I was reading an article this morning about some investors who are underwater on their recent IPO investments.  Facebook, whose stock price is down 17% from the IPO, and Zynga (Farmville, etc.), who has lost more than half of its value in the last 16 months, are two examples that were cited. 

This got me thinking about fads vs. trends.  Facebook and Zynga seem to have some fad qualities to them.  They were very popular in the beginning because there were no alternatives.  So people poured a lot into them.  But as time goes on, other competitors have popped into the space.  They have the advantage of learning from those first movers and adjusting their strategy.

Social media, on the other hand, is a trend.  It’s here to stay.  The format and level of sophistication may change.  But it isn’t a fad that will go away in a few years.  The younger generations have embraced social media in its entirety.  The point here is that marketing strategy needs to be built around trends.  Social media is just a new channel with many tactics like Facebook in it. 

I suspect in the coming years we will see more and more new channels like this pop up.  The trick is to recognize the difference between the fad and the trend.  It can be very powerful to take advantage of a fad, but it should be backed with solid strategy around the channel so that you can easily switch the tactic within the channel.

A lot of marketers are still intimidated by social media.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of clear direction out there for how to use it, how to track it and how to make it effective.  It doesn’t have to be that difficult.  Think of social media as just another way to have a conversation with your target base.  These conversations used to happen only in a coffee shop, with the stranger seated beside you on an airplane or in your backyard as you chat with your neighbor.  Social media just provides a way for people to connect with a larger group of people with similar interests or backgrounds and have those conversations more broadly.  If you approach social media as a marketer the same way you would if you just happened to be seated by one of your targets on an airplane, it should be very clear what to do.

First, have a conversation.  A conversation implies give and take, not one-way broadcasting of messages.  And not canned elevator speeches.  A conversation is a two-way communication about something of value or interest to both parties.  Provide some interesting information or valuable stats to your targets.  Ask them for their input or experiences.

Also, it should be obvious, but don’t just sell them.  No one wants to be stuck beside the used car salesman who is trying to sell them a car they don’t want on a 4 hour plane ride.  If I find you have a genuine need for what I can provide and offer up information about it – that’s different.  You would be interested in discussing that.  But to find that out, you first have to find out more about the other person.

Finally, you need to make sure you are being either relevant or entertaining in some way to keep their interest.  How long would I stand and talk to you if you droned on about a topic of no interest to me?  Attention spans online are even shorter, because I don’t feel the need to stand and nod politely while you talk – it’s much easier to walk away.

Hopefully this gives you some food for thought as you continue to navigate the murky waters of social media.

My first real experience with creating web pages was in the mid-90’s with the Purdue University Graduate School.  They knew they needed a web site, as it was the next big communication medium.  So I took their existing application forms, converted them to PDF, and added all the fields so an applicant could fill it out online, print it out and mail it in.  That seems crazy now, but that’s the best we could think of at the time.  They were just doing what everyone else was.  It’s not really a lot different from how most companies use video, social media and other new media today.

Granted, there are a few companies doing great things with these channels.  And we can learn a lot from watching them.  But until you can create something that is really adding value to your clients and prospects, just jumping on the bandwagon is probably not the right answer for you.  As your mother might say, “just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you need to.”

That may seem blasphemous to most marketers today.  You should always be exploring new channels.  But you can waste a lot of time and money doing things just to blend in with the crowd.  What you really want to do is stand out from the crowd.  What if you bucked the trend and creatively used some “older” techniques?  What if you were the only company in your industry sending out hand-written letters?  What if you were the only one taking your product samples door-to-door?  What if you didn’t attend that industry trade show but instead hosted exclusive dinners of your own in cities around the country for those who couldn’t go to the show?

Yes, you need to make sure that you are doing efficient and effective marketing, but you may find that you can stand out more by looking for things that everyone else is not doing.  And if you happen to come up with a creative way to use social media or email to stand out in the meantime, go for it!  Just don’t limit your channel choices to only the latest and greatest trends.

As someone who has been on both the consulting and client side of marketing for many years, I know how quickly you can become overwhelmed with everything you should be doing.  Marketing tactics are constantly evolving, technology is moving at the speed of light, keeping up with social media is a full time job and since you know that next marketing department re-org is right around the corner, you are also constantly fighting to make yourself relevant, knowledgeable and valuable to your employer.  And that doesn’t even count doing your day job.  How do you balance all of this and still get some sleep at night?

First, I would recommend that you choose your battles.  You can’t do everything, so you need to decide what is most important.  There are two dimensions to this.  First, what is most important for your employer?  What will help you meet your company’s goals as well as your marketing department’s goals?  What is going to get you the best return, get your company or product’s brand recognized, or sell more?  What are your customers concerned about?  What will make your boss happy?  Second, you also need to think about what is important for you and your career.  Pick an area you love and nurture that.  Maybe it’s social media or technology or data.  Dig into that a bit and you will quickly find new skills that will help you advance your own career as well as give you personal satisfaction.

Second, I would recommend you prioritize your efforts.  It’s kind of the same as choosing your battles, but really it’s more about figuring out how to do one thing well then moving onto the next.  When you know how to do something well, it takes a lot less time and effort than those things you don’t know how to do.  So prioritizing your efforts will help you tackle that list in no time, whereas fragmenting your efforts across too many things at the same time can just lead to frustration and failure for the whole list.

Finally, don’t be afraid to enlist some help.  No one can do all of this alone.  Maybe you need to work together with your marketing team to share the load better.  Maybe you need to hire a person or agency with the skills you are looking for to learn from.  Maybe you need to join a group or go to a conference to learn more.  In any case, take the time to do it and ask for help.  Going it alone will not lead to more fame or fortune for you or your marketing department.  The world is changing quickly and you just can’t keep up with everything on your own.  No matter how much experience or education you think you have, there is always something else to learn.

**After a long hiatus to get some work things under control and have a baby, the Chasing Marketing blog is making a comeback!**

When I work with B2B Enterprise companies, I often find that they are very uncomfortable with social media as a marketing tool.  Working with social media is often buried as a PR task if it is used at all.  And when we start talking about using it for marketing purposes, I get a lot of push back.  The reason is often that they don’t think their customers are using social media or they can’t clearly justify the spend with ROI.  The underlying cause, though, is usually always a lack of understanding and therefore comfort with social media and how to use it.

I read a great article in Forbes recently that talked about how social media is becoming more mainstream for Enterprise companies.

It’s no longer about early adoption. The social enterprise is here. You’re now competing with companies that are collaborating on sales opportunities, tracking their brand on Twitter and Facebook and delighting clients through social customer service. They’re also building loyal communities of customers and empowering them as a marketing force. Mobile, social and the cloud are essential business technologies.
The Social Enterprise Becomes a Reality, Forbes 4/23/2012

As your executives become more comfortable with social media, corporate resistance to social marketing tactics should become less of an issue.  And B2B marketers who don’t jump on this bandwagon could miss a big bet.  The window of opportunity is opening up.  Marketing can become the hero for finding successful social marketing tactics that drive awareness, leads and ultimately, business.  And not taking advantage of this opportunity could have some big downsides.  Your competitors could easily jump ahead and make you into a social follower instead of a social leader in your industry.  This can lead to losing more business to the competition which will ultimately make you look like an unsuccessful marketer.

How can you become more comfortable with social media?  For starters, get out there yourself.  Get to know the channels and how they are being used today.  Start monitoring how and where topics related to your company’s products and services are being discussed.  Once you get more comfortable, how to jump in as an active participant to drive awareness and leads for your company will quickly become clearer.

I was just reading an article from MarketingProfs about how small companies can topple the Goliaths in their industry.  Large companies often have a lot more resources and budget in marketing to really make an impact in the marketplace (although I know a lot of you out there will disagree!).  However, these same advantages can often be a disadvantage because the larger budgets come with more bureaucracy.  The environment is such today that it is relatively easy for a small company to come in and quickly unseat a giant through a variety of online efforts.  And it can be hard for a large company to decide to move quickly enough to react to this.

So what can you do to ensure you stay nimble?  First and foremost, don’t get too comfortable with any marketing techniques.  Make sure you are going to marketing conferences, tracking marketing experts through social media and keeping a close eye on your small competitors as well as your large ones.  Social media is one of those areas where many large companies have been very hesitant to go, but small companies can easily get out there in social media for very little cost and make a big splash.  If you aren’t keeping up on the latest in marketing, you’d easily miss this trend.

Secondly, don’t plan your marketing year out too far in advance.  You can allocate your budget among the different tactics, but leave the topics for your campaigns flexible.  Plan once a quarter if not once a month for your upcoming campaign topics.  This forces you to keep looking at what your customers want rather than plan out according to your internal product development path or sales goals.

And finally, enable local offices to do their own marketing.  Setup plug and play campaigns and the tools to execute them.  And then let your local offices decide which campaigns to run and when.  They are closer to your customers than you are sitting in your corporate office.  They know their marketplace and the competition.  And same goes if you use channel partners, as well.  Focus on enabling instead of doing it for them.

Choice is overwhelming.  In today’s world, there is so much choice, it’s often tempting to make no decision rather than making a really tough decision between too many options.  Think about how you make decisions in your personal life.  Not just the technology examples that everyone always gives, like buying a camera where there are a million options.  But everyday stuff.

Say, for instance, that you want to buy a good book to read on your vacation.  How many millions of books do you have to choose from?  Maybe you narrow it down to the genre of book you are looking for – a good mystery novel.  You still have hundreds of thousands of choices.  If you are lucky, maybe you know a good author that just published a new book.  But if not, where do you start your search?  Maybe the best seller list?  Or award winning books?  Or a suggestion from a friend?  In all of these cases, you are using social means to filter your choices down to something reasonable.  You are looking to others to guide you to a book you are likely to enjoy so you don’t spend all weekend at the bookstore trying to find that perfect beach book.

It’s no different if you are selling B2B products or services.  Companies face just as many choices when they are purchasing a product or service like yours and they need some way to filter down the choices.  So with the advent of so many different social media sources, it stands to reason that they would turn to these sources to help make decisions, just as they would if they were buying a book.

If you don’t think your target audience is using social media – think again.  They’ve been doing it for years, just not online.  They’ve been networking with their peers and talking about your products and services.  The online tools are just making it easier now.  According to Forrester research, about 73% of your targets are using the online tools in some way, whether it’s just as a spectator or as a content creator.  So get out there and start talking to your targets!