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You Can No Longer Fake It Until You Make It

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Co-authored with Alejandro Crawford

Whether speaking to an Acceleration Group client or a group of MBAs in one of his e-Business strategy courses, Alejandro Crawford emphasizes two main points about marketing strategies today: What is the same and what is different.

What's the same is that social media channels are just that: Channels, where the brand, its message and the campaign are king. How your audience responds to functional and emotional needs is what makes your company successful, not the channel by itself.

What's different is that the target demographic is now better armed than the marketer. In other words, the user controls the message, thanks to the nature of Web 2.0 Information flows both ways between the marketer and the user. Previously, companies just broadcasted out to an audience expected to passively accept the messages being thrown at them.

In contrast, companies must now deal with "earned" media: Blogs, user reviews, tweets and other content created by users. Like word of mouth, other users trust this kind of content most when considering a brand. Consequently, in earned media even more than through "paid" or "owned" media, marketers must have something that engages the user.

Clients and business students often say, "Here's my social media strategy: We're going to use Twitter, Instagram and Facebook." That's not a strategy at all. You must get your users to interact with your material.

To help clients get the emphasis right, Alejandro has them use an engagement framework his company developed: Acquire-Engage-Convert-Mobilize-Measure. Essentially, it starts by saying that getting in front of a user, even an influencer, is only the very first step. Getting that user to respond to a call to action, such as an opportunity to share content with other users, provide information, or make a purchase -- is only the middle step. It's the mobilization that occurs afterwards, that results in user advocacy and effective social marketing.

You want your audience to become brand ambassadors for you.

By now it is broadly recognized that to elicit user participation, you need to pay a ton of attention to what users are saying and doing. That's the obvious part, though it's easy for marketers to get in the way of their own common sense about this. As an MBA intern, Alejandro interviewed the head of branding by asking her how she went about her market research. Alejandro admits that he was expecting a response which included fancy statistical methodology. Instead, the branding executive simply replied, "I go to the mall and talk to people."

What's most important in the end, is to achieve authenticity for a brand and its marketing communications, because users who drive social media have broad discretion over which brands gain their attention; which they promote and which they dismiss or pan.

If marketers approach users with "social marketing" it comes across as inauthentic - and we've seen many examples of this. It's the easiest thing in the world for users to ignore generic marketing or respond negatively to it. We are in an era where if you want to sell something, you can't really fake it.

More and more, marketing is about listening and being authentic. Being social. Building relationships.

If companies cannot listen and respond authentically, they are dead in this cutthroat environment.

Alejandro Crawford is senior consultant at Acceleration Group, Inc., where he co-heads the digital strategy and innovation practices. He teaches courses in Entrepreneurship, e-Business Strategy and Internet Marketing for Baruch, the New School and NYU Poly. He received his BA from Cornell and his MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

Lisa Chau has been involved with Web 2.0 since graduate school at Dartmouth College, where she completed an independent study on blogging. She was subsequently highlighted as a woman blogger in Wellesley Magazine, published by her alma mater. She has been published in US News and Forbes on the subject of social media, and she has taught at MIT. Follow her on Twitter @Lisa03755.

This year, Lisa has guest lectured in Alejandro Crawford's MBA and undergraduate courses in e-business Strategy at Baruch College and NYU's New School.