Six years after Mashable first declared June 29 as the official “Social Media Day,” businesses all over the world are still learning to embrace the growing power of this new platform in influencing how people make their buying decisions. After decades of having no other choice except radio, television, or newspapers, the explosion of all these amateur mass media outlets has led to a lot of confusion about how they can be used effectively in areas of marketing and advertising.
In the early years of Friendster, Multiply, and Facebook, most companies treated social media as just another place to promote and sell their products – no different from any of the other outlets that they used in the past. What they failed to realize was that, instead of the traditional audiences made up of “listeners,” “viewers,” and “readers,” this new medium had communities, which were founded on common interests and more prone to resent and reject ads that did were obtrusive or did not fit into their virtual neighborhoods.
Over time, and as familiarity with social media dynamics grew, several rules have emerged on how company’s can engage with their audiences effectively, while staying within the context of what is acceptable. Among the most important of these has to do with “branded content” and its primacy in any marketing or advertising campaign.
According to “The Ultimate Guide to Branded Content,” by newscred.com, “it’s an understatement to say that content has become the heart and soul of marketing. The idea revolves around a fundamental trend in consumer behavior (where) today’s buyers are highly self-directed and research-driven. By the time that they reach out to your organization’s sales team, they’ve likely made a decision about whether or not to do business with your brand.”
They go on further to explain that, “when executed correctly, content becomes a brand asset (that) lives on the internet forever and has the potential to generate leads for years. Write one amazing article, and it will appreciate in value by gaining momentum through search engine rankings and incremental exposure through social channels — as audiences discover great content, they’ll feel inclined to share it for years to come.”
The importance of content in marketing, particularly in building your brand, makes it imperative that you have someone in your organization who understands what he or she is doing. Content creation can be one of the most difficult things to do for any marketing campaign, and it is not made easier by the practice of most businesses of delegating the work to people who are not qualified for the job. While in the short term it may appear more cost-effective to just let someone from HR or sales write your company blog or tweet about your new product, in the end it will cost you more in wasted efforts and lost opportunities.
Companies who are serious about using social media to build their brands and sell their products are therefore best served by investing in the right resources for the purpose. This means getting great writers who can create original content that will allow them to tell their firm’s “unique and compelling story” while demonstrating “expertise” on the subject matter in a way that will both “entertain and educate audiences.”
In practice, this means that you should start with your company’s story and how it intertwines with that of your customers. By doing this, you engage them in meaningful conversations and not just those tired and worn-out sales pitches that you used to give. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning audio historian, Studs Terkel, “People are hungry for stories. It’s part of our very being. Storytelling is a form of history, of immortality too. It goes from one generation to another.” Businesses that are able to build on the common touchstones that they have with their customers, become an integral part of the community and its history.
Companies also strengthen their brands when they demonstrate their usefulness within the community by directly sharing their areas of expertise with their customers. Says Aaron Shapiro, author of the book Users, Not Customers: Who Really Determines the Success of Your Business, “Brand awareness and sales are achieved not through traditional advertising, but by developing brand-relevant programs that help users accomplish the task at hand.” This shift in focus from the detached promotional efforts of the past to today’s more hands-on approach towards customer interactions is a key element in building relationships between your company and your clients.
Lastly, instead of talking about your product, try to talk more about the people who build and use them. It is a simple fact of social media that the most popular posts or tweets or photos are those that reveal something about the person (or persons) behind it. The sooner you understand that your customers are less interested about the latest bells and whistles in your new thingamajig than they are about the behind-the-scenes drama that went into its making, the faster you will be able to win their hearts, minds, and wallets.
The lessons we have learned, and continue to learn from social media shows that – above all else – people love to connect with other people. Whether it is simply to express a point-of-view or to talk about how much they love or hate something or someone, it is these personal connections – these investments in sincerity – that generate the most response from others in the community. And those companies that are able to grasp this quickly might be the only ones who will succeed in a future dominated by social media.