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The Single, Most Important Question You MUST Ask Your Social Media Maven

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that social marketing is an important tool for marketers. But it DOES seem to take a rocket scientist to make heads or tails out of social technology solutions. Here is just a sampling from a few [unnamed to protect the marketing challenged] companies:

  • “We believe that social dynamics drive purchasing activity and brand favorability … Our platform enables clients to discover and reach the social networks that surround their brands. “  
  • “Our technology enables brands to identify and activate their own influencers and biggest fans in real-time. We track content as it is passed-along and identifies the social audience that the shared content reaches.”
  • “Our unique "multi-graph" social targeting platform focuses on a brand's core customers and identifies millions of other like-minded people who can be reached online… Our expert modeling techniques identify the most desirable audiences for advertisers yielding superior marketing results.”
  • “With our platform, brands reach their social audiences with targeted advertising, activate them with exclusive content and special rewards, and measure and optimize performance with best-of-breed analytics.”

Most of the time – all I could do was mutter to myself; “Huh?” So most of the time, I had to call them,  talk to them  for 60 minutes or more until I get a vague idea of how I might be able to use them.  In case you’re wondering why these technologies seem incomprehensible to mere marketing mortals, there are a few reasons:

  • Marketing technology is usually developed by technologists – not marketers – so often there is a misalignment between vision and practicality.
  • Marketing is becoming more and more a technology driven industry as this recent Fast Company article suggests:  “Why Ad Agencies Should Act More Like Tech Startups” . That requires lots of new skills most marketers don’t currently have.
  • In an effort to create highly efficient and monetizable business – many companies are developing “platforms” that, unintentionally, overlap and intertwine in a tangle of platforms that no one has figured out yet , especially all the individual companies. 
  • Finally, and most insidiously, some companies obscure the mechanics of their solutions so they can charge high premium prices for “black box” solutions.

So what’s a marketer to do?

The best way I have learned to overcome the comprehension gap is with this simple “one question” rule. No matter what promises or technology wizardry a company offers, ask them: “What exactly do you mean by that?"

This is a “one size fits all” rule – applicable to ANY marketing tech you are considering. So for example, if a social marketer suggests a viral campaign ask them; "What exactly do you mean by that?" and ask for execution details.

Or, if the consultant suggests a Facebook group for your company, ask them: "What exactly do you mean by that?" and dive into who is managing/ posting to the group page.

And my favorite, if an agency promises a video can go “viral,” ask them: “What exactly do you mean by that?” and make them explain how this bit of content will get distributed so as to drive traffic.

This question is so pivotal in all social marketing conversations because social marketing is all about the execution details. Tech buzzwords feel good, but specificity should rule since social media is largely about engaging your community or related communities. This requires human attention, human focus and a genuine commitment to participate meaningfully. While automation tools are critical, there are no real short-cuts to doing social right. That's why it's important for you to exactly understand what consultants will be doing and what technology will be doing. Confusing one with the other can lead to a disconnect that may risk your brand.

So now instead of trying to assess each technology with all its complexity, you can simplify the process with this one simple question: “What exactly do you mean by that?”  If the tech company can answer that question intelligently then you’ve got something to think about. If they can’t – then keep asking until they can (or run for the Silicon Valley hills).

Judy Shapiro

Join The Conversation

  • LoriJ_VA's picture
    Jul 11 Posted 5 years ago LoriJ_VA

    Judy, I do like your basic "what" question.  I'm wondering if you feel that any agencies or who ever would actually answer that question down to the details.  I feel that sometimes there might be a fear that in giving too many details you actually give away the strategy thus losing a customer instead of impressing them.  How much detail do you think is too much?

  • JudyShapiro's picture
    Jun 25 Posted 5 years ago JudyShapiro

    My pleasure. I was getting tired of getting proposals that sounded good but when I tried to explain it to someone else - I was usually at a loss. Never a good sign. 

    That question has become a habit that serves me well. I get to learn to much :) 


  • Jun 22 Posted 5 years ago SusanB. (not verified)


    Awesome points!  Every day I run across a site that leaves me scratching my head as to the specifics.  So glad someone pointed that out.  The greatest ideas in the world are ever so simple to explain: Google, the iPod, the telephone, the library....

    Thanks for the article.


  • Jun 22 Posted 5 years ago moore.sharon.k

    Great post! I plan to incorporate "What EXACTLY do you mean by that" into all my thinking...not only when I am looking at a potential technology "solution" but also when I am creating content.

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