It's not about the technology

Alan BelniakSocial Media5 Comments


I recently took part in a roundtable discussion with CC Chapman (@CC_Chapman,,, about his history, and his position on social media.  As I’ve done in the past, I won’t summarize the entire conversation chronologically, but rather the salient bits and pieces.

  • CC formerly worked at Babson in the marketing department.  In the summer of 2006, he convinced Babson to buy a Second Life island (and this was before Second Life really is what it is today).  He recalls them saying something to the effect of, “you want how much money to buy what?”  He was pleased to know that the island is being used.  In fact, CC worked on a campaign with Coca Cola (after he departed Babson’s marketing department) revolving around the idea of “virtual thirst.”  The campaign permitted Second Life users to design a soda vending machine (look for “virtual thirst” inside Second Life).What’s great about this is that CC had a vision of where Second Life was going to go.  Even if Second Life isn’t “the new place to be” for everyone, it likely didn’t cost Babson all that much money, and in turn, they have gained a decent return on its investment (this is my second of two classes on Babson’s Second Life Island).  Case in point: Babson was closed for several days during the norovirus outbreak.  Had this been a physical/face-to-face class, we would not have been able to attend.  The norovirus outbreak did not disrupt this class, thanks to Second Life.
  • When asked about incorporating social media into his clients’ campaigns, CC stated that there is no preferred technology.  In fact, technology might not specifically play a part in every campaign.  CC stated (and I firmly agree) that the first goal is to understand what it is that the client wants to achieve.  Really listen to what they have to say, and how they say it.  From there, a strategy can be developed.  Some strategies may be a little light on the technology, while others heavier.  It is then that the media assets are created (with several more steps in between!), and the technology/ies are selected.
  • CC was asked about really getting into this space and succeeding, since not many people (comparatively) “get” this, and that social media isn’t exactly a readily-attainable degree.  He implored that, “It’s all about what you can do, versus what you have on a piece of paper.”  I agreed with this statement, but also thought that it’s not all that easy to show a prospective employer what you can do when sending a resume or CV.  The heart of the question (I know, since I was the one who asked it) was more along the lines of, “if you’re in a different space, what moves might you make to shift into that role, or get noticed by others?”  This was asked again a different way later on in the discussion, and CC replied, “work your tail off!”.  This was re-assuring, since I’m a firm believer in a meritocracy.  My question still remains, though, about getting initially noticed or a foot in the door, whether it be at one’s current organization, or at another one.
  • CC also suggested attending conferences and seminars around the topic.  This not only lets you learn more about the current happenings, but also results in a tremendous networking opportunity.  Here is a short list that was mentioned at our discussion:
  • PodCamp Boston (usually at the end of the summer, and inexpensive)
  • Social media breakfasts (happen often in the Boston area)
  • Boston Media Makers
  • Web 2.0 expo (in New York City)
  • Blog World Expo (mid-October, in Las Vegas)
  • The AD club (“a great organization”)
  • And finally, South by Southwest (“SXSW”) – it is the conference to attend, although pricey (March)
  • CC described The Advance Guard in the following manner: “We’re not a social media agency, but we’re an agency that understands social media.”  I thought this was a great point, as it relates to the item above about knowing what that killer tech is.  He also indicated that not every technology is for every client (e.g., Twitter).  This is very similar to a point made in Groundswell, when one of Forrester’s clients indicated that they wanted a blog “because everyone else was doing it.”  Until they realized what it was that they actually wanted to do (listen, talk, energize, support, embrace, engage), they shouldn’t select a technology.
  • CC also said something in relation to another comment.  He said that, “… the consumer is in complete control.”  This resonated with me, as I’ve blogged about in the past.  It would be nice to think that companies own their brand, and are in complete control of what happens.  But the reality is that they do not, and are not.
  • CC was asked how he launches a social media campaign.  Aside from replying that all campaigns are different, he did say that he asks his clients, “What scares them?”  As in, what is it about the landscape that keeps them up at night?  This is another way of asking, indirectly, what they wish to understand about the brand or the customers or the competition.  He also asks, “What’s your goal?  Do you want to sell tickets, create a buzz, enhance your brand awareness?”  This is akin to going to the doctor: a doctor can’t easily help you if you don’t tell her what ails you.  Once the doctor understands the issue, then she can begin a diagnosis and suggest a treatment.
  • We discussed briefly the concept of measurement and ROI.  CC suggested that it is good to track things when you can and where you are able, but the reality is that this isn’t engineering – it’s marketing.  In computers (CC’s background) and in engineering, things are black and white.  In marketing, things are “shades of gray” (thus ‘Managing the Gray‘).  When possible, CC uses metrics like changing ranks in Google results, frequency of mentions in blog posts, and things of that nature.  My take-away from this was that a company should set up a listening platform ahead of time, and conduct some “before and after” analyses to see what the effect of the campaign really is.  The reality is, though, that you can’t measure all of this.  This was refreshing to hear, since I was thinking about how to respond to this question myself.  CC also had this quip: “Ask your senior managers how they measure the effectiveness of that full-page ad they took out in the New York Times”.  The answer is that they don’t.  What’s even better is that components of a social media campaign, in comparison to traditional broadcast media, can be tracked.
  • When asked about what annoys him most about social media, he chuckled and replied, “… people that claim to be ‘experts, rock-stars, or gurus’ in social media.” I couldn’t agree more.  In fact, it’s annoying when anyone says this about anything.  This space is changing so fast.  Becoming skilled in one technology might help in the short run, but not the long run.  Understanding customer desires, putting customers at the center of an experience, and looking for joint-value creation are skills that will probably sustain over time.  CC also suggested that the term “social media” will eventually fade away, and the term in time will just become “media”.  The social component is likely not a fad, and since it will be incorporated into almost everything, the prefix “social” will get dropped.
  • We had a brief chat about the effectiveness of social media for business-to-business campaigns.  Some suggested that it might be ineffective.  I contend (and CC agreed) that, done right, it could be effective.  Look at it this way: one of the harder things about social media campaigns is finding your audience.  With a B2B campaign, already know who your audience is!  CC and I are not alone in this thinking.

This was a great roundtable, and the best we’ve had so far (that’s no knock on the other speakers we’ve had).  The discussion was great, the questions were numerous, and CC was happy to speak with us.  What more could you ask for?

(image courtesy of