Ledger is the first right step. Reading through these blog posts and dialogues gives me hope that you folks, as consultants, will help shape Business Community into something truly valuable for all. It’s a pipe dream of mine that businesses start serving and answering to the customer (and employees) rather than the stock holders.


    Pee Ess- I am *not* a commie despite some fun spirited mildly intoxicated post-convention hotel bar accusations to the contrary.

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