By Sonia Simone
OK, the Mama Bear of social media marketing is the customer conversation model. It's about connection, warm fuzzies, community, all that good stuff.
The Papa Bear model isn't quite so fuzzy. I call it Papa Bear because it's the model that makes the most sense for gigantic organizations, but it can also be an important social media strategy for individuals or smaller companies. It has a common sense side and a potentially creepy side. So let's get into it.
Their eyes and ears are everywhere
Let's say there's a gigantic packaged food company. Now let's say the gigantic company has a program to listen in on public blogs and forum discussions, and learns about a novel use for one of its products. Maybe they make a chewing gum that's particularly good at clearing dust from your throat. That might not be a feature anyone in the marketing department has ever promoted, but customers have noticed it on their own.
Maybe, then, people are chatting in forums and military support blogs about sending that gum to their family members fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, to alleviate the choking dust that soldiers are facing there. The idea turns into a modest craze, with earnest volunteers coordinating sending cases of the stuff to soldiers deployed overseas.
Armed with the knowledge of this interesting new use of their product, the gigantic company now has all kinds of options. They can create ads around this particular feature, to reinforce the conversation that's already taking place. They can put special displays in supermarkets, saying that for every package of gum sold, the company will send a package to the military. Or the company could get their PR agency busy pitching the story, maybe coordinated with making a massive donation of the gum to the troops.
None of these has the gigantic company actually sending a representative to the online forum and chatting with the folks there. But it is still communication. The customers talk, the company listens and responds. It responds with action rather than literal conversation, but does that make it less meaningful?
Remember that adage, you have two ears and one mouth? You should therefore . . .
Listen twice as much as you talk
Papa Bear knows how to keep his mouth shut. He listens to what's going on. He finds out where his customers are hanging out. If he's really big, he might engage a company like Collective Intellect to analyze what's most significant about the conversation. (Subscribing to Sonia Simone in Google Alerts is pretty darned manageable to follow. Subscribing to "Coke" or "Mercedes" or "iPod" is not.)
Papa Bear watches the conversation and looks for themes. What are people upset about? What do they get really jazzed about? What's bugging them? What problems aren't getting solved? What great stuff are people saying about Papa Bear's competitors? Are Papa Bear's support people doing the right thing by customers, or are they prompting near-AOL level rants?
If Papa Bear isn't a multinational conglomerate (or possibly even if he is), he might be able to morph into Mama Bear and enter the conversation on a human level. But it's a good idea to spend at least some of your time in Papa Bear mode. People will always speak a little more freely about you if they don't realize you're in the room.
Is it too sneaky?
Online media have an unappealing word for this behavior: lurking. It conjures up a picture of some creepy guy hiding in the bushes outside your window.
So what do you think of Papa Bear? Is it sneaky and deceptive to listen quietly on the public conversation? Should we always step out of the shadows and make our presence known?
And is listening (and following up with action) "real" communication, or just eavesdropping?
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Next in the series, of course, is Baby Bear. He's adorable, cuddly, and . . . not actually a bear at all. Subscribe in a reader or by email so you don't miss him!
Flickr Creative Commons image by thelearnr