Mike Hanbery September 1, 2014

Social Media Marketing: Time for Professional Standards

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As a client- and prospect-facing employee of a Denver web design firm, I am continually amazed when I look upon an industry every bit of 20 years old and find the standard approach to be backwards.

“I need a website,” you say.

“Sure,” comes the standard response. “Tell me how many pages the site needs to have, show me some examples of websites you like and we’ll build it for you.”

This approach fails because:

  1. It is not customer-focused. You are neither Internet marketer nor a web designer. You are guessing as to why you like a website. And it doesn’t matter if your website appeals to you; it only matters if it appeals to the customer.
  2. It fails to include Search Engine Optimization (SEO). A website plan excluding keyword-optimization of the site map, blog categories and URL architecture will never score as well as websites that do. This is the equivalent of being handed something that looks like a pie and then asked by the baker what type of pie it should be. You can, conceivably, inject blueberries into the pie-looking baked thing, and it will look and, with some work, sort of taste like a blueberry pie, but a pie it will never be. Oh, and harkening back to number one above, turns out the customer doesn’t like pie. She’s trying to lose weight and is more of a savory person anyway.
  3. The size of the site is determined by the optimal user experience and content structure, not by any misguided cost structure.
  4. The list is longer but let’s move on.

Doctors have professional standards. So do pilots, hockey players, accountants, lawyers, Internet service providers, landscape companies, educators, insurance agents, financial advisors, commercial real estate brokers, staffing agencies, carpet retailers, auto mechanics, plumbers, electricians, public servants and metal building wholesalers. Are there members of those communities who violate or operate below those standards? Absolutely. And when that happens, there are consequences, borne out by the market and official bodies.

This dearth of professional standards is created by a convergence of low barrier to entry and high degree of specialization. They’re teaching web design in elementary school these days. To be a web designer, one need understand absolutely nothing about business, marketing, ROI, etc. There are only two ways that happens: Designers either seek out that knowledge or, like the Denver web designers at Webolutions, work in an environment where it is built in to every system and pervades every conversation. The former is extremely rare; the latter unlikely at a “design” agency.

I’m not likely to push for industry standardization in web design or social media marketing on the level of professional sports or the American Bar Association because every time a website gets built poorly, a Performance By Design™ standard like ours produces better results by comparison.

Even more so with social media marketing, a comparatively nascent industry. Sometimes it seems as if anyone who has ever successfully posted his breakfast habits to Facebook is a social media consultant. It shows in the work product and, ultimately, in the dissatisfaction of businesses and organizations seeking results from social media marketing.

The Hallmarks are easily seen. Auto-forwarding posts from Facebook to Twitter or vice versa. Using Twitter Hashtags on Facebook. Posting identical content simultaneously to multiple channels using social media dashboard tools. URL’s in the post content. Content centered on holidays, sports, generic memes…things that people can get from a thousand better sources and which do nothing to reinforce a brand message…and naked or transparent pleas to “buy our stuff.” Sporadic, rather than systematic, posting of content—droughts followed by floods rather than a steady, dependable stream. Abandonment of channels.

Again, in the near term, these practices end up working for agencies willing to invest time, effort and money into building, testing and constantly improving social media marketing approaches, procedures, strategies and tactics. In the long term, however, it robs the entire medium of its potential. It means that too small a percentage of the ever-increasing investment companies and organizations are making in social media marketing is being invested well. It means that poor attitudes are developing toward what should be seen as the most remarkable communication medium since Bell’s telephone.

“Professionalism” was arguably best defined by Louis Brandeis in a 1912 Brown University address:

First. A profession is an occupation for which the necessary preliminary training is intellectual in character, involving knowledge and to some extent learning, as distinguished from mere skill.
Second. It is an occupation which is pursued largely for others and not merely for one’s self.
Third. It is an occupation in which the amount of financial return is not the accepted measure of success.

How to Use This Information
Are you taking a professional approach to your social media marketing? Is your approach focused on you or your customer, your community? Do your social media marketing managers prioritize generating results for you, or making it easy for themselves? Are they continually applying themselves to the craft and elevating expectations?

It’s time to raise your standards.

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