Social Media Is Like Running A Marathon.

Training for a marathon is long. I just starting my four-month training program for a fall marathon. This after months of setting a solid base of 30 to 40 miles a week and years of consistent running before that.

The marathon itself is long. The beginning is exciting with the crowd, the newness, the scenery. But then somewhere after the halfway point, away from the crowds, the novelty wears off, replaced with grueling mile-after-mile. This is when I start thinking “Why am I doing this?” “I am so stupid.” “This isn’t fun!” “I am never doing this again!” Then you “hit the wall” around mile 20 when all energy is used up. Yet if you pop some energy gels and “will” yourself to the end, it is all worth it. A feeling captured in The Baltimore Sun describing a runner who crossed the marathon finish line, threw up and said, “That was the best time of my life!”

Social Media can be like this. Not the throwing up part (perhaps sometimes), but the day-to-day posting. Despite all the talk of ROI and immediate measurement, social media marketing doesn’t give immediate return, like a new TV campaign that can spike retail sales the weekend you run it. Many are jumping into the social media race, but you must be in for the long haul to see real results.

As Jay Baer said in “Are You Slow Enough To Succeed In Social Media?social media adoption is quick, but interacting and engaging with customers and prospects happens on a one to one or one to few basis and that takes time. Social media is built on trust. Building trust takes time. Jay likens this to recruiting a volunteer marketing army one soldier by one soldier. That doesn’t happen overnight. We may think it happens overnight because we read an article about a social media star and never get the years of hard work background story. Like all those overnight success bands that actually gained popularity on their 10th album.

Seth Godin has been publishing a blog post everyday since 2002. No I didn’t miss the “1” in front of that last “2.” For over 12 years, he has faithfully put out daily social media content and it wasn’t always highly successful. His first post “Death of a myth?” to this day only has 1 Tweet and 4 Likes. But today his post “Trading favors” received 1,162 Tweets and 568 Likes. Of course he is also the author of nearly 20 best-selling business books.

A 2014 survey on MarketingCharts.com reveals that social media marketing’s main expense is staff and the staff spend the majority of their time (60%) on content creation. Content development takes up nearly 6 times the amount of time as the next nearest activity – strategy development.

Being a writer, a content creator for nearly 20 years, I can understand this. Advertising agencies are the same. Our main cost was staff and we spent most of our time developing content. The great novel, short story, brilliant 6 word headline (It’s Everywhere You Want To Be) or brand building 3 word tagline (Just Do It) takes a lot more than the time to type out the letters.

Quality content comes in the idea before you write. Quality content comes in the 10th rewrite of the same sentence or paragraph. Quality content will come into its own, but it takes time to build a mass audience and response. Who remembers Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Divine Gesture?” It was his first professionally published piece in 1922. Thirty years later he published the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning Old Man and the Sea.

For those who have patience social media does deliver results. It may not take 30 years, but it may take longer than you think or are willing to accept. In June I presented at INEGRATE, WVU’s IMC conference. Before my session I saw David Higdon, NASCAR’s IMC Managing Director, talk about the brand’s remarkable overhaul.

The effort has been successful. Sponsorship deals have risen 8% since 2008 – higher than before the recession, and 23% of Fortune 500 brands are now part of NASCAR up 20% from 2012. A survey also found that 61% of 18-34-year-old avid fans are more interested today in NASCAR than the year beforeand 65% of those have been fans for less than 5 years. This increase in fan interest is attributed to NASCAR’s social media engagement.

Yet the story behind NASCAR’s success is these results came after an 18-month review and then a 3 to 5 year plan to achieve these goals. That’s right 3 to 5 years. How does that work in a business culture where the average CMO is out in 2-3 years? By the way David Higdon (the NASCAR Social Media Guy), his father is Hal Higdon – famous marathon runner and author of best selling books including “Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide.” Perhaps his father influenced his social media strategy?

What’s my long-term marathon goal? Qualifying for Boston. I may not qualify this year or next, but I will keep trying. Logging in those miles week after week. Like in social media, the only way to see the return is to put in the daily effort over the long-term. But daily training isn’t so bad, I get to run next to the beautiful river you see in my masthead. I wonder what kept and still keeps Seth Godin writing daily. What is his and what is your Boston Marathon jacket? 

Big Data Can’t Create. 5 Step Creative Formula For Big Ideas in Social Media.

Everyone seems to be talking about big data. And for good reason. Knowing which content is driving more conversion is important, but analytics can’t write and there’s still no app for a big idea.

A simple Google search on the term “Big Data” reveals 2 billion results while a Google search for “Creativity” only brings back 60 million results. Nearly 50% more attention is being devoted to data, but I say half of social success depends on creativity built on top of and verified by good data. Not a direct measure but research has proven that 65% of TV ROI is attributable to the creative and 35% to the media data. 

Big ideas drive social action.

Knowing humor is a common characteristic of viral videos doesn’t create the video.  A list of high performing key words doesn’t simply form into a good piece of content. Both need a creator.

Yet, you don’t need to be Picasso or da Vinci to be creative. Knowing the creative formula can help you be more creative. I was surprised that there is a formula or process to creativity until I read A Technique for Producing Ideas. by James Young Webb with a forward by Bill Bernbach. Then I discovered that as an advertising creative I followed this technique naturally.

Production of ideas follows a definite and necessary process. The formula is so simple  that few believe it. As Young Webb said, “While simple to state, it actually requires the hardest kind of intellectual work to follow, so that not all who accept it use it.”

What is the creative formula? 

Step 1: Gather Raw Materials – Both the materials of your immediate problem and the materials of your general knowledge. Gather research on your company, competitors, target audience, but also general knowledge about life and current trends.

Step 2: Mental Digestion – The working over of these materials in your mind. Try all these pieces of information together this way and that. Bring two facts together and see how they fit – look for a relationship.

Step 3: Incubation – Here you let something beside the conscious mind do the work of synthesis. Make no effort of a direct nature. Drop the whole subject, and put the problem out of your mind. Go see a movie, play basketball, work on another project.

Step 4: Eureka Effect – The actual birth of the Idea – the “Eureka! I have it” stage. This tends to come when you least expect it. In the shower, in the middle of the night, on a run. Always be prepared to write it down. Big ideas are fleeting and can leave just as quickly as they came.

Step 5: Final Finessing – The final shaping and development of this idea to practical usefulness. Take your idea out into the world of reality. Here you may need to adjust it and make it fit the company, product, target, social channel, etc.

In my experience, the process would get short changed by deadlines, and expectations of those who believed writing is simply sitting down and typing. I never sat down to type until I first had an idea. When you have an idea the ad, plan, paper, story, book, almost writes itself.  If you skip the incubation stage, you miss out on really brilliant big ideas.

Everyone has creativity, but sadly most of us left it behind with childhood …