Saul Kaplan: Dribs and Drabs

Drip, drip, drip.  One comment on a blog post. One re-tweet of a point of view. One new Facebook friend.  You might not even realize while it is happening but over time an audience is developing that is genuinely interested in what you have to say and gives you permission to share it.  Individuals are learning how to share their stories and gaining confidence by participating actively in social networks. Personal networks have become the new marketing channels and marketing has become the art of dribs and drabs.  The problem is that most organizations haven’t figured it out yet.

I believe the marketing model of companies deploying large internal teams of marketing specialists supported by even larger external advertising and public relations firms is dead.   Watching the series Mad Men reminds me of how little the advertising and communications industry has changed from a model that is clearly being disrupted by the new world of social media.

It is exciting to be a participant in the seismic shift away from the old models of mass marketing and communication. The days of the big campaign developed behind closed doors followed by a grand unveiling comprised of orchestrated media placements and road show whistle-stops are behind us.  Now the message is developed and honed every day.  You don’t need an army of specialists to tell you what the message is.  You just need to put your genuine ideas out in public every day where a community of interest can provide you with immediate feedback, help you to improve, and share your ideas with their networks if they like them.

photo-saulNo intermediaries required.  Being genuine is valued above all else.  No need to assign the task of sharing your perspective, idea, or message to a third party.  Share them yourself.

This shift must be driving traditional marketing types and communications firms crazy.   The industry was built on a foundation of “controlling the message” and secret sauce that only the experts possessed to unlock access to big media outlets. Imagine the horror when huge campaigns are ripped apart within 24 hours of release by the viral unknown masses or when an undiscovered talent like Susan Boyle can become an overnight global sensation.

Dribs and drabs sound so inefficient and even dangerous when you grew up in an industrial era when marketing was about controlling the message, leveraging marketing experts, and mass media channels to reach a target market segment.  Marketing and Communications has been a centralized and protected function within most organizations.  God forbid anyone outside of the chosen functions speaks on behalf of or about the company in public or on the web.  Social media has blown traditional marketing up and most organizations I interact with are struggling with how to manage the new world where individuals are empowered communicators with an audience.

Communication is personal and everyone has a role to play.  The world of personal and organizational communication is merging whether we want it to or not.  I have talked to many active participants on social media platforms that are constrained or even blocked from communicating while at work or about work after hours.  This is silly.  Organizations are missing an amazing opportunity to virally share their stories and to tap into the networks of all the organization’s stakeholders.  Organizations need to trust employees, contractors, suppliers, and customers to build and strengthen networks of supporters and fans that are the most important marketing asset today.

Organizations should be focused on turning all stakeholders into active storytellers and passionate supporters.  Accentuate and build on the positive.  Forget trying to hide the negative.  Respond, learn and improve from it.  It is no longer possible to control communications about your organization.  Everyone should be encouraged to communicate openly and large marketing departments should be replaced with listening departments to learn from and leverage what is being shared.

The learning curve to go from industrial era mass marketing to personalized social media marketing is steep but rewarding.  The most important rule is that everyone gets to play.  I mean everyone.  Celebrate the dribs and drabs.


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