April 01, 2011

Guest blogger: Clayton Smith on the life of the (social media) party

Articles and blog posts about social media in the arts and higher ed are so ubiquitous that I wasn’t looking to add to the din. But I’ve been impressed with an arts marketer here in Chicago named Clayton Smith, and when I heard him muse about some of the things nonprofits often get wrong in the social web, I asked him to write a post.

Clayton Smith is audience development coordinator at the Goodman Theatre and an adjunct faculty member in the Arts, Entertainment & Media Management program at Columbia College Chicago. He can be reached at claytonrsmith@gmail.com.

Imagine that you’re at a cocktail party with 100 other people. It’s Friday night, the food is great, there’s an ice sculpture of Groucho Marx on the buffet table, most of your friends are there, and, martini in hand, you’re looking forward to having a good time.

And at first, you do have a good time. You chat with friends who wish you happy belated birthday and tell you funny stories about what they did last weekend. You see a few colleagues who vent a little bit about your boss. A buddy from your college days shows you pictures of his baby in a Van Halen onesie. But every ten minutes, a man you think you know but can’t quite place comes over and tries to sell you a blow dryer.

The first time, you shrug it off. You think, “Well this is a strange place for a salesman to make a pitch,” but he’s nice and he seems harmless, so you politely say, “No, thank you,” and get back to your friends.

Ten minutes later, he’s back. He tells you he has world-class blow dryers and boy, would you be crazy to pass them up! This time you tell him, a little more curtly, “No, thanks,” and go back to your drink.

Ten minutes later, he offers you a two-for one discount. You tell him you’re not interested, please stop asking.

Another ten minutes, and he interrupts to tell you that it’s a special edition blow dryer, available only to people at this cocktail party. You tell him no once and for all and demand that he leave you alone.

But when you go to get another drink, there he is at the bar. With undiminished enthusiasm he says that if you tell three of your friends about his blow dryers, he’ll give you the blow dryer for free, and it takes all the will power you can muster to keep from knocking out his teeth.

By the tenth time he tries to sell you a blow dryer, you scream at him that you do not want to buy his blow dryer, you will never buy his blow dryer, you will tell your friends not to buy his blow dryer, and you finish by explaining to him, in no uncertain terms, precisely what he can do with his stupid blow dryer.

You are officially not having fun at this soiree. ...

You can see where I’m going with this. The cocktail party is the social media universe, and, unfortunately, the blow dryer salesman is many of us marketers, peddling our products in the social space as if it were a traditional one-way medium. A theater’s “Buy one ticket, get one half off” headline might be great for an ad in the Chicago Tribune, but as a Facebook status, it shuts down any conversation before it can even begin. A college’s announcement of “Our job placement rate is 98%” might be a great way to pique interest over the radio waves, but send it out through Twitter and there’s no social incentive for your followers to share.

Don’t get me wrong. “Click here to buy” advertisements certainly have their place in the digital world. Google wouldn’t be on its way to global domination if they didn’t. And social media platforms are great places to expand your audience and build your brand. There’s incredible potential there, and you’d be crazy to stay home from the party.

But programs like Facebook and Twitter offer us a chance to be something more than a pixelated billboard. They give us the opportunity to really communicate with, and not at, our target audiences, and they challenge us to experiment with entirely new, creative methods of connecting. Don’t be the guy hard-selling the blow dryer. Be the guy collecting peoples’ most embarrassing hair fiascos. Be the guy hosting a “Design a Blow Dryer” contest. Be the guy offering fifty bucks to the first person to use the blow dryer to melt the ice sculpture.

For the end user, social media is a party. It calls for social marketing. Lose the hard sell. Be creative. Be fun. Experiment with being clever, and don’t treat Facebook like a page in the daily broadsheet. Social media calls for a new kind of marketing, the kind of marketing that interacts with the customer on his or her own terms.

Figure out how to do that with your customers, and I guarantee you, no one will tell you where to stick your blow dryer.

Patricia Martin — April 28, 2011

So true! Your examples of other ways to interact about the blow dryer are great, and your message is right on.

I'd love to hear what you think of Tipping the Culture, an eBook that I wrote with Steppenwolf based on some of their research into Millennials and digital culture. Take a look! http://patricia-martin.com/Tipping_the_C...

Dave Lucas — May 08, 2011

Whether you call it "creative methods of connecting" or brand it "social marketing" it is "the way we is today." Now, if advertisers could convince people to wear their logos on t-shirts and praise company in email footers and add adverts to their voice mails, the analog world would be more like (learning from?) the digital world, and everybody could make some extra money, right?

Clayton Smith — May 10, 2011

Dave, I think that's more of an instance of the analog world learning from, and expanding upon, itself. Logo t-shirts, advertisement voice mail, and testimonial footers are varied interpretations of traditional advertising. The social/digital world has plenty to learn from the analog world, but it has to search beyond the advertising industry for its lessons. "Social marketing," I think, should have more in common with events and experiential marketing than it does with advertising.

Advertising is more or less a reactive process (and one that certainly has a very important place in marketing). Social media allows us to be interactive. It's an entirely different model, and should be examined as such.

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