Are you a “wham-bam-thank-you” brand?

So much has been written about social media, it’s hard to find a spot that hasn’t been filled with advice, and best practices, and case studies and epic fails and wow-how’d-she-get-700,000-followers white papers.

And yet it still seems that many brands (even the big, smart ones) think of social mediums like they think of traditional mediums:  each a single-shot source for their single-shot message.  But the key (and obvious) difference between social media and all the others is this:  social is your always-on messaging tool.  Whether you like it or not.

In traditional media, (like print or broadcast, for instance,) you choose to make your presence into THEIR schedule and THEIR available inventory.  So you want to do a big spring push for your b-to-b message? You put it in every book’s March issue, and maybe you do some PR around the big events that month, and maybe you sponsor the March business meeting at the national association’s conference.  Perfect.  Same is true with b-to-c:  get in the books, get on a tv or radio schedule, send out the press release and Wham! Bam!  Thank you, Brand! Your presence magically appears on the consumer perception field at the precise time.  Then you can disappear for three months while you tally your ROI and your other magical KPIs to convince the bean counters to do it again next quarter.

But social is different.  Social certainly cares what message you’re pushing, but definitely not WHEN you want to push it.  Because social is less a medium and more of a monitor.  Social is ALWAYS ON.  Because your customers (whether they’re teenage girls or the C-suite types,) are always on. Listening.  Watching.  Waiting.  Wanting to engage.  Wanting to converse.

That’s why more brands FAIL in the social media sphere than they expect to.  Some marketing professionals treat social media like a one-off insertion instead of a constant scheduled presence.  When brands start pulling consumer comments off their Facebook pages, or have to yank tweets from their agencies, it’s not because those content nuggets are not part of the conversation (although they may wish they weren’t.)  It’s because “conversation” was never a chapter in “how to write a marketing plan” before about the last three years or so.  This stuff is still pretty new.  It was easier when marketing was a one-way proposition.  Now it’s decidedly a multi-voiced interaction, and brands have to listen.  Even if what’s coming back is very negative.

It’s not that brands will ever STOP doing timed marketing, or running themed promotions, or launching stuff in a huff.  [Jeez, without those deadlines, how would any of us know we have a pulse?] But in the new media age, timed marketing activity has to start fitting in with your ongoing social conversations.  NOT the other way around.