In the fourth of a series of Thought Leader interviews for MarketingSherpa's 6th Annual B2B Marketing Summit 2009
, we talk to Richard Fouts, research director at Gartner, Inc., an information technology research and advisory company. Fouts presented yesterday in Boston.
Mike: You're presenting on the use of social media in communications. (I'm assuming you are talking Marcom?) I've noticed lately that if you have the right media contacts connected with you on Twitter and Linkedin, you can almost get your word out through those channels as opposed to the standard techniques. Are traditional media outlets dying?
Richard: It's not just marcom, rather all communications ... corporate communications, employee communications, PR, and investor communications. But to answer your question: If I had a dollar for every time someone predicted the death of traditional media -- for example, print -- I'd be rich. Michael, do you know the invention of the bicycle actually predicted the death of the book industry? Yes indeed, one view is that we'd all be riding our bicycles instead of reading books. There's no question that as dollars move toward electronic media, they move away from traditional media at the same pace. But things go in cycles. Amazon still sells plenty of books, and BW, Harvard Business Review, and the Economist still sell lots of magazines and journals (especially when they do special editions on things like social computing). I tell clients all the time, "There's a lot less noise in print right now ... and the rates are lower. So you'll actually get higher ROI in print today than you did before -- due to less noise, and less competition for eyeballs, at lower cost." Besides, we all know from experience that the best campaigns engage prospects over time, with multiple media. And from what I can see, traditional media outlets aren't dying, but they are adapting. Every television commercial for IBM tells you to go to their web site. The web site shows their TV ads ... or tells you to watch for their ad campaign on television, or to watch for them at an upcoming trade show. PR is being aggressive in its use of social media in their traditional reputation management services. Many events in the physical world, like meetups and house parties, start with Twitter. It's old media meets new media - not a question of what's surviving and what's dying - rather how things are evolving, converging, and maturing.
Mike: Blogging seems to be the communications platform of the future. In fact, our new site's press section will basically be a blog. Our focus with blogging, though, is to spread prolific content about demand gen and appointment setting
. It brings value to our readers and credits for SEO. Are there other benefits?
Richard: Sure, there are a range of benefits to blogging that inform all phases of what we at Gartner call the marketing activity cycle. New media and Web 2.0 are changing everything, but the fundamentals of marketing haven't changed. You still need to study and research the market, develop products, plan, execute, communicate, and evaluate. Blogging, like many social and professional interaction platforms, informs all of these phases, not just the communication phase. For example, blogs help us solicit input about new products ... and they help marketers and salespeople have conversations, not just engage in one-way messaging. Press sections today don't have mechanisms for people to respond to a press release, to ask questions. By making your press room a blog, you open up robust and informational conversations, not just one way messaging that ends in a vacuum. You're able to make more informed decisions. You reduce the guesswork because you know more .. and you know it faster.
Mike: What should we look out for when combining social media and communications?
Richard: Look out for "herding cats syndrome" because as a communications professional, you'll never herd all the cats who are wandering around the great social media chessboard. You need to accept the fact that you're relinquishing control, at least the kind you've become accustomed to. This is the toughest thing for communications people to hear. Their entire discipline has been turned upside down because they no longer create and shoot one-way messages to stakeholders. And they aren't the only originators of the message. Dell for example, woke up one day to a crisis situation due to an angry blogger named Jeff Jarvis, who lambasted Dell for its lousy customer service. Within hours, boatloads of consumers sympathetic to Jarvis' arguments posted comments on his blog as well as their own, creating a firestorm of negativity through the blogosphere. It took awhile, but Dell executives finally joined the online conversation and began to slowly rebuild the company's tarnished image. Dell learned a valuable lesson from this experience. It launched its own blog and put it to good use when another potential crisis erupted - that it nipped in the bud -- over a battery recall. Dell's chief blogger, Lionel Menchaca, addressed the issue in a straightforward, no-nonsense manner and let customers freely comment. Later, Michael Dell launched IdeaStorm.com and begged customers to give his company advice (and he still gets plenty of it, which he welcomes with open arms). The proof is in the pudding: metrics show that Dell's customer service rating has risen significantly. So the message is, don't try to herd the cats -- become part of the movement. In some cases you may even feel like you're part of the chaos, part of the noise, but you need to just go with it. Let it play out. Transparency is everything these days, and if you fight it, you're done. PR people learned this long ago when they realized the words "no comment" would brew even more suspicion.
Mike: If you had just 5 minutes with someone and they asked you for the takeaways from your presentation, what would they be?
Richard: The chief takeaway is simple: Don't forget the fundamentals of marketing in your desire to understand social media and its game changing, revolutionary qualities. Sure, social media changes everything but there's no substitute for good marketing. You still need to respond to the gaps in the market and exploit your competitors' weaknesses. And social media can help. But you can't wait. You need to join the movement, make some mistakes, learn from them, and go on. This isn't one of those "wait and see" things where you think you can let other people make mistakes for you, then join in with the perfect plan. You need to experiment, you need to engage in the conversation, learn the beauty of crowdsourcing, tweeting, blogging, and listening to your Facebook fans, both the good and the bad. Customers don't want you to market to them, they want you to market with them.
Mike: OK, last question, the B2B Marketing Thought Leaders Curry Poll
. Do you prefer red, yellow or green curry?
Richard: That's easy: Green