Five years ago, the term social media didn't exist. Few people could explain what it was, not to mention how to use it for marketing. In the last two to three years, not only have we seen the social media universe expand and more businesses taking it seriously as a strategic marketing channel, but we've also seen an increase in social media gurus right along with it -- the "experts," some of them even certified, who keep us informed of what works in social media, who's doing it best, and how to do it right.
At the risk of sounding somewhat hypocritical and grouping myself in that category by writing this feature and a few others in the past, I'm going to throw my hat in the ring and offer some advice as well -- about the social media advice you should ignore.
Best practices and guidelines are worth knowing about, but there is a difference between following the hype blindly and employing a unique social strategy that fits your business goals. A one-size-fits-all approach is never the best approach for every brand. As new social channels are changing the way we do business, the best approach is to be open-minded, experiment, learn, and adapt as we go.
Included in the following article are some popularly touted social "rules of the road" that you might want to reconsider for your brand's marketing strategy.
Earned media equals free media.
Common terms that people reference when talking about media include paid, earned, and owned. Loosely defined, paid media is the brand advertisement, owned media is the online property or experiences the brand owns, and earned media is the message about the brand communicated by the consumer.
Combined, these terms can help marketers to map their options across many media types. However, as popular as the terms have become, there has been some ambiguity and misconception around paid vs. earned, and an implication that earned media is the opposite of paid -- that it's free.
The term earned media has a history in PR that had traditionally meant free media for a brand that it didn't have to pay for through advertising. The term has since evolved in our social media age to be about word of mouth and conversation -- in essence, when the consumer becomes the marketer by sharing a message with peers.
Why is earned media not free? As part of your marketing mix, conversation and buzz (earned media) should be a result of strategically executed paid and owned media. Driving that conversation might not be as costly as a large media buy, but it also doesn't take place without that well-coordinated trigger. Whether conversation is driven by advertising, outreach, or a simple Facebook post, there are still costs involved -- even if minimal.
More is better. More is more.
In what I like to call the "firehose approach," many marketers look at social media the same way they look at TV and billboards: The more people you get in front of, the better.
I ask this question in response: Is it better to connect with .02 percent of an unengaged audience of 1 million people, or connect with 90 percent of a passionate audience of 50,000?
With social media, human connection is key. It builds relationships and conversations through communication. In many ways, the more niche the environment, the more likely audiences will not only pay attention, but they will also react and share if it's relevant to their interests. Your social strategy should include not only building mass awareness but also striking a chord with people who are excited about what you have to say. They'll be more likely to recommend it to their peers, which is what word of mouth is all about.
If your brand isn't on Facebook, it's not relevant.
The other day, a television commercial came on for a toilet bowl cleaner, which encouraged me to visit the product's Facebook page. As a consumer, I found this slightly confusing, as Facebook is the last place I would want to interact with a toilet bowl cleaner, not to mention, "spread the word" that I'm interacting with said toilet bowl cleaner.
As a curious marketer, I decided to check out the page to see why I'd want to interact with it. Every wall post, video, and piece of content on this brand's page was around discounts, coupons, and promotions.
No doubt, I am a huge advocate for brands having a footprint where their audiences hang out. That said, while nearly 65 percent of the U.S. population is on Facebook and it reaches a vast audience, it's also important for brands to ask themselves if it's the right platform to get their message to their audiences. One of the primary benefits of Facebook to marketers is organic word of mouth. Will your audience want to share their love of your product with their friends? If you're a toilet bowl cleaner, maybe not.
The best way for brands to keep people on their Facebook pages is through giveaways and promotions.
Let's face it -- people like freebies and discounts.
Building on my earlier example, while offering a discount or giveaway is an interesting hook to get people to your brand's Facebook page and boost numbers in the short term, it's important for brands to consider a longer-term value to their audience. Once consumers "like" a page to retrieve their discounts and coupon codes, with a simple click they can quickly "unlike" the brand as soon as they get what they wanted. The brand message is lost and forgotten.
Rather than offers and giveaways being the primary content of your brand's editorial strategy on Facebook, consider adding more compelling content that gets people to interact and share. This will not only keep people on your page, but also increase the likelihood that your content will organically show up in your audience's news feed. Ultimately, if you can't come up with interesting editorial content for your audience, then perhaps Facebook isn't the right platform for your brand.
It's all about how many people "like" you on Facebook and follow you on Twitter.
What's the value of a fan? Absolutely nothing if you don't engage with them.
With the increase in paid media options on Facebook and Twitter, it's important to take into consideration that building the audience is just as important as engaging it. It doesn't matter how many followers you have -- if you don't have something to offer, they won't care about what you have to say and will ultimately go away.
In addition to building "likes" and followers, think about how you're getting people to participate. With Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm, while still somewhat mysterious, the more people interact with the content on your page, the more likely your content will appear in their news feeds. This means your editorial strategy is key to getting your message out there in an organic way.
On Twitter, success shouldn't only be measured by how many people follow your brand, but by how many people are talking about your brand. It's all about spreading the word, not necessarily following the @profile.
It's true -- the more followers you have, the greater your reach. However, like the "firehose approach" I discussed earlier, an engaged 100 followers is still more valuable than 10,000 followers who forgot you exist. The takeaway here is that your strategy across both platforms should be hybrid approach between audience growth and compelling content.
The best way to become popular is to hang out with the social "cool kids."
Many people believe that to get your popularity index to rise in social media, you need to get that coveted shout-out by the social elite (Hey Ashton Kutcher, aka @aplusk -- since you have millions of followers on Twitter, will you respond to my tweet and boost my audience?).
In addition to Hollywood celebrities who are social, we have "social celebrities" -- everyday people who have gained clout by being YouTube super users, bloggers, Twitter influencers. And we even have ranking scores from groups such as Klout that tell us how popular we are in certain categories and allow us to rank our friends.
Harnessing the power of the influencer might work to a degree to help get your name or brand out in front of others. But that won't make you instantly popular, and it won't grow your audience overnight. I'm a big believer in establishing your own influence and building your own personal brand by sharing what you're passionate and knowledgeable about. Evangelize in the places where people who share similar interests congregate and interact. Understand where your audience members are online and get in front of them. The blogging community is vast and tightly knit. Twitter, Facebook, and message boards allow people to group and tag conversations around specific content. These are great places to start, and while you might have to grow your audience a few readers at a time, that audience will naturally grow around what you have to say, not your popularity.
Social media, if done properly, can replace traditional media.
Now that I've debunked the theory that "social is free" for any marketers who think it's a great solution to replace paid media, thinking that social can and should replace all traditional media is far-fetched. Traditional online media (search, display, editorial) and traditional offline media (TV, radio, print, billboard) all have their role in the marketing mix.
The strategy should not be one form of media cannibalizing another. The focus should be on how well they work together and complement one another. The 30-second TV spot can drive people to a Twitter hashtag. The trailer can drive people to a YouTube channel. The print ad can drive people to a Facebook page. The billboard can include a QR code that unlocks mobile content. All in all, it's possible to be innovative and creative with all media types; the trick is to have them work in harmony.
The financial ROI of social media is equivalent to the paid media value.
To clarify this point, while measurement of social media campaigns can most certainly be put in place, defining the metrics of success is what's important.
More times than not, I've seen marketers falling into the trap of trying to measure the ROI of their latest and greatest social media campaign using the same financial and media metrics as traditional media. In fact, I've even observed some of these marketers putting media dollar estimates against earned impressions from social marketing.
I'm not saying measurement isn't important; rather, I'm suggesting that the value of word of mouth shouldn't always be reflected by revenue, sales, or cost savings of earned media of paid placements. ROI isn't necessarily the right measurement to determine if you're social media strategy is a success. Success should be determined by how social media impacts your overall business and sentiment about your business in the minds of your target consumers.
Do you want to know how valuable your social media campaign was? For a start, you might want to run a social listening report to see if positive sentiment and word of mouth increased about your brand as a result of your marketing efforts.
Don't try to measure word of mouth. It can't be done.
Building upon the previous point about measuring ROI, social media marketing efforts and resulting word of mouth can also be measured. Again, it's a matter of knowing how and what to measure. Many times social marketing isn't measured properly because marketers are not using the right tools or considering the right measures of success.
If brands don't take the time to define what their social media goals are in measurable terms, it will be difficult to gain meaningful information to better inform their marketing strategy. There's an abundance of social listening tools -- free and paid -- that can help marketers understand what people are saying (and where) and gain valuable insights into how media spiked conversation or changed sentiment.
My favorite point deserves repeating: You cannot manage what you do not measure, and you cannot measure what you do not define.
Social media experts are all frauds. Ignore them.
Many people feel that since social media is so new and provides a very limited track record, there couldn't possibly be experts in the field -- and anyone who says they're an expert is a fraud.
Now that I've done my part to deconstruct common advice from some of these self-proclaimed subject matter experts, there are times when brands need help with their social strategy and require people who understand social media marketing to help drive their strategy. Finding those people can be a daunting task.
While there are a lot of bogus experts out there, there are also a lot of marketers who have been experimenting with and learning from social media as a business tool over the last three years as social media has evolved. These are the people who are the real experts -- the people who have jumped in, gotten their hands dirty, and have stories to tell about what they learned along the way.
How does one pass the test? Ask them to describe how they've grown word of mouth about a brand. Ask them to describe what transparent and organic marketing means. And most importantly, ask them what mistakes they made and how they learned from them. If they can't answer these questions, they're not an expert.