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September 24 2010 11:53 AM

Why social media utopia is never going to happen

According to Thomas More, 16th century statesman, writer and philosopher, if you sailed out West into the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland, the first landfall you would make was not the Americas. Instead mariners would come across an extraordinary island state - Utopia.

Utopia was extraordinary because it contained a perfect society. There was no famine, no crime, no war. There was complete tolerance of belief. There were few laws. Even better, there was no need for lawyers.

This is why Utopia has become a modern byword for a perfect society. But Thomas More was not an idealist; Utopia was a satirical work to highlight the inequality and imperfection of real life. And this historical introduction gives us a fascinating context for the challenge we currently face with social media.

Social media perfection
In many ways, social media is similar to Utopia because it is arguably an ideology more than a technology. If we take it to an [unrealistic] extreme, we can achieve incredible things with social media marketing.

I asked a number of colleagues and clients what ‘brand utopia’ would look like, and they offered the following suggestions - all of which can theoretically be addressed by social media. Let’s look at them in turn:

Social Media Utopian Principle #1: “Customers would come to us instead of making us go to them.”
Why not? This is the concept at the heart of inbound marketing. We know that buyers are increasingly looking for brands to help them with issues rather than products. Creating good content and making it available over the web is a proven way to pull prospects into your sphere of influence when they are at the right stage in the buying process rather than interrupting them when they are not ready to buy.

Social Media Utopian Principle #2: “Our customers would work for us”
It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? But isn’t this what they are doing when they distribute our content for us? Create something useful and release it to the world. If it is thinly-disguised sales collateral it won’t travel far. But if you do something that transfers a little of your expertise to people who want it, they will pass it on. People want to help, people want to look good; and passing on high-quality does that. In effect, they do some of your work for you.

Social Media Utopian Principle #3: “We wouldn’t have to compete on price”
It stretches even a purely philosophical argument to suggest that you could charge what you like for your product. But wouldn’t it be great if, at the final stage of negotiation, your sales team could close the deal with a 10% discount instead of the 30% they usually have to give away.