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Online, Actions Still Speak Louder Than Words

The idea that brands need to be talking to their customers online is over-hyped. It's a watered down image stitched into the banners of social media revolutionaries across the globe. Upon further examination, any marketer will find that the most effective way to engage your customers through social media isn't to become one of them -- to share, talk, and think aloud -- but rather to give them things to share, talk, and think about.

In Adweek's recently announced "Best of the 2000s", the editor's choice for best digital campaign of the decade was Nike+, which wasn't a campaign at all -- at least not in the traditional sense.

The top three reader's choice picks for campaign of the decade also veered away from the typical campaign model -- Subservient Chicken taking first place, trailed closely by BMW films and Will.i.am's "Yes We Can", which wasn't even commissioned by the Obama party.

But, it's not the evolving definition of campaign that's so telling about these choices. What's really telling is that, in light of how heavily these campaigns effected the social media presence of the brands, they weren't even considered social media campaigns.

Sure, Nike+ has its own Twitter account, but it played only a tiny role in the spread of Nike+ through Twitter, which was primarily powered by fans who created apps like Twiike, and an even smaller part in the campaign's success as a whole.

Michael Lebowitz called the campaign a giant "merging of product, platform, and comms." What really made Nike+ a stand out campaign was that it was one of the first products to "bake in" digital and social. The product had viral distribution in its DNA.

The reader's choices for digital campaign of the decade were even more telling as a variety of branded content in the form of songs, videos, and a microsite topped the polls. Based off the reactions and discussion they generated throughout the social sphere, these campaigns weren't just the success stories of digital marketing at large, they were the social media triumphs of the decade as well.

The fact of the matter is that social media campaigns, ones based around brand stations like fan pages and Twitter accounts, are largely failures. Besides the Whopper Sacrifice, can you think of any social media campaign that just made you stop and say, "Damn. That was good."

Neither can we.

That doesn't mean that social media is a fad. It doesn't mean that brands don't belong. It doesn't mean having a social media presence is useless -- it's very valuable and increasingly necessary. What it means is that if you're out for the real opportunity that social media affords, you've got to stop talking and start doing.

Build social media into your products, your marketing, and your brand. Create content that is interactive, compelling, and social to the core. Then you can talk about it, but the chances are that few will hear you -- they'll be listening to your customers, who far outnumber you, speak about your brand for you. Isn't that what this is all about?

We've all heard social media experts tell us to listen before we speak. That's a nice bit of wisdom to hold on to, but be careful not to let it boil down your view of social media to listening and speaking. Leave plenty of room for doing.

Written by Chris Allison on December 17, 2009

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Chris Allison