Everybody’s Doing The Social Commotion…

The hype with social has become so big that a whole new industry of “social-experts” has appeared out of thin air. Just a few years ago these people did not exist or perhaps wore some other moniker when peddling their wares.

I am not saying there is no need to have a social strategy but merely that it is also important for to think about the relevance of these platforms for your product and business; think about the best way to engage your customers, based on who they are. This means that every company DOES NOT needs to have a social presence with a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Pinterest board, or a blog. Maintaining a presence in social media is a full time job and doing it in a way that is meaningful to customers and valuable for your business – is a full team job. Few people realize that just setting them up and then posting or tweeting a few times is probably more damaging than not having it an account all. I routinely ask companies why they feel they need a Facebook page or Twitter account, and most say because everyone else has one. For me, a single person startup or small business should have many other priorities they need to be focused on before starting to worry about tweeting every few hours. And then there are also products and categories that really should not have a Facebook page – toilet papers and clogged drain cleaning brands come to mind as high on that list. Ultimately, it boils down to a little old fashioned common sense being utilized before rushing to sign up to the social bandwagon.

It takes time and work to build a solid social presence. Each new platform that you add means more work because it’s not as simple as sharing the same information across all your social pages. If you really want to build value for your business then you need to create value for your customers. This means first understanding the role of Twitter versus Facebook versus a blog and seeing how your customers are using and interacting with these platforms. Only then can you start to formulate a strategy to effectively make use of them for your needs. For example, Facebook can be an effective platform for building a community around your brand; by sharing information, starting discussions, soliciting ideas and requesting feedback on your products and/or services. It can be a great way to build loyalty through engagement and dialogue. Help to create long-term relationships with your customers and maybe turn them into evangelists; if done well. Twitter on the other hand is a great tool for more instant sharing. You can use it to announce new product launches, special flash sales and even to resolve customer complaints in real-time; as Dell and Southwest have done so effectively.

No matter which social platform(s) you decide to use there are a few things you have to be prepared to do; if you want to succeed. First and most importantly, get over yourself, your products and your services. I don’t care how great you think they are – it does not matter if you think so – it only matters if your customers do. Never use social media to blow your own horn; nothing is more off putting to an existing or prospective customer than a company telling them how brilliant they are. Second, never try to sell, sell, sell – you have sales people and channels for that. Social media is not a hit them on the head type selling tool. You can place ads for that. Find smarter and more subtle ways to offer value to your customers that will in turn lead to sales or generate word-of-mouth for your brand. Third, make sure that what you share will be of interest to your customers, beyond just your company stuff. This means not restricting yourself to tweets or posts that are always about your products and/or company. Take some leaps and broaden your horizons. Don’t be scared to follow interesting people, to be creative, human and inspirational. Share things that make you laugh and things that make people laugh about you. Share stories about your customers and even your competitors. All this helps make your brand and company come across as more secure and confident; and those are typically the kinds of brand that customers are attracted to and like to be associated with.

Finally, remember that you will need to grow a very thick skin. By putting yourself out there, and you will be if you do this well, be prepared for harsh criticism from customers and screw ups by employees (have an action plan to deal with them when they happen but don’t retreat). This is the price you have to pay to truly come across as real, in a world where very little can be controlled and preplanned. This will ultimately determine the difference between your social success and failure – how “real” or contrived your company comes across.

To LIKE or not to LIKE…

There seems to something akin to a marketing frenzy to build Facebook LIKE’S among companies. Almost every second email I get relates to a contest that is trying to entice me with a $xxx,xxx prize or a dream vacation. However, when I excitedly click on the entry link it frustratingly forces me to LIKE the product in order to enter the contest.

Sure, it will help you drive up the number of Facebook LIKES on your fan page in the short-term but what is the real and long-term value of this? I get that there are many statistics out there about how conversion and engagement is much higher on Twitter and Facebook and social media is all the frenzy in marketing today but for a moment let’s break down the psychology of most of these contests.

I am not saying all contests are the same and therefore not valuable but am merely talking about the recent frenzy where the prizes have no bearing or relevance to the company, or product, and the contest itself does nothing to build customer engagement with the brand. Most importantly when you throw the kitchen sink by emailing people randomly, it becomes akin to a marketing bribe where in order to receive a LIKE; rather than trying to target a relevant audience and do it on the merits of your brand or product story.

The simplest way to think about – imagine walking down the street one day you decide you want to make 100 new friends that evening. You could simply stop every person you see and offer to pay for their dinner at a really fancy restaurant, like Per Se. I have no doubt you would end up with 100 new “friends” very quickly, and without too much effort. Now what are the odds that any one of these 100 people will actually ever have anything to do with you again or be there in a pinch? Versus building real friendships through time, common interests and all the other real and meaningful stuff.

This is what these almost daily contest emails have become for most of these brands. Everyone from airlines to tampon makers have sent me emails, to enter contests, but only after I LIKE them on Facebook. Ninety percent of them have no relevance to me, my purchase history or my interests. It seems all these so called social media agencies are throwing the kitchen sink to drive up campaign success metrics, which frankly are of little value for the brand. Because even if the grand prize for a tampon product was so amazing that I decided to LIKE it to simply be eligible to enter, I am never going to purchase that product of have any future interaction of engagement with the brand.

Social media done right is about building long-term relationships, kind of the way we build friendships in the real world; and it is hard work.

So the next time you want to increase your fan page LIKES on Facebook, remember that 10 truly engaged customers will not only spend much more money on your products, consistently, over the long-term but also are more likely to become evangelists for your brand. Their value alone will be greater than the 1000+ LIKES you may add of people who don’t even know what your company makes.