A lot of people claim to be social media experts, but Marta Kagan actually knows what she's talking about.

Kagan is a self-confessed start-up junkie who currently heads up the Boston office of integrated marketing agency Espresso. Her slideshow, "What the F**k Is Social Media?" was a social media hit a year ago, and the follow up — What the F**k is Social Media: One Year Later — has been shared even more widely. (Our editor Chris Lake did a riff on what social media can't do for brands here over the summer.)

I spoke with Marta about what the fuck is and isn't social media today. And whether social media can cure cancer.

What the fuck isn't social media today?
Hardly anything. The abundance of tools that are available to enable sharing ideas, opinions and information online is almost overwhelming. Even those individuals and brands who still prefer a "broadcast" approach to sharing content online have found that The People Formerly Known as the Audience can freely take that content and make it theirs; they can blog about it, mash it up, remix it, poke fun of it, praise it, hype it, spoof it… Yeah, I’d say that at this point virtually all media is social media.

What the fuck can't social media do?
Well, it can’t cure cancer… yet. Though it is already being used to raise money for cancer research, recruit patients for clinical trials, and share non-confidential information that’s pertinent to developing treatments among physicians and researchers. It can’t solve all of your business problems overnight. It’s not a silver bullet. That said, smart organizations are becoming social organizations. They’re using social media not just as another marketing channel, but as a remarkably effective tool for improving customer service, conducting market research, crowdsourcing ideas for new products and programs, improving knowledge-sharing, collaboration and job satisfaction among employees, and building loyalty among existing customers. Social media has the potential to spread ideas and information like wildfire. We’re only at the very early stages of understanding and harnessing its full potential.
Are companies right to use social media as mostly a customer service tool?
It certainly seems that more companies are catching on to the idea of using social media—and Twitter, in particular—as a tool for providing customer service. But I think, with a few exceptions, most have been approaching it tentatively, timidly, and with only a partial commitment. You can’t assign an unpaid intern (or even a paid employee for that matter) to tweet on behalf of your company a few times a day and call that good customer service. I think it’s certainly possible—and should be the goal—for companies to use social platforms more broadly to enhance their approach to customer service. Zappos has done a remarkable job of this. BestBuy has earned a lot of praise for their recent efforts with Twelpforce. But the truth is that most companies have a lot of room for improvement in their approach to customer service, period. Adding social media to a poorly executed customer service policy is like putting a bandaid on a severed artery.
Can brands going into social media looking to increase hard sales?
As long as one remembers that the rules of engagement are not the same as in traditional advertising and sales channels. It’s about building awareness, relationships, influencing decisions, stimulating word-of-mouth—not shouting about the ‘deal of the century’ or cajoling your audience to ‘buy now’. You wouldn’t propose marriage to someone on a first date, would you? It would be equally inappropriate to expect sales to happen as an immediate result of an interaction with a prospect on a social platform. It’s a soft sell. But the opportunity to influence is there; and there’s an overwhelming amount of research that suggests that consumer-driven marketing (or word of mouth) is the most influential touchpoint during a consumer’s active evaluation phase. So yes, absolutely social media has a role in sales.
Do you think the economy has had a positive or negative effect on social media adoption?
It has definitely had a positive effect on social media adoption. Marketing budgets are being squeezed. Marketers need to make a better business case for the dollars they spend. Social media offers an opportunity to reach more people on a deeper level than traditional advertising or paid digital media. And it’s infinitely more measurable than traditional advertising. In a tough economy, these are enormous advantages for a marketer. Hell, in any economy, these are enormous advantages for a marketer. But I do think that the economy has forced more people to explore social media sooner than they would have if the purse strings were still loose. It has accelerated the pace of adoption undoubtedly.
What the fuck has changed in social media over the last year?
Adoption has grown immensely. The abundance of sharing tools and applications have multiplied; the demographics among social media users have shifted more from the early adopter set to the mainstream. Companies are getting smarter about how this medium can integrate with their existing communication channels. We’re all a little less paranoid about privacy and security—well, most of us anyway. That said, we still have a long way to go. This period reminds me of the point at which ‘web 1.0’ had finally gone mainstream.

When I did the original What the F**k is Social Media deck in July of 2008, Slideshare was still relatively new. It took almost a year for 150,000 people to view the presentation. The sequel, published a year later, took less than a month to reach that volume. And I don’t think that’s because the sequel is that much better. I think it points to the fact that we’ve reached the tipping point. People are indeed getting on the train.

Meghan Keane

Published 25 September, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (2)


Boris Loukanov

F**king good interview! Marta, I had pleasure to quot You on my blog post: http://borisdomain.blogspot.com/2009/08/blog-post_17.html

almost 9 years ago

Jonathan Moody

Jonathan Moody, Freelance at Language4Communications

Nothing like a bit of gratuous swearing to up the ante but in this case, it is well justified - a succinct summary of good practice.

And as an antidote, here is some lazy thinking on social media and all it has to offer:



almost 9 years ago

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