When we think about the origins and contemporary uses of social media platforms, it's understandable that the digital social sphere has mixed reviews among the business community as a legitimate tool for driving measurable profit. Facebook (in its native form) started as nothing more than a "Hot-or-Not" student ranking system, Myspace only enjoyed brief notoriety as a social network before becoming a lucrative pond for phishers, and many view Google+ membership as nothing more than an annoying requirement for using Google's other services.
All things considered, it comes as no surprise when executives and leaders are left scratching their heads (or worse, rolling their eyes) when the discussion of incorporating social into marketing strategy emerges in the board room. After all, who wants their beloved eBook promoted between an "OMG guyz I luv Justin Beiber" status, and a picture which claims it can provide a heart transplant if it gets 1 million likes?
Despite the Roman army sized pile of spam and trivial content fighting to take over our (and our customer's) newsfeeds and Twitter streams, much evidence dictates the validity and importance of social media in successful marketing strategies. As countless case studies refute the notion that social media platforms are "useless" in the business community, the idea has emerged that – gasp – maybe a portion of the fault of social media marketing failures rests on our shoulders, not the networks or the users.
Although the social sphere is essentially the personalized communication medium which marketers used to only dream of, it seems that we have abused the privilege of entering our customer's worlds. Somewhere along the way, we devolved the potential of the social marketing experience from an awesome tool into a thinly veiled variation of traditional advertising.
If we accept that traditional advertising is losing credibility and social is gaining speed, it seems logical that we'd begin at least considering shifting some of our time and money to a redesigned strategy. But how does a traditional marketer participate in a social world, where new expectations create lasting repercussions for mistakes? Finding the balance between friend and brand on a social platform is a complex dance which requires not only mastering your own choreography, but also (and often, more importantly) understanding how your steps will line up with your partner's. And you guessed it, your partner is your customer.
Since I happen to be a dancer, let's continue with the dance metaphor. Let's consider how different types of companies are interacting on social media, as represented by a dance floor:
- Some of us are doing an outdated disco routine in the middle of the floor. Our pants are polyester, our routine is an embarrassment, and we are demanding attention at all costs. No one is impressed with our moves, and few people are pretty disturbed. Mostly, everyone just wants their space back.
- Some of us are still on the gym bleachers, because our nerves have gotten the best of us and we've already assigned ourselves to certain failure. Consequently, no one is noticing us and no one is really thinking about getting to know us.
- Finally, a select few of us are busting out a few trendy moves on the floor, but aren't disrupting the overall flow of the event. We're chatting up the objects of our affection, but we're not screaming off reasons they should take us home. We are cognizant of the number one rule in dancing, conversation, and social media: it's a two way street.
Those who dream of notoriety and attempt to achieve it through self-centered behavior will never reach lasting fame. Those who want to be loved but make no attempt to connect are destined to Friday nights in the company of the dependable Ben and Jerry. These rules apply in life, and they also apply in social media marketing.
So, how can we transition effectively into the world of social media, and promote without annoying the user? More importantly, how can we leverage the plethora of platforms at our fingertips to increase interest in and profit for our business? I've compiled a few best practices, tips, and strategies below for diving into social media marketing as a welcome friend, rather than an uninvited guest:
1. Listen first
It's no coincidence this concept is at the top of the list. We often think of social media as a new medium through which to sell our product and push our brand, and ignore the value of listening prior to speaking. Conversations with prospective buyers and current customers will be more enjoyable for both parties if they are mutually inclusive and based upon personalized subject matter. Skim through Taco Bell's Twitter to see a great balance of sharing corporate content and engaging with users.
2. Provide value
Remember when your mother told you to keep your mouth shut if you didn't have anything nice to say? Let's repurpose that rule for social marketing and agree to only use our social voice when we have something valuable, interesting, or useful to contribute to the conversation.
It doesn't matter if it's Twitter, Facebook, emailing, or blogging: The day you start talking for the sake of being heard is the day you start to lose followers and potential customers. Numerous major brands have disproportionately low follower counts across social media platforms on account of failing to embrace this concept.
3. Be helpful
A frequently overlooked but incredibly useful way to convince customers of your company's legitimacy is to provide service or field assistance requests through social media. Although it will require constant monitoring and the ability to move quickly, customers appreciate and value buying from a friendly company they can reach at a moment's notice. Comcast and Frank Eliason are a great success story of how social can be utilized to improve the entire service experience.
4. Stay consistent
Associating a Pinterest board, or Facebook page, or Instagram account, with a brand is kind of like a marriage between yourself and your audience. In the same way that any marital partner would head for the exit if we failed to provide them with love and attention, users will unapologetically unfollow your business if you give them nothing to go on.
Just as you would in a relationship, establish the boundaries of how you plan to interact on social media. A few posts a week is just fine, as long as you don't post nineteen times a day at random. We humans are creatures of habit, and we like to know what to expect.
Helping your audience to understand the identity of your brand on social media is pivotal in ensuring they remain a part of the relationship.
5. Don't forget to laugh
Celebrities and big brands are frequently subjected to the wrath of anonymous or downright shameless social media users. In consideration of the negativity, scrutiny, and criticism all companies are inevitably and often undeservingly subjected to when utilizing social media, I'll borrow the timeless adage "Don't take life too seriously, nobody gets out alive."
Your brand will be mocked on Twitter. Your Facebook will receive hateful, illogical comments. Don't ignore legitimate complaints or requests for assistance, but also don't waste too much energy on that which you cannot change.
SmartCar did an exceptional job in 2012 of putting a naysayer in his place without losing their sense of humor. I give them major kudos for this, because it's not easy to prove a business point while arguing about bird poop.
In closing, I'll leave you with the words of Bill Schrader: "Almost overnight, the Internet's gone from a technical wonder to a business must."
Social media is certainly asserting itself as a "must" in the plans and strategies of marketers across the globe, but it should also be considered a privilege which provides a unique opportunity to diversify the way we communicate.
The boundaries are still being defined and there's much left to learn, but it's a great time to explore this innovative strategy for growing your business!
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonahowie/8583949219/