Forget the Experts, Let the Musical Group TLC Teach You About Social Media

March 31, 2010 at 5:38 pm 8 comments

You have likely attended, read, researched, or paid for information about Social Media and how it can be leveraged in your business (especially true if you are a marketer).  Like you, I have invested – and still invest – a healthy amount of time learning about the emerging concepts in Social Media. With so much to discuss, I find that the dialog is severely fragmented.  Where can we turn for a clear, concise message on Social Media?  Music.  Removing the layers of complexity and conjecture I think we can simply sum up Social Media in the song ‘Waterfalls’ by the musical group TLC.

I believe a lot of the complexity and noise is due to our liberal attachment of the word ‘strategy’ to Social Media.  Sure Social Media is new and exciting but we’re inadvertently giving this tactic a pretty big corporate ego; even its once popular digital counterparts (e.g. email, SEO, etc.) are jealous of all the new-baby attention that Social Media is receiving.

So let’s forget the ‘expert’ advice and see what TLC knows about Social Media.

Breaking Down the Song
Waterfalls (on lala)

by Marqueze Etheridge, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, Organized Noize

Source Wikipedia

Don’t go chasing waterfalls,
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to,
I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all,
But I think you’re moving too fast.

Social Media Basics #1 – Be Realistic, Be Honest
‘Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to’

I was attending an excellent webinar last week on new media that had a lot of engaging content and shared experiences.  I was thoroughly enjoying the presentation, until the presenter leaned heavily on Blendtec as the goal for [all] marketers to reach for and achieve.  Uhhhhh, no…you just lost me.

Yes, Blendtec is one of many great individual examples of viral marketing performance.  However, using the marketing wisdom of TLC, the Blendtec video campaign is a ‘waterfall’…one that is highly conditional and not easily replicated.  The ‘success’ of the campaign is not sustainable as it is dependent on an ever-widening top of Blendtec’s demand funnel.

Unfortunately, these are the examples that are generally held up for marketers as what they should be achieving. Blinded by the huge dollar signs we neglect to see the ‘success’ of Blendtec as a general exception to the rule.

We need to be realistic in our approach to Social Media.

Rather than chase that awesome viral video or amazing Tweetup, we need to think about what social interactions and information:

  • Do our targeted audiences value?
  • Can be energetically supported within the organization?
  • Will authentically represent the organization’s culture?
  • Can return consistent value to your targeted audiences?

Social Media Basics #2 – Letting Go Of The Message
‘I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all’

What a perfect line, TLC really knows Social Media…they were well ahead of their time.  So after we are all hopped up from the sugary delights of Social Media case studies, we excitedly begin discussing these new tools in our organizations.  Most of us marketers are pumped!  Our colleagues, however, are usually a little skeptical and others are completely and belligerently against Social Media.

And so the corporate negotiations and rationalizations begin; structured thought and processes are established to ‘guide’ Social Media.  As a result, many organizations use Social Media as another tool to push and control a message.  Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Highly moderated and restricted communities (fear of negativity).
  • Filtered comments (control).
  • Days spent formulating responses to comments/events in the social cloud (over-analysis).

We have to be okay letting a dialog develop – positive or negative, informed or misinformed – and rather focusing our efforts on vigilantly monitoring and thoughtfully responding.

Social Media Basics #3 –  What Value Will You Return
‘But I think you’re moving too fast’

Often the investment in Social Media thought processes are reversed; we spend countless time developing policies and procedures but don’t invest enough in how we are going to reach and return value to our audiences.  Instead we begin immediately focusing on the ‘tools’, not our messages, our audiences, and our responsibilities as marketers.

A similar parallel can be drawn to the mad Internet rush of the late 90’s when businesses realized they needed a presence on the ‘World Wide Web’.  Consultants were hired, teams were created, and websites were launched!  Many organizations, reacting to their delayed entry into the Internet, rushed to check a box (oftentimes a very expensive box).  The result of that rush were a lot of brochure-ware websites that did little for the user or the organization.

Social Media is particularly dangerous as there are often little to no hard costs to using its tools.  With low financial barriers to entry, we blindly load up on tools and ignore our audience.

Return to the questions I posed in the first section; let the answers to those questions determine what tools and mediums to use in your Social Media efforts.

A final note, and equally important, these concepts also apply to our own, personal Social Media efforts.  Our personal brands can be positively shaped by adopting TLC’s advice on Social Media.  Be thoughtfully engaged, helpful, and collaborative.

While I know that TLC intended their song to have a broader message promoting social awareness, the next time you sing along to ‘Waterfalls’ I hope you also think of the direction of your Social Media efforts.


Entry filed under: Social Media. Tags: , , .

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Linda VandeVrede  |  April 1, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Nice analogy, Chris. My philosophy prof in college called people who jumped on new ideas as “kittens with new claws.” When we sift out all the hullabaloo about social media, we can focus on the tools and strategies that resonate best with our customers, without blindly following what co’s like BlendTec are doing.

  • 2. Suzanne  |  April 1, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    That’s one of my all-time favorite songs…now I’ll never be able to listen to it without thinking of social media. Gee thanks!

    Nice post!

  • 3. Amanda Vega  |  April 1, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Great post, Chris. You have brought a very creative way to describe the pain that I believe most of us social media providers feel on a daily basis. And like you said, it’s the same pain we felt almost 20 years ago now when the first sites were being built. I think the reason these 3 main issues continue to arise are because of three consistent things. First, our industry as a whole (interactive) failed to insist on a proper valuation of what we do. In the early days we were pricing much like broadcast – which made the “investment” more profitable and kept the standards a bit higher. Secondly, ad agencies have long ruled the world and boardrooms of major brands and their goals have always been to “control the message.” It’s hard for the shareholders to wrap their minds around anything that isn’t completely controlled by someone, or some agency, that has beaten into their heads that they are the kings of their own brand. The onset of real social interaction and that interaction finally having real impact now that the traditional media has caught on to social media (welcome to the game, folks, we’ve been here a while,) scares the heck out of a brand – as it should. The issue with that brings me to number three, which is “YOU are no longer the only one impactfully shaping your brand position, and you’re gonna have to deal with that in a very real way.” While there should be corporate messaging platforms and the like, the biggest thing companies have to overcome is being natural and authentic – and that means, as you point out, allowing for ALL conversation – not just the ones that wrap into nice talking points. What intrigues me is that most companies are more concerned with controlling messaging and basically bastardizing the medium by using it like advertising, but most of them are not concerned about the adverse affects that can come from doing just that. We are certain to see more and more brands being called to the carpet, and with high rankings in Google, about their “anti-social” activities. Perhaps that’s when all of this will get the proper attention.

    Amanda Vega

    • 4. Chris Hewitt  |  April 2, 2010 at 9:01 am

      Thanks for the insightful follow up Amanda…especially coming from the agency-side.

      You put one of the main corporate motivations behind social media so perfectly with ‘scared’. I totally agree that organizations are frightened, if not petrified, about what is being said, what could be said, and by whom. Fear certainly is a powerful motivator…but not a very positive, constructive motivator. As a result, and to your point, shareholders are looking not to engage but how to further ‘control’ the message.

      Thanks for sharing…much appreciated.

  • 5. Parker Trewin  |  April 1, 2010 at 5:30 pm


    Thanks for this. Not a big TLC fan but love music and I’m all in favor of blending work with what moves you… which I think is a key to generating successful social content: passion and focus.

    The one thing I would add to your post is, that in this nascent stage that we are in, we should must also test, test, test. This also means that we must also accept that we’ll try a lot of things out and some of it just isn’t going to work. Yet the stuff that sticks should more than outweigh the stuff that doesn’t and could possibly be described as innovative.

    • 6. Chris Hewitt  |  April 2, 2010 at 8:55 am

      Great point Parker.

      You’re absolutely correct, we need to make ourselves comfortable with the iterative process of thoughtful assumption, measurement, and enhancement. This is particularly true considering the organizational resistance we may encounter after less-than-successful attempts.

      Your point is especially valid as many of us have been, or are going through, such challenges in our current efforts. In a personal example, my first concept for using social media at physical B2B events was not successful, but I refined and enhanced rather than accept defeat.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • 7. katetheprofessional  |  April 2, 2010 at 7:36 am

    I never thought to look at TCL this way. Most people who bring out music for the social media points look at what the band is doing, not what it wrote. Thanks for the good example!

    This is a problem, though. Everyone wants to see the effects of social media, particularly bosses, the ones who don’t actually implement the tactics. These bosses want to see successes like Blendtec, or they rank the social media efforts as a “failure” because they didn’t meet expectations. Unfortunately, it is not just one person on the totem pole who needs an education. The whole company should listen to TLC.

  • 8. Cynthia  |  April 14, 2010 at 11:54 am


    Loved the post and appreciate the way you simply provided tips on how to approach this major business challenge and opportunity.

    You are always finding new ways to connect the dots between business results and marketing strategy and tactics, as you said, most people buy and invest in the tools but do not take the time to understand what value they are providing to customers.


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