Dale Carnegie, social media strategist? By Steve Taylor

Issue 14 | March 2010

‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ was first published in 1936. Dale Carnegie, its author, died in 1955. Both dates put the creation of Facemash in 2003 well out of sight. Facemash, if you’ve not remembered or guessed, was the website that would grow into Facebook and do more than perhaps any other in the new wave of social media sites to force marketers to reappraise their approach to marketing.

The ‘hard sell’ of banner advertisements and direct response messaging seems harsh, intrusive and often counterproductive within the collaborative atmosphere of social media platforms. We need to learn a new approach. Several decades following its publication, can Carnegie’s work inform the very modern marketing conundrum of social media? I think it can, and that we should count Carnegie as a pioneering social media strategist.

Social media brings into sharp focus the fact that people do not seek out advertising. People think, “I know, I’ll spend 20 minutes on Facebook and see what my mates have been up to.” They do not think, “I know, I’ll go onto Facebook and catch up on some banner ads; it’s a while since I’ve seen anything for Beecham’s Powders and I must see their latest campaign.”

That’s not to say that display ads on social networking sites are any less effective than billboards on the roadside or perimeter advertising at a football match. But in social media we have a greater opportunity. The audience reveals all sorts of personal facts, interests and allegiances that allow advertisers to target their communications very precisely. How can Carnegie’s work inform our use of this?

Let’s pick out two of the key principles of the book and see how they inform our approach to social media marketing:

Become genuinely interested in other people

Be a good listener, encourage others to talk about themselves

The most obvious message here for social media marketers is to switch off from transmit mode. This helps us in two ways. First, it’s a reminder that one of the most useful things we can do with social media, as brands, is to simply stand back and listen to what’s being said. It’s a real insight into what people really think about the brand, the products, the service, the marketing and all other aspects of what we do.

It even helps us understand if they ‘think’ anything at all. There’s little that’s more sobering than when one listens in to hear what people are saying about you, only to find that you’re so dull people are not saying anything at all. And where there is a live conversation it may not have the tone we expected, or even the content.

Who’d have guessed people would get so worked up about bringing Wispa back? And of course, it can be a reality check for brand issues at the sharp end of brand – consumer interface as product and service issues come through loud and clear.

Indeed many brands increasingly see the role of social media as less about engagement and more about product support and customer service. Dell is our gold standard here.  You’d expect that following the debacle they had during ‘Frozen Britain’ that Eurostar would by now be well on their way to remodelling their social media strategy away from promoting short breaks towards a more genuine customer engagement and service management paradigm.

But switching off from transmit mode has a second benefit. It gives us the freedom to see the world as it really is and not through the lens of our brand onion/X/key/pyramid. Rather than build a Facebook game that underscores a key brand personality message, we instead see the chance to build an application that stands back and is just plain helpful. This kind of opportunity can come about when you give people the chance not only to talk to you about your brand, but to tell you about themselves.

And what would Dale Carnegie make of all this? With pressure for instant results and a focus on measuring everything, it’s tempting within social media to do things that quickly build a fan base. Fans quickly gained, however, are often just as quickly lost. Carnegie knew that sometimes a more respectful approach of giving the other party some airtime is the most effective for delivering engagement.

I’m sure Mr Carnegie would be quite unsurprised to find his approach working particularly well in social media. Moreover, I’m sure it would be him, not me, writing this paper to remind us of how in social media we can best win friends and influence people.

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