Social media has been one of the leading topics in the marketing industry for a few years now, but people seem to have difficulty defining it and determining how it can be best leveraged for marketing purposes, i.e. doing “social media marketing”. (Note: There is a difference between the phrases “social media marketing” and “social marketing.” Please refer to our previous post “Social Marketing vs. Social Media Marketing” for more information). This is our unique perspective on the social media basics, as a company that has executed hundreds of successful social media campaigns for the past 3 years in nearly every vertical, intended for both the new practitioner and old hats looking to adapt and refine their thinking.

The Basics

Social media is the result of taking what we naturally do as humans – mainly communicating and developing relationships – and combining it with technology and user-generated content. Unlike traditional media, which is one-way, social media allows for a two-way conversation between friends, family, and even companies. This provides companies with the opportunity to really listen to their customers (both existing and potential), gain insights and feedback, and hopefully put the acquired information to good use.

When social media is used correctly and in the right context, it can create community, develop enthusiasts and awareness in a way much faster and more organic than traditional media. It is a valuable addition to a company’s overall marketing mix and strategy. Marketing is changing rapidly and with the influence of social media there is discussion of defining a new version of the 4Ps. How is your company involved in the conversation? How does this new context challenge your current company dogma?

(Some of the) Goals of Social Media

-Create community through two-way communication.

On their own, users can create their own communities based on a particular interest or tribe. Some of these are corporate-free and others are open to companies participating. No matter what, a conversation will occur, with or without you. Your previous views held that all messaging about your brand needed to be controlled rigidly and in line with corporate mandates. Now, the majority of the public’s experience of your brand is out of your direct control. They are talking about you, to each other, publically, and with tools that allow their voice to extend globally and through time. Understanding the magnitude and implications of this new situation is the entire basis for mastering social media marketing. By reaching out to your customers you create a dialogue that can gain trust and can create brand advocates, as well as start the brand messaging in the correct direction.

As mentioned earlier, social media is a form of two-way communication, where users can have a dialogue with other users as well as with companies. Companies need to actually listen and participate, and not just broadcast! This is always given lip service, but rarely put into play correctly. Here’s a test for companies that think they “get it”. Ask yourself “what have I done to make listening and understanding my fans/friends/followers a priority?”. If the answer is “nothing” or something weak, you do not “get it” and need to evolve.

If you’ve already applied a listening strategy, your campaign has the potential to create essentially a global focus group for your company. It is possible to gain instant feedback on products, ideas, ads, and campaigns from the general public or from your most targeted, niche demographic. Use this feedback. Understand where the data is coming from and how much information can be gleaned. After receiving a State of the Brand Report, our clients are frequently dumbfounded that the “facts” they previously “knew” about their company are actually falsehoods and that the current reality requires a different approach.

-Create and provide the opportunity for content that can be shared, responded to and evaluated.

Content posted online can be passed along to friends, commented on and rated on review sites, reworked, mashed-up, or even crowd-sourced. If there is buzz about a topic, it can spread very quickly through viral methods. If content is interesting, unique or even weird, users will want to pass it on.

-Be personalized/customized.

Gen Y (aka Millennials) is the generation who brought customization to the foreground of marketing. Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn have ways to personalize accounts, through avatars, applications, images, and content. Unlike traditional forms that are one size fits all, social media allows and embraces variety.

Considerations Companies Must Address

  • Is your original content adding value? Is it something users find relevant? In a two-way world, consumers have more control over when and where they see something. Are they going to take time out of their day to see your content? Do they care?
  • Are you genuine, authentic and transparent? Social media is much more than press releases posted on a blog, Facebook or Twitter. It involves real people, with real thoughts and interactions. It goes beyond the speaking the company line. Content can still be true to the brand – just don’t be robotic about it. How is this conversation unique to the form of media you are using? As for being authentic, users can see through facades. Your company is evaluated based on if you are true to what you say and do. Be aware that criticism will happen since social media is democratic in nature. Don’t censor it – address it. By participating in social media, a company can’t go off in a corner, stick their fingers in their ears and go “Lalalalala I’m not listening” when someone else says something negative.
  • Are you, and will you, continue to be engaging? Possibly one of the biggest challenges is to keep the conversation going. After connecting with a vibrant, excited audience, you can’t just forget about them. It’s like a guy really interested in you for a few dates, then never calls you back. Social media is one way to maintain a relationship with customers and address any problems that may arise in a more timely fashion. So if you are going to start a relationship, you better commit.

Social media is new territory that cannot be approached in the same manner in which companies are used to with traditional media (No, you can’t have 100% control of your messaging. No, you shouldn’t remove comments from detractors. Yes, you should respect and actively engage with both fans and detractors alike to give your message the best chance of succeeding). It is far more interactive and provides less control over the conversation, but one of the greatest benefits is creating and reaching out to brand enthusiasts who will voluntarily become word-of-mouth ambassadors for your company. So what are you waiting for? – join the conversation.

Written by Kristin Mattera