Social Media- Call it a pilot project, get funding.

I attended the CMA Roundtable on Social Media this morning, and found it both interesting (since there were 50+ people interested in this) and strangely scared (since the average age in the room was about 40). I like to think that emerging media, social networking and technology are all in the realm of the young (even though I am approaching my 30th birthday) so to see such a seasoned marketing crowd was refreshing but also disappointing. I was hoping to see a crowd of 20-somethings, freshly added to big-brand marketing departments to bring energy, enthusiasm, AND first-hand knowledge of what this whole social thing is all about. oh well.

On the panel-- the client, the agency, and the academic. Su McVey from TD Bank Financial Group, Michael Seaton from Thornley Fallis (formerly of Scotiabank Digital Marketing) and PhD candidate Rhonda McEwen from the University of Toronto. Panel Moderator was Gayle Ramsay, VP at Rogers.

Each took a different approach to their talks, but I found each gave some insight to getting the 'boss' to entertain an idea like social networking as a brand building exercise, without much thought put into ROI (sometimes none) or even acquisition metrics (who needs those...)

The two client side people (and Michael, I'm lumping you in with Su, even though you've switched teams recently) both took the approach that if you call whatever your doing a pilot or a test than you can (depending on the size of your org) get the throw-away funding needed to give it a whirl. This seemed to work for both TD and Scotiabank, but we have to take into account that their throw-away budget to test something may be bigger than our entire marketing budget. Scale does factor in somewhere. I'll tell you this though: If you're a startup or a SME, understanding social networks, and taking a swim FOR FREE, without involving agencies can be fine, but it can be dangerous if you're not monitoring all the time. You have to be your own police.

So the part that scares me? Organizations who have bought in to the fact that Social Media is a good thing, don't understand it, but then add a budget and some ROI expectations to the marketing or business plan. "Johnson-- find some company to get us into this Face Book, and make sure we get a sales lift of 2%" What? Is that joke?

Social Networks for business objectives: This is a swirling vortex of a pool. You can dip your toe in, not really get wet, and nobody will notice-- OR you can do anything else, get sucked in completely in minutes and not know what happened until you surface in Q4. Pick.