Start with a Destination, a Map, and then the Equipment

originally posted on Concept Hub

I was sitting at a coffee shop this past week and overheard a conversation between an agency sales rep and his prospect. I wasn’t *trying* to listen, but the sales rep mentioned social media, which for me is likened to someone calling my name.

Basically, the prospect was interviewing a new agency to fix his broken online communications strategy. He wanted to be able to learn more about his visitors and to know more about what makes them buy. He also wanted to know what to do with the information that he is able to collect about his audience. The prospect wisely said that he felt having a website was not enough, he needed to go where his prospects were.

This is when the sales rep brought up social media. The prospect immediately shot the idea down. He said that the *proven* methods of online communications were not working for him right now and that they needed to fix that before they ventured into dubious territory. He had a good follow-up point in that he mentioned he had been looking at various blogs and communities and did not see any two-way communication happening.

This reminded me of a small research project I completed a couple of weeks ago. I was tasked with looking for a well-known brand being mentioned in the blogosphere. The first thing I found were bloggers writing about the case study of the success of the social media campaign for this brand. As I began to dig a little more I recognized that every place this brand was mentioned was basically an endorsement, paid for or positioned within a pitch, to blogs that were acting like online magazines. I was not able to obtain any Market Intelligence from the information that was available.

When I first started this agency, 3 years ago, I was trying to tell people about this new trend called social media that they needed to learn more about. Now people are approaching me ready to jump into the deep end of social media. I have started to ask the question “what do you expect in return for your social media efforts?” I have been amazed at the number of blank stares I have received.

Social Media is not a magic elixir. Even if it was, you would still need to know what you wanted before you applied it. But the reality is that blogs, facebook, twitter, videos, podcasts, rss, tags, sms and whatever else you want to throw into the mix are nothing more than tools.

A Hard Hat, Measuring Tape, Hammer, and Nails, are all useless, even if you are experts at using them unless you know why you are using them.

Or the other cliche’ in sales is that you do not buy a drill, you buy the ability to put holes in a wall.

The same is true with social media. You need to know what you want to do, why you want to do it, and what it should look like in the end.

Basically, before you set out to build anything or go anywhere, you need to know the destination, or to quote Steven Covey “begin with the end in mind.”

The desired “end” should not be a guess however, it should be determined based on the needs of your organization, your customers, your partners, your vendors, basically, whoever is going to be involved in this journey.

You need to survey the landscape. In the case of the research I conducted for the brand, I recommended that we not focus on who is mentioning the brand, but on the types of things, people do with the product, the types of problems the product solves. Our goal was to engage with the customers and to survey the landscape we had to find where the customers were online. This meant we needed to expand our scope.

Once we know the destination, the map is created after we survey the current resources, eliminating anything that is weighing us down and upgrading anything that is getting old and rusty. As I have mentioned before, social media should not be seen as an “add-on” but as an evolution, in the ways we communicate with each other. Then we can learn how to best use the equipment that was chosen to get us to our selected destination.

In regards to the man in the coffee shop, my fear is that he was trying to polish old equipment that he was comfortable with because he had already witnessed so many people fumbling with these newfangled toys without any clear idea of what to do with them.