Sometimes it’s about winning, and sometimes it’s just about learning how to play the game.
My 6 year old son started his foray into organized sports this year with T-Ball. There are 13 kids on a team and everybody bats every inning (they play three). For most of the players, it’s the first time they’ve ever worn a team uniform (my son’s team is the Raptors). For others, it’s the first time that they’ve ever really swung a bat, or tried to catch a ball in a glove. It’s a learning experience for all of them, and more than anything else it’s fun – even when all 13 of them converge on the ball at the same time.
I’m fortunate to be able to help coach the team. I can’t imagine not being there at first base to help teach them the basics of a game that I don’t even fully understand.
But even though we’re not playing competitively at this point (we don’t count runs or outs – that will start next year after they’ve learned the basics), that still doesn’t stop at least half the team asking me every game “how many runs do we have?” or “did we win today?”
And that’s where we take a leap into Social Marketing.
I had the chance to query two companies this past week about their plans for establishing an active online presence in the “social media/network” space (think everything from Twitter to Facebook to LinkedIn, etc.). Both of these firms are well-established with brand names that are known beyond their own industries (i.e., they are not small or in the startup phase), and both have competitors that are already moving into the social space.
Interestingly, neither of these firms are particularly active in social marketing today, but for very different reasons. One has dabbled a bit in the space, but said that they couldn’t find a single instance where they had made money off of their efforts. The other has yet to step into the space at all, saying that they don’t yet understand the market and, while they have several different plans, they don’t want to move on anything until they fully understand the market and can figure out which of their plans is the “best” approach to take.
That said, my response to both firms was pretty much the same: marketing into the social space today isn’t really about scoring sales, it’s about learning the game. If you don’t play today, you won’t be able to play tomorrow, and let’s face it, social networks, as a “target”, are still an emerging opportunity for most industries. I don’t think that anybody has solved the complete equation for how it will provide a consistently positive return on investment over the next couple of years – even the social network firms are struggling to solve the positive cash-flow issue themselves.
So at this point, the social space really isn’t about making money, it’s about learning and evolving and keeping pace with the rest of the universe.
Fortunately, the cost of being active in the social space today is relatively low, with the ROI being experience and consumer mind-share – two clear positives in my book. Taking it a step deeper, I can’t tell anybody that they will significantly grow their market share by actively marketing into (or participating in) social networking today. But I am fairly confident that those firms that don’t play today will have a difficult time playing tomorrow, and could very likely lose overall market-share by simply not keeping pace with their competitors in terms of generating positive market exposure in what is clearly one of the fastest growing “emerging” target markets.
So there you have it. T-Ball and marketing into social networks today. It’s that simple. Neither will guarantee that you score today, but both are a necessary, and potentially fun, learning step to playing the game right tomorrow.