There's no denying the importance of social media. You get it. Your team gets it. The question is, do your customers care to get it, or are they tired of being asked to "like" everyone and everything they meet? The big problem nowadays, with endless tweets, friends, pages, profiles, and tags -- is how to engage desired audiences in such a way that your brand is perceived as relevant.
In a world defined largely by social media -- from business reviews to cultural revolutions -- you cannot simply be where your customers are for the sake of being there. You must be there for a reason, and that reason must not be entirely, if at all, self-serving. Social interactions with customers must be authentic and transparent, and must also offer something real in exchange for eyeballs, consideration, and loyalty. Every "like" must be viewed as currency, and audiences must be rewarded for their willingness to accept you with something they deem valuable.
What steps must you take to be perceived as genuine? It's simple really... You actually need to be genuine. Forgotten how? Here are 10 simple things to keep in mind.
The old, new truism: Know your audience. But for real this time.
Ever thought about your customers in a way that has nothing to do with your business? Ever wonder who they are when they are not buying your products or services? Do you know what matters to them intrinsically, from saving whales to raising children? If not, it's high time you found out. Connecting is not simply about getting on Facebook or Twitter, but interacting with your customers, in authentic ways that resonate with them -- deeply. How? In a move that may seem antithetical to traditional marketing wisdom, when it comes to social media, it's better to be reactive than proactive. Instead of planning your next big social media stunt, spend some quiet time observing your customers' social behavior online. Kick back, hang out, listen, learn -- and then interact. The simple act of getting to know your audience means knowing what works for them... and, more importantly, what doesn't. This will likely save you much time, money, and embarrassment in the future.
Choose your friends wisely
You're only as good as the company you keep, so choose wisely. With all the groups and influencers available to you via social media, make sure to align yourself with those befitting of "who" you are and how you want to be perceived. Befriend appropriate influencers and communities, in real and meaningful ways, and their followers will ultimately extend their trust to your brand. In social media, not all press is good press. What matters most today is not just word-of-mouth, but the right words out of the right mouths.
Look at yourself through rose-colored glasses
So what if you sell shoes. You can also sell something far more important. Emotion. Ever wonder how Zappos created such a loyal following? By thinking about employees and customers with heart. In other words, Zappos deems itself not a retailer, but a customer service organization that, oh, by the way, sells stuff. How does this translate to social media? Zappos, a living, breathing, feeling organization, engages customers via prolific, company-wide Twitter use, providing a transparent, unedited glimpse, at the caring, fun, emotive employees (CEO included), behind the curtain. They also actively solicit customer feedback, via Facebook, so that users always feel heard -- and, better yet, listened to and understood. The rewards for keeping it real. Bet you've bought something from Zappos in recent months, if not weeks or days?
What can we learn from this? No matter the offering, the important element is to identify one or two things that matter most to desired audiences. Whether it's emotion, social conscience, giving back, or something as simple as savings, get it out there, to the right people in authentic, fun, simple, and social ways.
In the words of Sally Field, "You like me." Well, no... actually they don't.
According to a March 2011 Forrester Research report on the "digital behavior of young consumers," people simply do not want to be friends with brands. So how do you earn the trust and endorsement of customers? Give them a reason to like you. Forget about what you are selling and focus your time and energy on your winning personality and character instead. You know how the hot girl always ends up with the smart, funny guy? Well, social media typically takes off when it entertains, endears, and ingratiates. More often than not, connecting legitimately comes down to exposing your weaknesses, taking yourself less seriously, making someone laugh, and just palling around.
Think about it: Would you want to be friends with your corporate persona?
Ask not what your customers can do for you, but what you can do for your customers
Social media is not just about acting sincere; it's about being sincere. It's not enough to simply say you care about something, but rather to demonstrate that you actually care. Identify what customers want or need from you and make it happen. Create opportunities for meaningful, two-way conversations. Solicit feedback, ask questions, get audiences involved in decision-making, or partner with someone or something that matters. Make sure, however, that your connections and queries are relevant and congruous to your existing brand, business, and practices and always, always follow through. If you ask what customers want or need, you must be prepared to change. Fake it and audiences will call BS on you faster than they can "unlike" you.
Conversely, just because customers say it's so, doesn't always mean they're right. Use your head. You're in charge for a reason. Consider audience feedback and needs in aggregate and through a seasoned marketing, sales and business lens. Just because one or two cyber bullies make a lot of noise doesn't mean you can't simply cover your ears. Case in point, Starbucks new logo is just fine people.
You care about me because I care
Brands need to stand up and take notice of things outside of themselves -- with authenticity and humility. You can't simply choose the cause of the day -- "Hey look, we're green" -- but rather, pick something because it fits seamlessly with who you are and what you, and your audience, actually care about. Corporate social responsibility, awareness and action, must be congruent with the brand. Then, and only then, will it be perceived as real, engaging, inclusive, thoughtful, long-term and social.
When the going gets tough, go online
The web can be a dangerous place for brands these days. Ratings, reviews, rumors, pictures, video -- consumers are more in control than ever before, and managing public opinion and perception can be next to impossible. That's why being a legitimate, accepted participant in the online lives of key customers and influencers is mission critical. In other words, when things go wrong, you can turn to your "friends." Social media puts you back in the driver's seat, in real time, as you react (carefully) to the events, press, reviews, snafus, changes, and developments that affect consumer opinion and confidence. Haste, transparency, honesty, humility, and reverence can keep a potentially harmful story from going viral.
Change is good
Online, loyalty is not dependable. In fact, it means very little. What's here today is most certainly gone tomorrow. Brands must keep their eyes on the ball, tracking trends, watching for audience fluctuations and never feeling too safe, too smug, or too comfortable. The truth is, you can never nail social media. One success can be followed by a major failure. The good news is that the web allows you to change anything and everything on the fly, and updates to your social media interactions and strategies needn't be expensive nor ground breaking. Be careful not to be all over the map. Remember who you are and why audiences like you in the first place, and then focus on being relevant, fresh, inventive, and always one step ahead.
One cannot survive on social media alone
Don't forget that real life matters. Social media does not exist in a vacuum and does not a successful company make. Everything you do online requires support; reinforcement and follow-through at other available customer touchpoints. Don't expect users to know about, or understand, your social media initiatives without proper support elsewhere. The appropriate mix of promotional vehicles and campaigns is always a good idea. What's more, even the best social networking cannot save you from a failed product, customer service interaction or business snafu. People will talk, so mind your Ps and Qs, socially and otherwise.
It's social media, not brain surgery
In the end, perhaps we're over-thinking things a bit. Do we plan this much before we go to a dinner party or a BBQ? Do we think about what we're going to say when we meet a friend for coffee or a beer? Not really. So, what's the most important lesson to be learned here? Get to know your audience, interact, engage, be real, and have fun doing so. It's social media folks! Get the best version of yourself out there and simply be social.