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The Waltons Invented Social Media

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Anyone who has seen an episode of the Waltons knows the depth at which relationships motivate us. They never sold a product, didn’t have a board game or action figures, and there are probably two generations that have never seen the television show. But sure as John-boy narrated the program, the Waltons are the defining figure for social media.

I remember everyone gathering to watch the show. The next day in school, it wasn’t so much the thing we would talk about…it was what we wanted to be. Everyone wanted to live on Waltons' mountain, to have their grandma and grandpa close by, and be surrounded by the warmth and hustle of a big family.

Consumer desire met product delivery in front of the Boob-Tube.

Leah Betancourt published an article on Open Forum telling small business how to avoid social media panic. She gave five points:

  1. Have a plan
  2. Take small steps with a goal in mind
  3. Be willing to put some time into it
  4. Track progress and results
  5. Be flexible

Can’t you just hear Grandpa Walton giving the same advice to one of the kids starting a new business venture?

Folks, I’ve been saying it since I started writing Friends, Follower and Customer Evangelists…The only thing truly different about social media is the bells and whistles.

Mitch Joel takes the same kind of approach in his new book Six Pixels of Separation. He even has a section called "In Praise of Slow." Why? Because he recognises that social media is nothing more than a primped and coiffed version of word-of-mouth.

When United Airlines trashed Dave Carroll’s guitar, the story would have been a flash on the social media landscape if not for his songs. Sure the story caught our attention. But Dave Carroll held it by delivering something of value and interest to us – meaningful songs. (Not to mention humorous videos to go with them.)

How is it that the experts and gurus can equate social media with relationship marketing and not realize they are talking about something as old as commerce itself? Customer evangelism is when someone sails from Europe to the New World and looks up a business owner holding a three-year-old letter saying “My friend says you hold to an honest deal.”

Social media just turns the three years into nano-seconds.

Do well by a customer and they can communicate that with lightning speed. So, too, if you do poorly. And a reputation still takes time to build.

For everyone you know who is just getting started with social media, two excellent places to get ongoing information for everyone, and especially those new to social media, are ProBlogger and Social Media Examiner.

Darren Rowse runs ProBlogger and Michael Stelzner runs Social Media Examiner. I’m familiar with both men and readily recommend their content.

A great person to follow for metrics and measuring social media marketing results is Andrew Ballenthin. He’s doing great stuff with his Blog Off competitions. Andrew is very big on walking his talk so look him up at the Community Marketing Blog.

Remember that social media is a tool and not a magic wand.

Dave Carroll still had to write and record the songs then shoot the videos. And before that he had spent years developing a loyal fan base. Just like the Waltons spent years showing us how relationships work just so I could use them as an example in this article.

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About TheConradHall

  • Hi Brian,

    Yes, you’re right on the money.

    Some of the groups Equation Research found to be having difficulty are understandable. They’re smaller companies, and the hype that surrounds social media – especially the claimed lack of metrics – is doing a lot to make the whole field look mysterious.

    But the larger corporations involved – even the ones with more than 500 employees in the Equation Research study – should have the resources to put one or two people onto a project like this. You’re right again, Brian, that the education is available online. After all, that’s precisely where I went to learn about social media, and so has every other professional.

    The social media sites themselves provide tutorials and learning tools.

    That larger corporations are having difficulty getting into social media is, I think, a testament to how well the experts and gurus have clouded the scene. There’s even an element of laziness on the part of the companies for not putting their own people onto the project to learn.

    You’re right, too, about businesses falling by the wayside. I don’t think they will.

    I argue strongly that a business owner in a small, rural town does not have a pressing need for social media. It could do the business some good (maybe), but being without it is unlikely to cause harm at this stage of the game. Heck, all the customers probably live within 20 miles or so, and know the owner by name.

    She already has a strong relationship base!

    Yes, you’re on the money, and I agree with you, Brian. Of course, part of the purpose in phrasing things in a provocative way is to stimulate conversation. Blog Critics won’t keep me around if no one ever comments on my articles. 😉

    Thank you, Brian. I’m enjoying the conversation and invite others to join in.

    Conrad Hall

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus


    While I cannot necessarily connect with your approach to familiarization by using “The Waltons”, I do agree that, on a basic principal, this latest social medium is really a new approach to a tried & true method.

    I mean,honestly,how much could you really change things? We are the only creatures on this planet that buy & sell. So, you do have to build some sort of Human relationships in order to be successful in a consumer market. Ultimately, I think, as you said, that the quickness and global capacity is what makes the “experts” & “gurus” fall head over heels for it.

    Still, with all the free resources online to get their feet wet, I find it hard to believe that these supposed brilliant corporations can’t get a handle on this popular & efficient method of marketing.

  • Hi Brian,

    Thank you for your reply. You’re right, of course.

    Social media cannot be summed up by any one article. That’s part of why I’ve written “friends, followers and Customer Evangelists: The 2010 Business Owner’s Guide to Social Media.” It will be released in April or May of this year.

    I invite you to read other articles I’ve written for Blog Critics, Technorati, Community Marketing Blog and The Marketing Spotlight. I think reading some of my other work will expose some of the deeper meaning in this article.

    Brian, my primary point is that social media is not the brand new, never-before-seen thing that so many experts and gurus claim it to be. Yes, the technology is different, and we can do things more quickly and on a greater scale. But marketing through relationships is old hat to every successful business owner.

    While social media cannot be summed up in a single article, I think this article fulfills its purpose in reducing the knowledge barrier to entry for business owners. What do you think, Brian? Does this article make social media easier to understand by putting it into a familiar context?

    Conrad Hall

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Oops… I meant, “I just feel that the internet with its social media advances can’t be summed up so easily.”

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Hey Conrad,

    Granted I’m no market analyst,but, I still feel that the current social media technology is a lot more than just “word of mouth” with bells & whistles. Since when could an average consumer’s word of mouth reach an international audience with the click of a mouse button.

    I just find it a little absurd in this day & age that a large business doesn’t have the resources necessary to take advantage of this type of marketing. I’m pretty sure most of your education could be learned for free online.

    “In 2010, will we see business that don’t use social media falling by the wayside?”

    I don’t think it would be that extreme but to turn a blind eye towards technological progression just because you don’t know how to use it to your advantage let alone knowing how to use it in its basic form can lead to disaster. I mean, look at what happened to the Newspaper Industry.

    Btw, interesting article. I just feel that the internet with its social media advances can be summed up so easily.

  • Hi Brian,

    Oops. The commenting system took some symbols as HTML and clipped some text from my comment.

    The study from Equation research showed 33% of business owners with less than 50 employees, 43% with 51 to 500, and 35% with more than 500 employees said “We don’t know enough about social media to know where to begin.”

    That’s what is missing inside the brackets in the 4th paragraph.

  • Hi Brian,

    Yes, social media definitely makes developing the relationships easier.

    Prospects are more open to having a relationship with someone who has answers. And the technology makes it easier for business owners to reach out to their prospects.

    But I have to disagree with the assertion that “any joe schmoe can get their product in front of just about anyone.”

    When business owners say their biggest barrier to using social media is “not knowing enough to know where to get started,” then there is definitely a barrier to entry. (Equation research did a study in 2009 that showed 33% of business owners with 500 are experiencing this barrier.)

    That’s an awful lot of Joe’s being left behind.

    The foundation point of the article is social media is nothing new. The buzz phrase “Customer Evangelism” is just 21st century marketing-speak for “word of mouth advertising.” It’s just the bells & whistles that make it look tremendously different.

    With the information out there that social media is just fancy-tech word-of-mouth advertising, here’s a pointed question to ask:

    In 2010, will we see business that don’t use social media falling by the wayside?

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    The difference with social media nowadays is that it doesn’t take a million dollar marketing firm to connect with a future prospect. Sure, you still have to have some marketing smarts but any joe schmoe can get their product in front of just about anyone.