The lure of using social media as part of an integrated marketing strategy is very tempting. However, efficiently and successfully implementing that strategy takes a lot more than just building a Facebook fan page or opening a Twitter account. A lot of companies don’t understand or are prepared for the fact that implementing a true social media strategy takes resources, time, and effort beyond merely hooking up your blog’s feed to your Twitter account.
Social media marketing has brought an evolution to advertising that many ad executives and agencies weren’t prepared for. In the old world of advertising, it was all about pushing the message to the masses so they would buy. There was never a second thought in this type of environment that the customer didn’t want to hear the message. What’s worse is that the advertisers never listened because they didn’t have to. Now the advertising world has been turned upside down because of the engagement opportunities that social media offers its community members.
The mistake advertisers make in not understanding social media is by thinking it’s just another channel to push messages out to. When the marketing message is just pushed out, it will most likely get ignored. People in social media communities have become accustomed to engaging with like-minded people, making real connections and sharing their experiences, and they tend to bristle, ignore, and shun the marketing person who “doesn’t get that.”
So what are some steps that you can take so you don’t fall into the “push the message” trap?
- Research the conversations. Before you jump in head first, make sure that you understand what the community is saying about a particular conversation. Sit back and lurk a little; get a feel for what makes the community “tick.” Are the conversations seasonal, do they have hot or cooling points, do they really mean what they are saying? Buzz monitoring tools like Trackur or Viralheat can point you in the right direction, but you need to research into the true nature behind what drives the conversation.
- Listen, don’t just “hear.” Don’t just look for mentions of your keywords; dig deeper. Don’t just count the times a community mentions you or your brand. Understand what triggers the community’s passions, both love and hate. Don’t always assume your company has the answers either; that means being humble enough to recommend other resources to help out the community. When you show that you aren’t there just to “hear” about you, you’ll gain a lot more respect with the community influencers and members.
- Be real and transparent. From the moment you make your first tweet, post in a community, comment on a blog, or answer a question a community member’s asked, be transparent about who you are and what your intentions are. Fill out your profile about who you are, who you work for, and how someone can contact you. The worst thing you can do is build a relationship upon a fake profile for the sole intention of pushing a message or manipulating a community. When the community figures out that game, all trust is destroyed and all your efforts will be wasted.
- Give them what they want and what they need. A lot of insight can be derived from engaging the community and listening to them share their experiences. If you listen closely, you can figure out what it is your community both wants and needs. They may want a special gadget, tool, feature, or even content, but in reality what they need is the time that the gadget, tool, feature, or content saves them in their day-to-day lives. That time they need can help improve their lives and, by providing both what they need and want, you’ve started building a solid foundation for great relationships.
- Don’t just count followers, count the engagement. Don’t be focused on just acquiring followers, fans, or friends. Counting up followers, just like focusing on “hits” or visitors to a website, can be very misleading. Instead, focus on the engagement with your established base. How many times did you engage with your fans this week? Did they share your content, did they like something you did, did they answer a question or share their opinion with you? These social actions that engage your community are much more valuable to your efforts than just counting how many followers you have acquired in a certain amount of time.
- Acknowledge the experiences. People do not have to share their experiences; in fact, they probably have a lot of other things they could be doing that might be more important in their everyday life. That’s why it’s important to acknowledge shared experiences. Saying thank you is important to establishing trust in a relationship. It lets the person know first, that you are really listening to them, and second, that you appreciate them. Being acknowledged for taking time out lets them know you find them very valuable, and at the end of the day, everyone wants to feel valuable.
This column was originally published July 20, 2011.