Ghost stories go digital

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Ghost stories go digital
Ghost stories go digital

The campfire analogy. It's about the best definition of social marketing I've heard yet. It comes courtesy of Ashton Kutcher, who isn't only good-looking, famous, successful, wealthy and married to Demi Moore. He's also incredibly smart, particularly on the topic of social marketing, which could help explain his 7.5 million Twitter followers, his track record as an investor, his successful social media company Katalyst Media, and that hefty Two and a Half Men paycheck.


As Ashton sees it, when a brand uses social media to connect with audiences, it's the digital version of sitting around a fire — swapping stories, watching how people react, listening to others chime in, the narrative thread shaped and twisted not just by the storyteller but by every participant.


His definition makes the space seem a whole lot less daunting to brand executives. Inviting, even.


That's a good thing. Many marketing professionals are active users of social media, logging in to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ to stay in touch with friends, pursue business leads, share personal and professional news or make witty observations on the absurdities of daily life. 


Yet they're still uncertain about how to use social as a marketing tool. Is it about branding? Customer relationship management? Both of the above, or neither?


Participation is an important first step. We've all come across the people who inexplicably are disconnected from the tools that shape the world they live in, whether the mid-90s digital specialist who didn't have a computer in her office or the current-day CEO who boasts of never having been on Facebook.


But even for those who wouldn't grab a bagel without checking in on Foursquare, the use of social platforms doesn't convey automatic wisdom on what they can do for brands. I'll admit to being one those people, and I'm sure I'm not alone. 


Fortunately, Ashton and others are demystifying the space for brands and shattering some of the early myths about social. One of the reasons the ad market cheered Facebook's hiring of high-profile execs Carolyn Everson and Mark D'Arcy is because they spent time at established companies such as MTV Networks and Time Warner Cable, speak brand fluently and are seen as trusted translators and guides to the space.


As with the campfire analogy, the most valuable lessons in social marketing turn out to be the simplest. 


Too many marketers, for example, set out to create content with the goal of having people share it. They've got it backwards. People use social media primarily to make more meaningful connections with their friends. The goal, then, should be to create content that helps them do that. 


The other common mistake is the desire to get to a specific number of fans, friends or 
followers without having given thought to whether the brand has anything to say of value 
or relevance. "What's your programming strategy?" as 
one social expert put it.


Even that may not be the right question, since it reinforces the idea of a brand pushing content at an audience or grabbing a megaphone to make pronouncements. It's a viewpoint that assumes people go to social platforms to consume, when in fact most go to contribute and connect. That requires another mindset entirely.


Perhaps the biggest mistake we make is in treating the social space as a new world when in fact it's just a technology-enabled version of a more familiar one, a reflection of what's happening in the real world. If you will, a campfire analogy.

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