Social Media: Challenges and Opportunities for Product Managers and Marketers

On 10th February, Brainmates held its fifth Product Talks. These events are designed to bring members of the Australian product management community together to discuss and share ideas and concepts and to network over a few glasses of wine.

This event was focused on the very hot topic of social media – but our goal was to go beyond the buzz and step past the obvious and focus on the challenges and opportunities social media presented to product managers and marketers.

We were fortunate to have three great guest speakers join us for a panel session, moderated by Brainmate Paul Gray. These were:

After an overview presentation explaining what social media is, why its important and how it can be used by product managers and marketers, we asked our panellists to share their thoughts, views and experiences on the subject.

A definition of social media

We posed the question to our audience: “What is social media?” A number of replies were given and we discussed different perspectives. Ultimately, there was consensus that social media was media disseminated through social interaction. Now that’s a bit academic sounding, so we broke it out into a few bite-sized pieces.Our definition of social media

  • Conversations taking place in different forums and environments
  • Sharing of ideas and opinions
  • Instantly accessible by distributed audiences
  • Facilitated through technology

An analogy that we shared was via the two images below:

Lecture or conversation

We suggested that the image on the left was akin to a traditional, broadcast, I-speak-you-listen philosophy. In marketing communications it would be the classic thrity second TV spot. In product development it would be the product manager reviewing material in their office and then telling the development team what to build.

We proposed that the image on the right illustrates how social media changes these norms. Instead of the power of ideation, strategy, planning or messaging being centred in one individual or group, it is distributed amongst many. It’s no longer possible – nor suitable – for this top-down approach to be used in product management or marketing. These multiple conversations are happening, like-it-or not. And smart product managers and marketers know that they need to be a part of this conversation if they want to keep their jobs.

Social media tools and technologies

We shared with the audience a great diagram produced by Fred Cavazza that categories and lists a number of tools and technologies, some well-known and used widely, and others far more niche and only understood by our more technically adept guests.

social media landscape

We polled the audience of 48 product management and marketing professionals as to how many of these tools individuals had used in their working environment. Everyone had used at least two. Quite a lot had used up to five. Over 50% of our audience had used between five and ten tools and 20% had used over ten tools.

We discussed that there is an over-focus on the more well-known tools such as facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and slideshare. But many members of our audience had used other tools such as wikis, blogs, flickr, community builder tools and proprietary tools built for specific purposes.

Social media and product management

We asked the audience what do product managers actually do and got a wide range of responses, all of which focused on creating and managing products that satisfy a user need. We proposed that product managers love to solve problems. We then looked at how social media could be used in a product management role and polled our audience for examples in three areas:

  1. New ways to identify and assess market opportunities
  2. Facilitate more collaborative and efficient product development
  3. Manage in-life products more effectively by understanding how these are being used by customers

Social media and product marketing

Again, we asked the product marketers in the room what their jobs entailed. We proposed that product marketers love to sell solutions. done through developing an understanding of markets and the segments within these; developing positioning that focuses on that segments needs and wants; developing and managing the messaging and communications to those segments. We asked the audience to share examples of how they had carried out three major product marketing functions using social media and what tools they had used:

  1. Manage customer expectations in an environment where customers are increasingly able to share their views and opinions
  2. Understand customer needs and wants by gauging opinions
  3. Finding new ways to connect, satisfy and engage with customers

Insights from the panel

  • Social media helps with engagement: Alana Fisher from FFA outlined how they had developed their own social network. Come Play is a community centred around Australia’s 2018-2022 World Cup Big. The site allows fans to create profiles, share and interact with each other and keep up to date with the latest in the bid process. Setting up a proprietary network has given FFA greater control, but at the same time has required significant effort to develop awareness and activity and in moderating what goes on within the community. With over 50,000 members and a plethora of conversations and activity, Come Play has successfully engaged a niche community.
  • Social media as a promotional tool: Michael Fox from Shoes of Prey explained that as a start-up, he had limited funds to invest in traditional marketing initiatives. So he turned to tools like facebook, Twitter and a company blog to engage with his customers, and also with important partners – journalists, fashion designers and so on. This strategy has been a success and tied in with Google AdWords promotion and careful site design, Michael has been able to refine his social media marketing campaigns to generate great returns.
  • Social media is not a panacea: Our panelists pointed out that social media will not add much value if used purely tactically and with no strategy to guide it. Getting caught up in a rush to “Start doing social media’ can lead to new tasks, responsibilities and actions that may be disconnected and simply end up distracting people from more important activities.
  • Continuous effort is required: Once one gets started in social media, our panelists explained that it creates an expectation that this engagement will continue. Plenty of examples of out-dated blogs, questions unanswered in forums and ignored comments in Twitter were given. Equally – it’s not appropriate to simply delegate duty to some junior employee. Like anything, for social media to be of use, the content and output must be of sufficient quality and needs the time and effort investment of the broader team and organisation.
  • Measurement is important… but: Our panelists noted that it is essential to have both metrics in place to define what a successful strategy or campaign is, and then have the tools and processes to measure this. This prompted an interesting debate however with some suggesting that there is too much focus on measurement and that many other aspects of product management (creative idea-storming) and marketing (television advertising) are inherently hard to measure, but this hasn’t stopped people using them for decades.
  • Get started now: While our panel and audience had different opinions about how social media should and shouldn’t be used, what worked well and what didn’t, they all agreed that it was an increasingly important part of modern business life. For this reason alone, our advice is that product managers and marketers should invest some time and effort into understanding social media and beginning to use it in their roles.

Social media action plan

Following the panel discussion, we took the audience through a basic action plan that could help them understand and begin to use social media in their roles. Our plan is a journey that seeks to integrate social media throughout multiple functions of product management and marketing, with the goal of creating better, more relevant and more compelling products and services.

Action Framework

  1. Watch and learn: Join the conversation as a polite listener. Read customer, competitor and industry observer blogs. Set up relevant RSS feeds and news alerts. Start to formalise what your product management and marketing goals are and where you think social media could fit into the picture.
  2. Talk and listen: Start commenting on other people’s blogs and in relevant forum and other communities. Create your own basic social networking tools such as a company or product blog, a Twitter account or other community profile. Make connections with those that you can help, or who can help you.
  3. Share and engage: Share your ideas with others – let them know what you are working on, what questions you have, what you want people to ask you. See if you can put out product or campaign concepts to get feedback. Start to provide news, resources and other valuable content that others would like. Train your team – juniors and senior people – and get them to start contributing too.
  4. Facilitate and encourage: Develop thought leadership and apply the principles you’ve learnt across other functions of the business. Share and help others grow and develop their own social media skills. You’ll learn more and feel good too!

In conclusion

Social media is more than hype. It is a transformation in the way in which people communicate. In the context of product management and marketing, social media tools and technologies can be used to enhance collaboration, engagement and innovation both within an organisation and across internal and external boundaries.

Were you at Product Talks? Would you like to share your thoughts and opinions of the event? Do you use social media in your role? How has this helped you? What challenges have you had to overcome? What advice would you give to a product manager or marketer who is thinking about using social media in their role?