Lift not yourself but your users

Can we please bury the word “leverage” and all other marketing-speak when talking internet strategy? I’ve heard that word twice in the past 24 hours used by people with something to sell, people who are talking about getting the most out of viral or social networking sites.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The top still thinks it can “manage” its way to success by manipulating the bottom. This is exactly the opposite of what’s required in the business disruption that’s impacting the communications world. Why? Because the bottom is now in charge, and the laws of attraction “work” where laws of promotion don’t. Before you try and “leverage” people (that’s what this is really all about), you ought to ask if they want to be leveraged. They don’t.

Case in point is a nice MediaPost article today called “Productivity: Meet, Greet, Then Market.” J. Walker Smith of Yankelovich Partners is a major player in the marketing world, and the item has a lot of good information. He writes, for example, that social engagement is the next big thing in marketing and adds that it’s not just about the internet.

There’s a new appreciation that people like talking to other people, not to brands. In fact, at Yankelovich we’ve documented how little people want to be marketed to these days.
How true. Yet Mr. Smith writes that that’s just what companies should do.
…the Internet has emerged as a new marketing medium because it is the new medium of social engagement.

…The smartest use of technology is to leverage this dynamic of participation and engagement.

…In this age of consumer resistance, people are avoiding brands while seeking one another. Brands must shift away from the single-minded focus on engaging consumers and instead become adept at enabling people to engage with each other. This will give brands the edge they need in tomorrow’s marketplace of social engagement.

This sounds great, but the line between enabling people to engage with each other and selling to them is very fine. On the web, the two are at enmity, and while I think Mr. Smith is spot-on conceptually, the devil will be in the execution, because the moment the “lever” is recognized, people will flee.

As I tell clients, you must approach people on the web backwards. That means with the utmost respect for their time and loyalty, by providing a valuable service, by supporting what they want to do, by staying fluid and flexible, by being completely transparent about what’s going on, by facilitating their leveraging of us, and by just simply making them feel welcome.

Lift not yourself but your users. Seduction (I want you to want me more than I want you) is the game, not pandering.

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