Embracing Social Media Means Letting Go of Control

WhisperThere is a prime rule about social networking that PR and marketing people have difficulty adhering to, or believing – it’s letting go of the message. To be effective you need to let your social networks build the buzz, if there is a buzz to be built, and trust your network to keep the momentum going and keep it upbeat.

If you are a student of social media, then this concept should not be foreign to you. If you are familiar with David Meerman’s Scott’s book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR,  then you are already familiar with the notion of letting go of the message. Scott advocates shifting away from trying to send a message and instead, tapping into the viral marketing of the web by engaging in the conversation. The power of the online conversation will move your brand message faster and more effectively than a one-way marketing pitch. Consider what happens of you try to control or dominate a conversation in a meeting or at a cocktail party; pretty soon you will be talking to yourself. The same is true online, which is why you need to engage in conversation and let go of the message.

And I want to thank C.C. Chapman for inspiring this blog post. If you haven’t checked out his podcast, Managing the Gray, I recommend it. Managing the Gray is all about “no control PR.” I was catching up on podcasts over the holidays and was struck by C.C.’s Veteran’s Day interview with MAJ Mary Constantino talking about ArmyStrongStories. I’ve blogged about how the U.S. Air Force is harnessing Web 2.0 technology, and this podcast interview is another great example of how the U.S. Army is promoting its brand with the help of “no control” social media.

ArmyStrongStoriesArmyStrongStories gives you unedited stories from the men and women serving in the U.S. both here and in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. It’s a powerful recruiting tool for the Army, since it gives interested parties a candid “day-in-the-life” look at what it’s like to serve. Some of the posts are quite interesting, including everything from mind sweeping to dentistry, complete with pictures. Naturally, sensitive information about troop movements and covert activities aren’t included, but it’s surprising that the military, which is traditionally known for controlling its brand with an iron grip, has given such latitude to its recruits to share their experiences and speak their mind.

There is a lesson here from which every brand manager will benefit. If you can learn to plant the seed of your story and let it go, social media will help it grow. You need to understand how to plant the seed effectively by becoming part of the online conversation, but you can’t micromanage it. I heard an interesting description of the Web today. It is like a spider web in that a rustle in one part creates a ripple across the entire web. Your best promotion strategy is to make a ripple and watch it work.

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