Usually, we think about social media in the way that we are supposed to: as a remarkable new way for us, as marketers, to connect with our consumers, generate relationships, and, essentially, participate in the same community as the people who buy our products. I say that this is the way that we are supposed to think about this medium, because that relationship and give-and-take is what makes social media so unique and so powerful and so truly break-through. We should be thinking about bridging the gap between our brand and our consumers through social media because, for way too many marketers, we have acted as though our only job was to make something and plop it on a shelf.
But, that is not the only way we can think about social media. It is time for us to be OK and say to each other that, not only can we embrace the power of the medium and use it to be more authentic marketer...we can also use it to (deep breath)...advertise.
And, by advertise I don't just mean buying ad space on Facebook (which, by the way, is a fantastic idea. You get lots of targeting, pay-on-performance, and excellent metrics). I am talking about actually using the medium itself to tell people about products, generate clicks, and sell your stuff!
Of course, you can't just show up on day one and start advertising in social media. Some people will tell you that's like walking into someone's living room, shoving your way onto the couch, and talking about your new line of car wax. It's nothing like that. You can't even get in the front door, or know where the front door is. Or even if there is a front door. You can use social media to advertise, but only if you do a few critical steps first.
How to Advertise on Social Media Without Being a Jerk
A good many sites are beginning to discover something interesting in their analytics. Most likely, the number one source of traffic will be a search engine (usually Google). But, sliding up the chart are social networks (usually Facebook, occasionally Twitter). You can see this yourself, using a public analytics tool like Compete. Here's the latest traffic for the wireless carrier T-Mobile (which was chosen totally at random). Facebook is driving nearly 6 percent of their total traffic. At 6.1 million visitors a month, that's 366,000 people from Facebook.
The first step, therefore, in advertising in social media is to simply acknowledge (and get a sense of) the share of traffic coming to your site from social networks. If you are using an analytics package, you can pretty easily pull this data from most top-level reports. If you are not using an analytics package...what is wrong with you?! Start using one now!
This traffic baseline is important, naturally, because you need something to compare your results to. You can decide that you want to simply increase the raw number of people visiting your Web site (volume of traffic) or increase the percentage coming from social media (source of traffic). Each one has its benefits. Increasing the volume just means that you are getting more people into the funnel, expanding (most likely) on doing the things you are already doing. Shifting the source and increasing the share of traffic from social media may be an efficiency question. You may be able to get more traffic from social media that you aren't paying directly for.
Once you make this simple decision about the traffic, you can craft a strategy to begin achieving that goal. The point here is that you can use social media in a very specific and very instrumental way: drive traffic to a conversion point. There certainly are ways to use social media to build relationships that ultimately result in a conversion. But this is a way to use the channel in a way that is more direct.
Here are a few things that you need to do:
Ultimately, we need to have a complete view of social media if we are going to truly embrace it as marketers. It's not a bad thing to recognize that we engage with consumers and have conversations to generate value for our brands. When we are comfortable with the medium, we can really start to get maximum value out of it.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
March 19, 2014