You are a marketer. You're in sales. Or perhaps you are the CMO or CEO of your company. You've done everything you thought you needed in creating a social presence. You are on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for starters, and you've even set up shop on Google+. You're posting content about your brand that you feel is relevant, but there's a problem -- you're present, you're trying, yet nothing is happening.
People are not following you, and therefore no one is engaging with you. You have the one or two sympathy "likes," but all your efforts just don't make sense anymore. Sound familiar? Let's find a solution to maximize your productivity to ensure your efforts are paying off and benefiting the business.
The problem: Someone told you, "If you build it, they will come"
Well, you built it, and now no one is coming. Remember the old saying, "Are they laughing at you or with you?" Transcend that into present day, and you've got, "Are you talking at your audience, or with your audience?" A widespread misconception is that social can be strictly used to reverberate your company messages loud and clear with minimal effort. And often times we see just that -- brands attempting to use social media platforms to "shout" out a message about a product release, service offering, or company announcement.The reality is, if you are strictly using social to "throw on" a company message or sales alert here or there, you will continue to see this lack of response.
Why's that? Well, social is a communications platform -- it enables brands to create relationships with their core audience and tell relevant stories that are meaningful. What does this really mean? It's important to first identify the purpose of your presence and understand who your audience is to carve out a content strategy that will be valuable to build a following.
For example, if your company makes gluten-free bread, you need to specialize in content that caters to this topic and features experts, quotes, recipes, and facts specifically geared toward people who live a gluten-free lifestyle. The goal is to provide value to potential and existing customers through catered content that will position your brand as a resource people trust. By creating a subject matter expert, readers will return to reference your brand posts, will refer their friends (may be digital or word of mouth), and interact with you. Not only do you want to showcase authenticity by posting relevant content, but you want to be transparent and show that you are an accessible brand that actually listens and responds -- this is where you'll win the hearts of existing and new customers.
It's also important that this avenue is not strictly used for self promotional content that boasts company-centric information. Why's that? Put yourself in the customer's shoes -- or news feed. Imagine scrolling through your feed and seeing the status update, "Check out our new hair brush." My first thought is, "Great, this brand is trying to sell me something again. It's disrupting my networking experience while I'm trying to chat with my sister and girlfriend." Frankly, it may be 2 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, and the last thing I want to hear is that I need to buy this brush. However, if positioned differently -- say the post explains why this brush is going to save me time by simplifying my hair maintenance process, or perhaps it's a back-story on the development of the brush and how it's made with eco-friendly products -- well, now I'm listening, want to hear more, and may have something to say and share with my friends.
In addition, as social media becomes more heavily intertwined with search engine optimization (Facebook and Twitter is indexed today), these posts will fuel the "finding" of your content when people are looking for a direct source -- it's what they called a double-edged sword. In other words, if you are creating meaningful content and sharing through social, your chances of showing up in search are much higher, therefore attracting relevant audiences to the appropriate destination, all in an organic setting.
Keep in mind that when well-known brands (versus smaller companies) set up shop on social networks, they often see an organic boost in followers due to the reach and awareness of the brand name. That's because a larger brand that has a footprint at the mainstream level may have been around for a long time, and people have been customers or learned about the brand from their personal networks -- thereby creating that instant credibility a smaller or newer brand would not necessarily have. However, every brand must start somewhere, and developing customized content to begin building awareness will help you drive organic growth down the line.
"I don't like what people are saying, so I erase or just don't respond"
You can't run away from the fact that an end user's voice is heard more clearly today than ever before due to the digital space. While some have still not learned of a way to find value, social has proven to function as a focus group. What does this mean for your brand, whether you're a Fortune 500 or T-shirt shop? Listen to what people are saying, and apply their feedback -- whether positive or negative -- to enhance the business.
Let's take a look at a personal example. A few weeks ago I caved and purchased a quick pre-packaged lunch (yes, I know it's not healthy). When it was time for lunch, I spent a few minutes in-between meetings wrestling with a Marie Calendar's container. After five frustrating minutes of package rummaging, I finally managed to open the box and was greeted with an explosion of pasta all over the kitchen, on the floor, and in my hair because the pasta itself was not self-contained from the rest of the package. Angry that I now had no lunch and no time to clean up the mess, I grabbed my last-resort apple and immediately tweeted ConAgra (umbrella brand) about my experience. Within hours I received an apologetic response and was directed to email the company. After doing so, I received a customized response offering coupons to make up for the mistake. I was overjoyed (yes, as a marketer with a PR background I understand the psychology of a coupon). However, this delighted me so much that it led to my posting a positive tweet about ConAgra's spectacular customer service.
Moral of the story? The company could have ignored me, simply because it doesn't have to deal with the myriad people who experience issues on a day-to-day basis. But what did the folks at ConAgra do? They listened. From the brand's perspective, if employees see various customers experiencing similar scenarios with the packaging, they can take this issue to research and development where the company can enhance the packaging to ensure this is not an ongoing issue. This would be the end result of listening to and servicing real customers.
What's the final takeaway?
Be valuable. Don't shamelessly promote. Learn to narrate stories about how your company actually makes a difference in your customer's life. Adapt to how conversations are being had in real-time. If visual storytelling is widely used due to the introduction of Timeline on Facebook and Pinterest, create a plan to develop photographs that tell your brand story and how what you offer enables solutions. Illustrate what the process and end result will look like. This will resonate with customers and enable you to stay relevant.
Stephanie Shkolnik is social media strategist for Digitaria.
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"Deserted haunted house" image via Shutterstock.
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