Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Will The Real Social Media Expert Please Stand Up?

Social Media is everything you know and nothing about what you think or do in marketing. Sounds strange eh? It’s true though.

Think about how you approach marketing campaigns today and the picture will become a bit clearer.

– You evaluate target demographics.

– Develop strategic messages.

– Conduct an audit or focus group.

– Revise messages and fine-tune the plan.

– Determine the broadcast mechanisms to push your content.

– Go live.

– Monitor the response.

– Evaluate the ROI.

– Repeat, enhanced by new information.

There’s nothing wrong with this chain of events. It’s what we were taught and it’s worked over time. So, what happened?

We blinked.

Now, we’re entering an entirely new paradigm for cultivating relationships with customers as well as the people who may one day become customers. At the moment, it’s all anyone can talk about. There’s certainly no shortage of Social Media “experts,” yet there is a shortage of experts who can actually help us.

Click here to see what I’m talking about.

Is this about creativity? Is this about technology? Is this about Social Networks or Web 2.0?

Social Media is about facilitating interactions between people online. Just because we have the tools to engage, doesn’t make it any easier to do this the right way.

Social media is about sociology and the understanding that with the new social tools available to us, we can more effectively observe the cultures of online communities and listen to and respond directly to people within the communities.

Sociology – The study of human social behavior, especially the study of the origins, organization, institutions, and development of human society.

We’re learning to peel back the layers of our target demographics to see the people underneath. We’re starting to figure out that we need to humanize our story. We’re realizing that we would never speak to our friends and family through messages, so why should we speak “at” the very people we want to reach and befriend. We’re opening our ears and our minds to acknowledge that we can no longer push our thoughts at people in order to earn resonance; we have to listen, talk, listen, assess, and contribute value.

This is how we find our real customers and those who influence them. We’ve all heard the mantras that the customer is always right and that the customer is boss. I think we can all agree that the customer is critical to our success and their emotions, experiences, state of mind and their resulting influence in their community are imperative to our survival.

Perhaps it’s because Social Media is empowering everyone and everything that matters to us. Instead of top down communications and focusing on the influence and control of messages and perception, we’re learning that those influential groups of people are now our peers and therefore require respect, honesty, and support in order for us to earn their trust – and hopefully their business and enthusiasm along the way.

This is Social Media, not socialism.

The customer comes first, and if we fuse sociology, social media, customer service, relationship marketing, experiential marketing, and traditional marketing, we’re creating a new formula for outbound influence and fueling a new generation of brand ambassadors and loyalists.

Ever heard of a Skullcandy? Me neither, until I did. And now, I can’t stop hearing about them.

How do you take on giants such as Sony, Bose, Philips, and Monster when you’re the new kid on the block? You start by becoming a sociologist. Then you go to your customers directly and “go native” by ingratiating yourself into the online cultures where they communicate. You become the very people you want to reach. Whether they did this intentionally or not, it worked.

Click here to see what I’m talking about (roll over the banner at Transworld Skateboarding):

Everything they do is reflective of those they want to engage and embrace. From embeddable widgets with valuable content, downloadable music and custom artwork, and peer-to-peer street teams to blogs, communities, events, and social networks, all combined with traditional marketing. They make their customer the center of everything they do. And, they could do even more with the right social tools, proactive participation, and elevated outbound strategies, and voices, to reach them.

Let’s listen in on the conversation about Skullcandy for a bit shall we?



Their customers are their surrogate sales force.

We live in interesting times. We’re currently enthralled in an immersive, confusing, and definitive transition in our “day job.” The dynamics of marketing communications and advertising in the realm of traditional methods still works (believe it or not) with this emerging and important landscape requiring concurrent, if not greater attention with little metrics to support it.

Does this scale as is?

No way!

But…if you don’t engage, your competition will. Intentionally pulling yourself from their radar screens is the beginning of the end.

So become a Social Media sociologist not a cultural voyeur and let’s get to work.


Observe the online communities where your company and brands (or those of your competitors) are actively discussed and figure out how to participate in those conversations as if you were approaching someone in real life whom you greatly respect. Perhaps the most valuable piece of advice I can share is to pay attention to the culture of each community and how people communicate and interact with each other. This will reveal how best to embrace the opportunity and reach out to people though a through a new form of “un” marketing.

– Start by participating as a person, not as a marketer.

– Talk like a person, not as a sales person or message factory.

– Be helpful and bring value to the conversation.

During this entire process, you’re contributing to the personality and the perception of the brand you represent.

It’s the only way to earn their respect in return and hopefully their business, loyalty, and referrals as we continue to do what matters to earn their friendship.

This isn’t the post for ROI, but I will ask, how do you evaluate the ROI of your best friends in real life?

You just trust that they find value in the relationship because they keep coming back. That’s truly return on the investment of person to person and people to people relationship marketing. However, for those who need numbers, establish traditional and alternative metrics on the front end – before you go out there. Common metrics include traffic based on a dedicated series of URLs you create specific to your social work, registrations, downloads, ntegrated code in anything you may be sharing (in terms of a widget or embeddable form of media) that shows the pass along and interaction data, as well as the threads and additional posts that spawn based on your interaction, Web site analytics are key as well. But, this is just an overview and a preview of a deeper post that’s imminent regarding ROI (I’m working on it).

In order to determine the amount of resources, time and money that are required, It all starts with good old fashioned research along with the new tools to help you get to the answers you seek (see below for a list to help you get started).

– Identify who your customers are and where they go for information.

– Search for key words: Products & Company as well as competitors and their products and services.

– And, please don’t forget the relationships that exist in the real world. They’re also indispensable for providing the feedback and insight you now now and later.

Based on the research results, you can measure the average frequency of relevant conversations, identify the more active hubs and communities, and the context of the conversations in order to determine time and variety of resources required (a community manager is required at the very least).

The number of average relevant conversations per day per community.

Multiplied by the quantity of relevant communities.

Multiplied by 20 (minutes required to research and respond and also monitor for additional responses), variable +/- dependent on the case, usually +.

Divided by 60 (minutes)

Equals the amount of time required and in turn, the resources and associated costs required depending on internal labor or external consulting fees.

Based on the research results, you can measure the average frequency of relevant conversations, identify the more active hubs and communities and the context of the conversations in order to determine time and resources required. I think the first thing you’ll realize is that it represents a tremendous commitment, which is usually great than any one person (including a community manager). Conversations occur everywhere, across a variety of topics that usually correlate to specific marketing disciplines and customer services, i.e. marcom, product management, customer service, PR, executive management, etc. Having someone keeping a pulse on relevant conversations and in turn feeding them, intelligently, to the right people internally and guiding them on the required response and followup makes the interaction more meaningful and helpful and also distributes the responsibility across existing resources.

Here are some places to start listening (note: different than publishing or participating):


Crowdsourced Content
Yahoo Buzz

Google Alerts
Google Blog Search

Blog Communities


Social Networks


Relevant Discussions

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Conversation has Left the Blogosphere

The Value of Online Conversations

The Art of Listening and Engagement

Cultural Voyeurism and Social Media

The Social Media Manifesto

Conversational Marketing

PR 2.0 = The Evolution of PR, Nothing Less, Nothing More

Connect with me on Twitter, Jaiku, LinkedIn, Pownce, Plaxo, FriendFeed, or Facebook.

41 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Will The Real Social Media Expert Please Stand Up?”

  1. laurent says:

    Taking your formula for time, are you saying that if one needs to monitor 1000 communities (blogs/groups/niche social site), and there’s 1/2 conversation per day, the time needed is 100 minutes or 100 hours(1000 * 1/2~.20) or something else?

  2. pat says:

    Brian an excellent and thoughtful post, thanks

  3. Brian Solis says:

    Hi Laurent, it’s the total number of relevant conversations x total worthy communities x 20 minutes / 60 (minutes)…

    a x b x 20 / 60 = Commitment

    20 is a variable as it depends on the amount of time it takes a person to adequetely assess the conversation and determine a way to add value. There’s also time required for monitoring and responsing to each discussion.

    Pat, thank you!

  4. Dan Thornton says:

    Good, and interesting post that I’ll try and digest a little more before commenting too much.

    I do disagree however that ROI can be dismissed as equivalent to metrics for a best friend (or a marriage, or the other examples that are wheeled out).
    From a lovely, fuzzy social perspective that may be true, but from a business perspective you’ll have a hard time convincing someone to invest 50k in communities, rather than SEO, or banner advertising, if they don’t get a measurable return at the end of it all.

    Certainly for the next few years anyway, because the number of people that get social media, and are in the position to run/restructure mid-to-large companies is pretty tiny.

  5. Jenny says:

    great post. i learned a lot from it.

  6. Kin Lane says:

    Very well presented posting. Nice and casual and gets to the point.

    Sent it out to all my social media contractors. It is a great overview and introduction.

  7. Kristen says:

    Great post Brian, as always, and thanks for sharing an example of a company who appears to “get it.”

    The commitment calculator can make it seem a bit overwhelming (in time and resources needed), but that’s a great reference list to get the search started.

  8. Marcel LeBrun says:


    You nailed it. We are definitely entering a new paradigm for cultivating relationships with customers and you describe it perfectly.

    When anyone starts to approach relationships with customers this way, it becomes so obvious that this is the right approach if you truly respect them. Top down communication may get messages out there, but it certainly doesn’t build trust & relationships with people – as you said, “…we can no longer push our thoughts at people in order to earn resonance; we have to listen, talk, listen, assess, and contribute value.”

    Thank you also for mentioning Radian6. I appreciate that. We are also enthusiastic advocates of this approach to marketing and customer relationships.


    [note: my original comment appeared and then disappeared as did Geoff Livingston’s so I re-submitted]

  9. Don Lafferty says:

    This all makes a lot of sense, although I’ll bet it’s because I’m already in tune with some of the softer skills necessary to carry out the interaction required to pull it off, but to someone who doesn’t understand the dynamics, it’s akin to explaining surfing as paddling out into the path of a big wave, standing up on the board and jumping off when you reach the sand.

    When instructing my oldest on reversing a car out of the driveway I explained it like this;

    You put your foot on the brake and put the car into reverse, keeping your foot on the brake.

    Now twist your hear around to the right and then to the left to check for street and foot traffic coming from the left and right behind you while keeping your foot on the brake.

    Once you’re sure it’s clear, slowly release pressure on the brake until you feel the car start to move, while looking behind you and swiveling your field of vision left and right.

    Let off the brake altogether while continuing to look behind you left and right and softly apply pressure to the accelerator.

    Assess the room you have to enter the street left and right so you can decide how quickly you’ll need to get moving forward once you’re in the street while backing the car out at an appropriate rate of speed.

    Experienced drivers do all this without thinking about it – intuitively. I think we with experience in navigating the waters of social networks also operate intuitively after a while, based on our personal experience, good and not so good.

    The sheer amount of hand holding required by a community manager to ensure a cohesive execution of strategy has got to be mind boggling. As you said, the amount of work can quickly overwhelm a single point person depending on the amount of discussion out there in the world.

    So who is the social media expert in the room?

    I would bet that almost everybody who reads your blog is an expert when compared to the larger percentage of those in the workplace and almost everyone would be capable of executing a social media based strategy.

    The trick is selling one. That takes extraordinary communication skills in addition to excellent social media know-how.

  10. henrry says:

    Interesting post. Due to Online PR marketing initiatives it’s not possible to definitively measure whether the press release drove a noticeable traffic and increase in sales.

    • Logo Design says:

      I am not sure that this still applies. Qe now can calculate the amount of traffic although not exact from PR and online marketing. Social media is now one of the most important part of SEO. Thanks for the post Brian.

  11. Paul Chaney says:

    OK, since you asked, it’s me. I just don’t understand why I didn’t show up on the Google search? Hmmm… got to use “social media expert” as keywords in my blog posts more often. 🙂

  12. Laurent says:

    If your time estimate is correct (I believe so), social media marketing is costly/time consuming (I think so though I think there’s great reward too at the end). With so much time on marketers hands, the need to cherry pick only hyper relevant conversations to engage in is key. It requires to master the art of finding /scanning/reading/participating within hundreds of communities efficiently. It then must become a daily tasks like reading email! I think most social media expert do that today…but its very few within a mass of folks who don’t have a clue on how to do it.

  13. Tim Wolters says:


    Amen brother. I saw a tweet the other day from a “millenial” who was complaining about an unwanted advertisement on a site and then how completely lame it was that the advertiser asked how the viewer liked the ad. Marketers need to engage with their customers in authentic ways, ways that feel like real human interaction. Maybe there’s a Turing test (ok I’m a geek) for marketers. Anyway, I also wanted to point out that Collective Intellect also does social media monitoring (in addition to Radan 6, etc). And the really interesting piece of our equation is that we pin down who the most important people in the conversations are so you can prioritize your outreach and engagement. We’re doing this for a number of companies now and they are absolutely thrilled to be able to shrink down the time it takes to identify, monitor, and engage these communities.

    Tim Wolters
    Collective Intellect

  14. MST 1948 says:

    arrgh!! Brian! i rip my hair out everyday…my latest rants on Socialized blog have all been surrounding this issue…also, my latest Tweet says “the future of marketing is…non-marketing!” heh. anyway, i hate to be a generationist..but the divide is huge and the cultural shift has been a major one that marketing hasn’t woken up to yet.

    will the real social media expert please stand up?

    hi, im here.

    ps– i’ll be blogging for the ad:tech blog…this will be interesting/frustrating 🙂

  15. William says:

    Outstanding post. I often ask myself who these social media experts are. Often times, you hear them called “rockstars”

    I wrote about a post about that just the other day, actually.

    What is interesting though, looking back just 3 days ago when I wrote my post, is that none of the people I identified as “rockstars” are really marketers. They are just people who I felt represented and were using the medium the right way.

    Your post clearly identifies the types of things that we as marketers need to be aware of to really be able to call ourselves experts.

  16. Tim Wolters says:

    need to give props to the millenial I quoted. She’s a sharp social medialite that can be found on twitter at @alisamleo

  17. megallagher says:

    A fascinating post, Brian! You are right; the immediacy of the internet has changed the landscape for the way in which marketing/PR practitioners’ function. Social media is rapidly becoming a core channel in the dissemination of information and must be adopted as a communicative tool. The ‘new paradigm’ you refer to, requires practitioners to construct relationships with customers and potential customers on a personal level. Assimilating into online communities, then, becomes a necessity for those practitioners who want to prosper within the industry.

    The Marketing/PR industry needs to focus on customisation and recognise the fact that the internet enables conversations between people that weren’t possible in the era of mass media. This, in turn, will humanise, not demonise, network practices, through recognising that consumers are human beings and not demographic sectors.

    You also discuss how there is a lack of social media experts to help us. So, for those who are interested, SHIFT Communications’ Reference guide (see is very useful as it thoroughly demystifies the terminology inherent in social media, and is designed as a Wiki in order to continuously and clearly update practitioners on evolving

  18. Adrienne says:

    I must say I have tried to explain this phenomenon to my elders and people I admire in the marketing world for months and have had a very hard time getting through to them. Your description is perfectly laid out and I will be referring people who ask me about social media to your post. Thank you so much, for writing it.

  19. Wakezilla says:


    You wrote this post at 5am. Funny.

    Also, wow. You truly impressed me with the dedication and level of detail you spoke to the reader (me).

    I welcome your expertise and participation on

    Also, would you mind if I reposted some of your content?


    Nelson Bruton

    PS…You can sit down now.

  20. violet says:

    “Social media is about sociology and the understanding that with the new social tools available to us, we can more effectively observe the cultures of online communities and listen to and respond directly to people within the communities”

    Good point, sociology does play a part in social media. I also would like to add that this is where anthropology/an anthropologist could come in handy. Anthropologists are ethnographers and ethnographers by profession, observe cultures, participate in the communities, contribute and learn. It is an ethnographer who comes into a community to learn the socio-cultural norms and attempts to become accepted by the community. I think its an anthropologist who is especially sensitive and aware of understanding socio-cultural norms.

    I also agree with your tips regarding “un-marketing”.
    I believe it is crucial for any social media marketer to follow these rules. Social media marketers first must listen before anything else. Being accepted into an online community is crucial to any effective or compelling online marketing campaign.

    Great formula as well 🙂

  21. Marc Meyer says:

    Interestingly, I did a top 30 experts post on this at

    In which I said: Some talk it and some walk it, with the majority wearing out the soles in their shoes. I could not agree more with you Brian, except the problem is in the time suck. And to be genuine takes time and effort and stamina with whats involved.But really you should be, and I suggest being, genuine rather than using software to do your work.

    BTW, I love Don Lafferty’s analogy! Is that really what goes down??

  22. Wonderabby says:

    “Talk like a person, not as a sales person or message factory.” Perhaps this is the most powerful, and relevant statement on this post (or should I say discussion). Too many sales messages bombard us each day, and competing to be the “purple cow” is like a flashlight competing with the sun. Sell without selling, persuade with persuading. How do you do it? Experience teaches you a lot — and those unwanted reactions actually tell who you a whole lot of what you should, and shouldn’t be doing.

  23. Carri Bugbee says:

    Love it! You hit all the highlights of what I try to explain to clients piecemeal all the time (to the extent that I think they can absorb it). Thank you!

    Now I can send them to your post for further elucidation — when they’re ready. It’s a lot to absorb for people who aren’t immersed in the culture of social media and social networking.

    Frankly, most marketers I know wouldn’t even get half of this stuff. Unfortunately, many don’t even know enough to know how much they don’t know. Consequently, they don’t realize that social media represents a paradigm shift of monumental importance.

  24. Anna says:

    great post! I agree that its really important to participate in social media as a person, not as a marketer 🙂

  25. Mari Smith says:

    Excellent post, Brian. I totally agree with what you say here – we must listen more than talk at least until we get a feel for the culture of each network/community.

    People connect with people first and foremost. My motto is “relationships first, business second.” And I believe it’s all about adding value, giving, sharing resources, being “followable” … and though I’m not a big metrics measurer, I do see the importance of doing so… or having a formula. For me, my business is through the roof – and I can often pinpoint the exact layers of conversations that resulted in big contracts. Love that!


  26. James says:

    Social media gurus are plenty in numbers right now. and it's becoming the wild west so to say. it is imperative for a body to define what a “social media guru” is… or maybe not, the cream will rise to the top?

  27. Very interesting read. Thank you for sharing!

  28. RL COMM l Social Media Expert says:

    Thank you for posting this article.. Sharing your ability or something useful to people is important in social media. Through this strategy we can let them know what kind of business really is this!

  29. Ruben says:

    I would say the next step for the companies in terms of social media marketing would be making their websites more “social”. The websites have so far not been very interactive in nature but this is rapidly changing as social plug-ins and new applications gain in popularity. Certainly new social media platforms will appear and the existing ones will change their features. I think we will also see much more of location-based marketing in the future, as long as the privacy concerns are addressed.

    • Just came by this post. I see it was written some time ago and quite a few things now have changed. Agree with the photographer great post for its time and great advice. Thanks

    • Just came by this post. I see it was written some time ago and quite a few things now have changed. Agree with the photographer great post for its time and great advice. Thanks

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