Remember high school?
What am I saying? I keep getting this feeling that I'm the oldest person in this industry. I'm sure half of you are thinking, "Remember high school? I'm still in high school" and the other half are thinking "Oh yeah - I left high school last year after this app I wrote that lets you plan out how many rolls of toilet paper you're going to use over the course of the week (and share that with your social network) went to the top of the charts and I was able to retire."
At any rate: what I remember about high school is that the world quickly divided into a series of cliques that were defined by a particular style and a particular interest. Most everyone settled into one of these groups and, for the most part, stayed there through the four to six years they spent in high school.
This high school world is at the top of my mind these days for a few reasons. The first is that "The Breakfast Club" is available on Netflix streaming and I watched it and loved it maybe even more than I did 20 years ago. The other is that I am continuing to talk with brands about how to make the most of the social media space. Despite the protestations of an army of consultants and strategists, the intense focus and goal of most social media programs has been to acquire a large number of followers and fans. Brands continue to behave like high school kids, trying to become as popular as possible, getting into every one of the cool cliques.
Let's go ahead and concede a few things:
So, we have a situation where brands absolutely, positively need to have at least a part of their social media strategy be to attract a large number of fans. Imagine if you sold a packaged good - the kind that was stocked on a shelf in a supermarket (maybe you already do?). Next to the price tag was a tally showing the number of times that product was purchased that day. A high number of purchases would immediately communicate to the consumer: a lot of people decided to buy this peanut butter, more than the one next to it. Assuming that everyone knows something that we don't, we will be more attracted to the more popular product. Just like in high school.
How to Get Friends
You absolutely need to have a strategy for your social media campaign that is focused on generating value. But you also have to ensure that the public-facing number of people who like your brand is high. That is a fact and will remain a fact until Facebook and Twitter decide to hide that number, which they will never do.
Therefore, you need to include a series of tactics designed to increase that number. Certainly it is massively beneficial if those people are qualified and are a part of your target audience, but you also need to realize that those people are going to be mixed into a larger pool. You need to try to attract the largest group possible, and then work to find the real stars within.
You can do this through all sorts of tactics: promotions and giveaways and live videos of your CEO being thrown in a kiddie pool of Jell-O. But that's taking things far too far. Instead, most brands need an intelligent way to drive tons of traffic. I won't ever recommend you simply give away an iPad a day to get people. That's somewhat pointless. But I will recommend you do a few things right away:
Ultimately, though, there is one single thing that shines through in a social media program and that is passion. People will connect to your brand because they find your brand to be absolutely critical to their lives. Even if you happen to have ended up at a company that makes the most seemingly insubstantial thing, you have to remember that there are people out there who believe that thing is the key to their success and happiness.
The best brands in social media are the ones that operate their presence from a deep understanding of and an authentic connection to that feeling. This was the problem in high school: the kids who were seeking only to make lots of friends tended to make lots of friends, but no best friends. Take time to understand what it is about your product that makes people excited and operate from that place. If you do that, you will find those large groups of friends, as well as the best friends, who will, ultimately, drive your business and help you achieve your goals.
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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