Chris Brogan on social media tools and how brands use them effectively


I got a chance to sit down with Chris Brogan at SXSW but the sound in the blogger’s lounge was so crazy loud you can barely hear a thing.  So here’s a transcription (and the video if you want to try to hear us). Chris is always gracious with his time and he shared great insights into how smart brands can engage social media effectively.

SM: It’s easy for brands to make the mistake of seeing social media tools as an end in themselves, but invariably you have to go back to first principles – you need a strategic point of view, you need a clear message in the first place – which you then broadcast using these tools. Do you come across this much and how do you counsel clients about where they need to begin?

CB: That’s a great question. I tend to talk to them about the tools being a lot like a phone.  I say, “You don’t have a phone strategy, you have a way that you use phones to execute your strategy.” So I don’t talk a lot about how I want you to develop a sales channel or your engagement plans. Rather, I want you to work on your customer call service. So that’s what I do – I start really early with, “It’s just like a phone”.

SM: And when you see what they need and talk to brands about their business problem in the first place, you characterize their tools in the right way. The next tension I come up against is the struggle between the top down hierarchical institutions (whether you’re a corporation, nonprofit or government agency) and the free-flowing nature of social media conversations. How do you recommend that corporations reconstitute themselves and restructure to cope with the social marketplace? Where do they start?

CB: They start with wherever they get their first traction. Comcast started with customer service. Dell started with a blend including customer service. But they both got to the same place that is customer service meets good marketing meets good communications. I usually start with where there is already traction. That’s where lots of companies go wrong. Lots of companies try to make you like the thing they want you to like because they want to sell more of that, as opposed to selling more of the thing they’re selling really well.

SM: So it’s timeless principles like service and doing what you do well using the tools to that end rather than trying to sell a bad product more effectively?

CB:  It’s not rocket surgery.

SM: From the brand point of view there’s a huge challenge because media silos are now effectively meaningless. And from a consumer point of view, a lot of the language is now meaningless because you can watch television on Hulu, on your Xbox 360 or online. So from both points of view there’s a lot of confusion. As companies try to reposition themselves and find a competitive advantage, where do you think they begin if they can’t talk about on traditional silos?

CB: They should have always been counting on the person, not the distribution. We’ve been using a lot of vague numbers and vague terms for a long time. The web is all about specificity.  So the opportunities now, even when you go back to the real world, is where action came from. So I work all my metrics backwards from dollars to see how can I show that I moved someone to actually purchase. It’s hard in the bigger companies. I would say they start looking at new maps for new territory.

SM: This also plays into the nonprofit, cause market and CSR area. So many brands, when they do an outreach, look at it through the lens of their own self-interest. How do you convince brands to look at their contribution through the lens of the consumer, the person who’s going to benefit, rather than themselves?

CB: The companies I work best with are the ones that it’s about relationship selling and that not transactional selling.  I don’t want to sell you just a hamburger today; I want to sell you fourteen hamburgers over the next couple weeks. I want to sell you thousands over the next few years. So my goal in working with companies is how can I look at the relationship efforts – yield per relationship. Which gets you out of the mindset of transactional selling.

SM: Is there anything you’re really excited about this year or next year?

CB: What do I think is going to come? It’s going to be a little less sexy and a little more useful and it will be how we use data differently, and how we use personal accounts differently. How do we use social CRM, for example? I’m interested in understanding those kinds of apps. How do people start to understand me as a client or customer better and how does all this new stuff pile into that?

SM: It’s a whole new definition of targeting, in a sense, because you don’t just target the person, you target when and why they want something as well. And when you triangulate those things, your effectiveness has to go up because you’re minimizing the margin of error. Is there anything else you could say to those big brands that are still sitting on their hands waiting to see where the money in social media is? Would you like to give them any counsel as to where the market is going to be in the next five years?

CB: Here’s a hint: Money seems to follow the people and the people are using social tools. So if you’re not investing in investigating and looking where those people are, you’re already not where they are. 700,000 new people join Facebook a day. If you’re not doing something to figure out what’s going on Facebook, I mean, that’s a big city joining every day.  Mostly ages 16-31. Mostly females. I think companies who are not looking at that are not where the money is.

If you ant to hear more from Chris, I highly recommend Trust Agents in which he lays out very clearly how to use the web to build trust and influence.