Sometime last year, a friend, established author but newbie blogger, handed me a book and said, “hey, read this and, if you dig it, write about it.” The book was on topic, I liked it and, shortly after it’s release, I posted about it.
The next day, I got an e-mail. It was from the “blog tour consultant” my friend’s publisher paid many thousands of dollars to run her blog tour (I always hated that phrase).
“Dear Blogger” it began. And, that was the most compelling line. There was no rapport building, no interest in me or what I write about, no evidence that she’d ever read a word I’d written. In fact, I’d never heard of her before and the “to” field in the e-mail showed a group name.
Then, this wonderfully cozy e-mail asked me to post a review of the book…that I’d just reviewed on my blog the day before!
So, I called my friend, peeved at the breach of respect and blogosphere etiquette on the part of the “trained professional” that was pushing the book and concerned about the reputation of my friend. I told her this person was breaking pretty much every rule in the “how to pitch bloggers” manual and I’ve seen other bloggers publicly trash people for less. She freaked out and called the publisher asking to see who’d been solicited, got a list and passed it on to me.
The good news was that there was probably not much damage done.
The bad news was that the damage was easily containable because besides me (who was apparently added to the list last minute because I was “friends & family”) the 200 or so blogs on the consultant’s broadcast list collectively had about 1,000 visits a month…together
And, this is what the publisher was paying thousands of dollars for?
As I’ve tweeted recently, the smartest people I know in social media readily admit they’re making it up as they go 90% of the time. And, they’re the ones who are leading the pack, pushing paradigms, testing ideas and reporting results.
But, while these social media visionaries don’t yet know exactly what does and doesn’t “work,” they have been in the game long enough to (a) know the ethic, hidden rules and culture and (b) have developed credibility, strong relationships and (c) become known as people who are genuinely invested in their communities and who give way more than they get.
They also know that, even though brands are flooding onto twitter and the blogosphere, conversations still happen on a person to person basis. So, I know, for example, that when I tweet with @JetBlue, I’m really talking to Morgan Johnston, whose day job happens to be Community Manager for JetBlue (FYI – Here’s the now epic post that led to that discovery). And, even if I didn’t know that, I do know it’s a person, talking like a person, helping people out.
Why does all this matter?
Because, social media is vastly more effective as a business tool when you focus on the humanity behind the brand and allow others to identify with that humanity then let the good will inure to the broader brand.
Which creates a problem when companies try to outsource social media “marketing” to people and companies who not only don’t get social media…but are largely outside the brand.
Sure, my friend’s publisher was smart enough to know they needed help sharing her book across social media, but not well versed enough to get the rules of the game or the lack of qualifications of the person suited to not only accomplish the marketing objective…but do no harm as well.
And, even if they had known the rules, the question remains…
My gut says…probably not. Because social media just doesn’t work that way.
It’s about developing relationships around shared interests and values over time.
Think about it. If a blog tour or social media book marketing consultant represents books across all genres, that’d mean they’d have to spend time establishing relationships with tens of thousands of bloggers, twitter users and Facebook friends across hundreds of genres in order to earn the respect, eyeballs and eardrums needed to comfortably reach out to the right people at the right time to help promote a client’s book.
And, the way you do that is by joining in the conversations being had by those thousands of bloggers and twitter followers in a meaningful way and add value to the hundreds of topics that are most relevant to them.
That’s an impossible task. Can’t be done by one person.
In fact, the only way I can think of pulling this off, as a consultant or agency, is to either:
- Only represent books limited to a small number of genres you have a sincere interest in and spend your time developing real relationships in social media around those topic, so that you build credibility, respect and relationships with a highly targeted group of people. Then, if you reach out to them with a book you think they’d like, you can do it the right way…and they’ll be far more open to it. Or…
- Assemble a team of people devoted to different genres and niches and have each person on the team handle only books and clients that revolve around that genre.
Outsourced social media book marketing is just one example, but it leaves me with this nagging question…
While it may be possible to hire really smart, insanely innovative people like Chris Brogan, Laura Fitton, Joel Comm, Jim Kukral, Mari Smith, Liz Strauss, Shama Hyder or any number of agencies to help develop your social media strategy, can you also outsource the execution side of the equation without:
- Getting royally burned or
- Significantly gutting what makes social media so powerful in the first place?
Put another way…
Is it possible to effectively outsource, leverage and scale “Other Peoples’ Social Media Juice?”
Or, is the medium so fundamentally different from traditional channels that the conversation, relationship and value-building effort needs to originate and be sustained from within the company or person?
Because, if the latter is true, this presents two huge challenges. One, for companies looking to largely hand over their social media efforts to agencies the way they’ve done with their traditional marketing and advertising. And, two, for agencies and consultants who would kill to be able to say “sure, just pay us and we’ll run with it,” but, in truth, can’t deliver the same comprehensive solution they’ve served up to date.
I honestly don’t know the answer right now.
But, my my instincts are leaning me heavily toward the need to keep it real and personal when it comes to execution.
As always, just thinking out loud?
What do you think?
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