Talking at your audience is so last century. It’s old-school, traditional marketing. And large numbers of marketers fool themselves that they have a social media strategy, though they are using their presence on Facebook and Twitter merely to push out messages.
Companies and brands that know how to use social media well talk with their target audiences. They participate in ongoing conversations that mix humor, enthusiasm, information, and other elements of engagement.
“Social media is not a broadcast medium,” said Monique Elwell, CEO of Conversify, a social media agency, in a phone interview.1 “I would say 70 percent of brands out there don’t get that.” She defines social media as “any digital technologies that allow you to be social.”
So, Amazon reviews, Yelp, SlideShare, LinkedIn, foursquare, Digg, Delicious, Second Life, and many other platforms and applications are digital places where your business might find and converse with customers. Blogs and vlogs, too. (Just to monitor the blogs you could be commenting on could be overwhelming, as blogs number well over 200 million, according to Technorati.)2
Social media is a toolbox full of cool tools you can use for finding, developing, and holding on to customers. The tools themselves are ever growing, ever changing. Facebook has been around since 2004, whereas Twitter launched in 2006. Blogs first appeared in 1997. And just last year, Google added Google+ Pages for Business.
Overwhelmed? Start with this simple thought: It’s all about being in a constant, ongoing conversation. Elwell believes that marketers should have not just a social media strategy, but also a deep knowledge of who relates to their brands so they can either start or join in online conversations that relate to their brands somehow or that closely interest their target audiences. You don’t have to be everywhere, but if you do find one or a few places to talk with your customers, you can nuance what is said about your brand.
Take Small First Steps
If you have never started a conversation with your target customers online, where do you begin? Pretend you’re at a new school and enter ongoing conversations when you can add something—news, humor, a photo they might relate to.
Speak in a “similar way as in a conversation,” Elwell said. “You would ask the person you’re speaking with questions, you would engage them, you would find out things about them, you would share things, be excited and enthusiastic.”
A social media agency like Conversify can help you craft conversation starters to get people engaged. Notice the word “craft.” It suggests taking time, not just throwing something out there for people to react to.
If you don’t have a budget to hire someone to handle all your social media, you could start with a blog or YouTube or SlideShare. Elwell suggested: “If they have a lot of video content or pictures and they like to write, keep it to a blog. If they don’t write a lot but do have photos and video, use Tumblr, or if they don’t want to write at all, use YouTube or SlideShare. If they have some pictures and are fairly good at two- or three-line quips, do it on Facebook. If press is critical, I would look at Twitter.”
One small-business owner who uses Twitter (and other social media) extremely well is British jewelry designer Jema Hewitt.3 She created a fictional persona, Miss Emilly Ladybird, whose adventures she chronicles in ongoing tales that often involve finding something sparkly and collectible.
Borrow These Two Tools
If you want your customers to relate to your online posts, you have to share their conversational style. For example, said Elwell, when it comes to the in-store experience, shopping at Lowe’s for home renovation products is satisfying for a “40-something female who is renovating her 1893 Victorian.” However, on the Lowe’s Facebook page, a lot of texting shorthands convinced her that the person communicating with her was probably a 20-something guy.
“The way that they were handling the Lowe’s brand was not at all on target” for a woman in her 40s. She added, “I will not use texting shorthand. That’s for kids. I don’t use much in the way of contractions. Certain phraseology will turn me off.”
The way to avoid such turnoffs for your target audience is something Conversify develops for its clients, a brand style guide.
A marketer needs to be aware of how his every posting, his every sentence, is being received. The brand style guide ensures that the brand is “articulated appropriately in social media,” Elwell said. “That’s another huge problem that most brands have that they’re not doing.”
A second tool that helps steer a social media strategy is a conversation guide. Conversify typically will set forth five or 10 conversational subjects for the brand and look for opportunities to get into these conversations. Once a year, they’ll go back and revise the list, analyzing the messages that friends and followers responded to. More on conversation guides can be found in a Conversify video (at one minute, 40 seconds in).4
Don’t Try to Control It
Using social media well involves dropping in a fairly subtle call to action. Her own rule, Elwell said, is to add a reminder about the brand one in every 10 times you post a message. For example, for Middle Sister Wines, the conversation involved a photo of a pink wine glass, and the call to action was along these lines: “Wouldn’t it be great for holding a splash of Middle Sister wine?”
Remember, though: You as the brand do not own all the brand perceptions. You can do crisis communications and outreach using social media. You can listen in and hear what people are saying. But don’t freak out if you get negative reviews on Yelp or Amazon.
Your customers are smart enough to figure out if the reviews are fair. Give them some credit, and then go get in another conversation with them.