Why does getting social media strategy dialed in correctly matter so much to the future growth of your business? For one, never before in the history of brand marketing and public relations have we been in such a position to construct close, credible, and interactive relationships with those we wish to communicate with. As you may know though, social media is radically different than other communication channels, so it only makes sense to get this right.
As a key component in the expanding arsenal of brand-owned communication tools, successful social engagement is first and foremost an outcome of what you do and say. The onion surrounding social media success can be peeled back to reveal one central and over-arching truth: It's the quality of the content brands offer that drives the attraction value, fan base growth, and level of conversation.
Still throwing messaging baseballs?
There are many businesses these days that still push self-serving messages at people in every media pathway. Why? Because for a long time we've labored so greatly to define the brand and product proposition, then turn to media channels as a vessel to deliver the convince-and-persuade message payload. Be it in paid, earned, or owned media, we're throwing message baseballs at people expecting them to step up and, in effect, catch them.
Oops, she dropped the ball...
More often now, consumers ignore the ball or walk away from home plate entirely and are oblivious to the spinning missive as it passes by. The consumer doesn't want to play the game that way any longer. Social media is by its very definition an accrual proposition. Every brand Facebook page or Twitter account begins with an audience of zero, unlike every medium that's come before it where access to a given channel brought you a defined audience size and type. In the new world of owned media, you start at the beginning with nothing. The early agenda is to earn your way into a trusted relationship.
Building the fan base
Aggregating an audience is an outcome of thoughtful, useful, and interesting multimedia content, conversation, and meaningful offers. The authenticity and value of that content is related directly to its relevance to the consumer's lifestyle desires. Thus, brands must find a path to engage consumers around what the consumers care about, not the other way around.
For a food brand, it might be enabling a recipe -sharing community or bringing consumers into contact with their kitchen heroes, such as respected chefs. For a beverage brand, it could be enabling unique social experiences and providing ways for fans to share their knowledge and interests with each other. For a pet brand, it could involve helping pet parents provide the best quality of life for their four-legged family members through expert advice on nutrition, behavior, and life-stage care.
Eyes wide open
This whole process gets a lot clearer when brands employ consumer insight research to better understand the lifestyle passions and concerns of their core consumers and then ask themselves, "What can our brand do to facilitate, enable, or create opportunities to experience and share those things?"
Building better brand relationships
Establishing a follower community is an outcome of providing content that's consistently engaging and entertaining. Here are a few practical hints for doing it right:
- Multi-media tools are the way to go. The Facebook share functionality only works when multimedia content is employed -- podcasts and videos for instance.
- Ask questions. Interactivity occurs when we purposefully invite our community into the conversation, seeking their views, ideas, and opinions.
- Use emotional terms and words. People are not fact-based, analytical decision-making machines. Rather, we are expectation-creation machines and thus frame our brand relationships around feelings more than facts.
- Responsiveness. The "get back to me" bar is considerably higher in the digital era. Consumers want and expect quick responses to their questions. Speed matters, and being responsive is part of the assessment of how well your brand performs in the social media space.
- Conversation. Like-minded individuals congregate together in specific communities because of their shared interests. Are you helping enable their ability to talk with one another?
- Surprise and delight. Reward your fans with special offers and values they won't get elsewhere. Recognize your most faithful followers with special status and access to unique content or other VIP experiences.
Social media brings scale to word of mouth. Yet at times it can feel like a big-time resource investment to speak with a very small audience. Rome wasn't built in a day either. Social media should not be viewed as a communications island unto itself. Rather integration of social media platforms into all brand touch points and outbound communications channels helps feed scale and thus deliver on your ROI expectations.
Bob Wheatley is CEO of Wheatley & Timmons.
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