Monday, June 8, 2009

Synthesizing seeming contradictions - a tool is not a way of life, but it is

Baptism tools by Lars Plougmann used under a Creative Commons License

I'm working on something behind the scenes (which is why my weekly Empoprise-BI News has a "behind the scenes" section, by the way) which includes the possible use of the phrase "a tool is not a way of life." I'm trying to distill something that I've effectively said in previous posts in this blog and elsewhere. For example, here's how I said it on June 3 (even if I spelled it incorrectly):

I can cite all sorts of software industry examples in which software was robust enough to handle a new use case that the software developers never envisioned. In some cases, the software developers reacted negatively, stating that "our software was not intended for that [purpose]." In other cases, the software developers reacted positively, and their software reached dizzying heights of success that they never envisioned.

In longhand form, I'm trying to say that something like Twitter is not a solution, but is a tool that helps you reach some other solution (increasing brand awareness, selling fluffy bunnies, what have you). And if you are a tool developer who believes that your tool can only be used in one way, you're wrong. I will use your tool as I please; don't tell me how I can or cannot use it.

Or, a tool is not a way of life.

Now whenever I want to formally adopt a word or phrase for some purpose, I always conduct a web search first to make sure that I'm not stepping on someone else's toes. And therefore I have determined that, according to Google, I am the first person to use the quoted phrase "a tool is not a way of life."

But someone has used a similar phrase. In my search, I found a FastCompany article with the title Social Media is Not a Marketing Tool; It Is a Way of Life.

Are Jacob Morgan and I in complete disagreement? Not necessarily. Here's a bit of the background behind his statement.

Marketers are getting so excited over the emergence of this new marketing tool (or medium) known as social media. All marketers have to do is join Youtube, Digg, and Twitter; add a bunch of friends, and start shoveling content at them…right?

Morgan then goes on to say:

Wrong, on several accounts; first, social media is not a marketing “tool” at all; it is a way of life.

What does he mean by this?

So what is all this mumbo jumbo about social media being a way of life? Well social media profiles are extensions of physical people. Profiles are designed so that you can learn about a person based on the information they have filled out. When people are not out and about, they are online interacting with one another through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. Your social media profile IS YOU.

In essence, Morgan is trumpeting the virtues of relationship marketing, and stating that you can't really market to someone unless you know the person. Now this is not universally true; if I'm at the Epicenter and want to get a hot dog, I don't necessarily need to know who the woman at the grill has befriended, or what she had for breakfast (although if she had her hot dog for breakfast, I'd take it as a good sign). But for more substantial purchases, you're either going to want to establish a relationship with the seller, or you're going to want to get guidance from either experts or the crowd.

So with some little exceptions, Jacob Morgan is right. Social media will often yield better results if you use it to build relationships than if you use it as a megaphone.

However, there are again exceptions to this rule - spam is an ugly thing and people hate it and decry it, but you have to admit that spam is a cost-effective way to do business. If it weren't a cost-effective way to do business, there would be no spammers. SOMEONE is buying this stuff, so even though spamming is the "wrong" way to do works!

And it should also be noted that Morgan's article only addresses a limited topic. He addresses how to use social media effectively, and how to build relationships, but he doesn't address WHY you want to market and build relationships. What do you want to sell? Those questions need to be answered long BEFORE you set up your Corporate Rules of Twitter Engagement, because it may turn out that building relationships via social media is the exact wrong way to market whatever it is you want to market.

Take my Epicenter example; if the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes hired someone from Zappos, and the ex-Zappos person declared, "Social media is a way of life, and therefore all food service personnel need to get Twitter accounts," the new hire would probably get hit over the head with a baseball bat.

So, while social media is a way of life (sometimes), a tool is not a way of life (ever).

Hope this helps.

Postscript regarding religious issues - depending on how you're reading this post, you may have seen the Lars Plougmann picture with which I started the post, a picture entitled "Baptism tools." Theologically, it should be noted that in most if not all traditions, the only material item that makes any difference in a Christian baptism is the water. Perhaps the SIZE of the item containing the water may matter, but in effect that is only a commentary on the amount of water that is used. You can make your baptism goblet/pool out of metal, wood, plastic, or whatever. If you are a swimming pool manufacturer, you cannot attach a prohibition to your pool warranty explicitly saying that your pool cannot be used for baptisms. (Well, you could try, but you usually won't succeed.)
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