"White hat" social marketing

White hat social media marketingI believe that the greatest potential for social media lies in our ability to use it to find others who share our interests and form communities with them. And I think the public relations and marketing community should be helping clients to understand how to enter into mutually beneficial long term relationships with online communities.This focus on long term community building which offers real benefits to all participants is what I call “white hat” social marketing.

Unfortunately, some marketers seem intent on using the new medium for old tricks. I am distressed at how often I hear conference presentations or read blog posts where it seems the primary intent is to use social media to achieve a short-term increase in conversions for online commerce.

Black Hat social media marketingEven worse are those who coach others to mine the information we enter in social networks to generate marketing databases (“cause they know that the information will be used when they volunteer to enter it”) or post corporate marketing videos under the guise of consumer generated media (“they’ll find out eventually.”)

Such practices put at risk the trust and transparency that are essential to social media. They also fly in the face of the culture of generosity that drives the vast majority of citizen content creators.

For me, this is “black hat” social marketing.

I believe that the new norms of social media are being defined by this tension between the value set that is based on generosity, transparency, authenticity and community vs. those that are defined by the desire to generate short-term advantage and a marketing mindset that relates to the citizens as an audience to be acted upon and manipulated.Michael Seaton

So, it was a real pleasure for me to read Michael Seaton‘s post on The Symbiotic Nature of the Social Web. Michael is the Director, Digital Marketing at Scotia Bank and the creator and host of The Money Clip podcast.
Reflecting on recent social web initiatives by Canada’s banks, Michael says:

…the benchmark for social web success is (in my mind at least) the sustainability of communities and the level of interaction and involvement they build. Or, said another way, it is the degree to which they are engineered to foster a symbiotic relationship with their audience on behalf of the brand.

When designed to be mutually beneficial and transparent, corporate social web initiatives have a chance to exercise full potential for both brands and consumers that participate within them. That is the sweet spot.

…the starting point has to take into consideration ways to enable individuals to do something outside the typical interactions between citizen & brand. This means going beyond the everyday experience, being unique and compelling while also providing utility. Viewing the social web as an opportunity to simply broadcast a message will not likely produce anything worthwhile.

This is a refreshingly progressive point of view from one of Canada’s leading marketers. I hope that others will pay attention.

UPDATE: Chris Moore has added his perspective on this issue.

  • Thanks for mentioning the post Joe.

    If these communities are built right, the opportunities for marketing will be ripe. The old 80 / 20 rule applies here when marketers realize that 80% of time, effort and budget needs to aligned against building real conversations and offering real value. From there the other 20% can be effectively focused on marketing efforts – hopefully good ones!

  • I think that the propensity to leverage social networks only in the short term has to do with an underlying suspicion (that I think we all share) that any given social network has a limited shelf-life. First there was Friendster and LiveJournal, then came MySpace, and now we’re in the era of Facebook. Consequently, a lot of social media is regarded as short-term craze.

    With Web 3.0 on the way, moreover, this suspicion might not be too far off the mark. In a few years, these “communities” are still going to exist, but only in the sense that target markets exists because of shared demographics and consumption preferences.

    What is off the mark, however, is the corollary assumption that “digital communities” or “trust economies” are going to follow “the craze” into the sunset. Because of the way that Web 3.0 is expected to aggregate and filter information according to user preferences, long-term relationships are not only going to be more important than ever, they are going to be easier to establish.

    Enjoying the trust of future communities, however, is going to be about being being part of it and investing in it (much like its members do), not just “interacting with it” or “reaching out to it” (like social marketers do currently).

  • I think I prefer a light gray hat. Community should be the absolute focus of any social media effort. It’s the old battle versus the war thing.

    But to me it’s not really pragmatic to expect companies not to build databases based on user interaction on their turf. If someone opts into communication with a company on their site, and are upset if the company records their reading patterns, etc. then they are in denial. I think it’s funny when marketers complain about this stuff, but we’re always the first ones to run to analytics programs…