Old School Social

My dentist does social marketing.

This should surprise nobody because social marketing has existed since the first two cavemen competed by selling left-over mastodon meat (“My mastodon steaks come with 30% fewer fatal microbes!”). Businesses have always used the power of social networking, long before social media became a reality. Social media changes nothing and thinking about primitive social marketing helps to clarify your social outreach.

evil_dentistSocial marketing is, in essence, assuring that people talk about you in positive terms. As an example, when you move to a new city, odds are you ask everyone about their recommendation for a good dentist. Some will warn you about bad jaw crackers, and others will wax poetic about how gentle and through is their dental doc. This is social promotions in its most basic form. The product (dental services) is referenced by customers based on the positioning criteria they most vale (money, painlessness, how cute the hygienist is). The product is the promotion.

Above all else, this one element is critical. If your product is not important or its basic requirements are not of sufficient quality, then no social promotions follow. The chairs at Bouverie Dental where I see my dentist, overlook a pleasant, sunny harbor littered with sailboats. None of that would matter if he had ham hock hands, was skimpy on the Novocain and had a hygienist who looked like a haddock.

Social promotions, on- or off-line, have two forms — passive and active. Passive social promotions are based on creating good or great products, then hoping that customers talk about you. This works upon occasion, typically on a local geographical basis. But when your customers are not neighbors and they all share Internet conversations, active social promotions are elemental. According to YEAH! Local, proper and active social promotion requires giving people both a reason and concepts to communicate. My dentist offers cash rewards for new patients, which provides many people with extra incentive to recommend him. What he does not do is frame this incentive with the brand and baseline messaging he wants new patients to hear. This leaves his customers to decide what to say about the size of his fingers, the cleanliness of his hypodermic needles, and that his hygienist’s implants double as a head rest. Active social promotions would eliminate unsupervised thinking on the part of his customers.

The reason social media is now the rage among marketers is that is offers them the opportunity to orchestrate active social promotions, guiding if not actually regulating conversations and tying outreach to their branding. Whereas my dentist trusts his customers to socially promote his services, he has near zero insight into if they are promoting him, how they are doing it and if they are saying the right things about him.

For social promotions, especially online, you need to commit as if it were any other marketing program. This means you need to invest, guide and monitor the process.

Investment: If you think social promotions are free, find another job … quickly. Social promotions require investment, and a rather constant one at that. It mainly takes manpower, which is expensive. Some companies launch social media promotions by relying on their executives to blog or participate in online forums, but execs are the most expensive people in your company and not cost effective. Budget for social and think long about distracting key employees from their primary jobs.

Guidance: Left to themselves, people inside and outside your company will invent things to say about your product. Sometimes their compositions are factual and position products well. More often they are empty, repetitive or even destructive. Any social promotion must start with training about what to say, who to say it to, and when to pass the ball to your PR team.

Monitoring and correction: Since the goal of social promotions is to get customers to talk about your products in a positive light, you need to monitor what is being said about you. If you see few conversations, or if those conversations violate your brand guidelines, then you must correct the defect. No use investing for negative traction.

Foremost though is to focus on the product first, then guide advocacy. If the product isn’t right, no amount of social promotion will work and might even create public backlash. Make sure your customer’s teeth are white and they get a lollipop on the way out.


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