Use social media to talk with, not at, your customers

Some people are quick to label social media as a passing fad that time and ever-changing technology will eventually make obsolete. They couldn’t be more wrong. Technology will always evolve, and social media will evolve with it, but the benefits that make social media so popular will never go away.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Generations ago, before the birth of computers and the internet, people had the same interactions they’re having today. They would go to a diner, read the morning paper, and talk politics with the patron at the next stool. They would see each other at the grocery store, look into each other’s shopping carts, and discuss what products they were buying and why. They would reconnect at parties and spread the latest gossip, brag about their vacations, and spar over upcoming sporting events.

From a sociological perspective, nothing has really changed. People still wake up, read the news over breakfast, and talk politics. The difference is that the news comes from RSS feeds and the discussion takes place on Facebook. Consumers still talk about the quality of the products they buy. The difference is that they do it via Amazon’s rating forums. And people still spread gossip, share vacation pictures, and talk sports. The difference is that they do it on Twitter, Instagram, blogs, and countless other social platforms.

It’s all about community

Social media is a virtual ecosystem. It is comprised of communities that form around common interests. The people using social media are invested in the sense that they have something to share or something they’re seeking.  In a way, the shift toward social media is like a shift back to a sort of Rockwellian community where everyone shares everything.   That’s what makes social media such a useful tool for marketing.

The old business adage says that you “go where your customers are.” Despite the fact that many people erroneously associate social media with young, urban technophiles, the truth is that all age groups at all socio-economic levels are active online. If you sell a product or a service to people with a cell phone or an internet connection, then many of your customers are using social media. But you can’t target them the same you would through older, more traditional forms of advertising. The secret to success in the virtual world is engagement.

Press releases are common and useful in the corporate world. But simply using Facebook or Twitter to trumpet your lastest press releases is like screaming over a crowd of people who are already involved in conversation. They’ll acknowledge you at best, and be annoyed with you (and your brand) at worst.

The rules of the game have changed

Older forms of advertising like print and TV was focused on interrupting the audience. Social media is all about engaging with the audience. Authenticity is the currency that buys people’s attention.  Thanks to the internet, we’ve evolved into savvy communicators who can easily spot a sales pitch wrapped inside a random comment. And it’s never been easier to ignore what you find annoying.

How many times have you been polite enough to listen to a stranger’s sales pitch, knowing full well that you’re not going to buy anything, simply because you want to spare that person’s feelings? Well, that kind of thing doesn’t happen in social media. It’s just too easy to ignore and suppress unwanted solicitations.

When was the last time you clicked on a banner ad? When was the last time you even noticed one?

In order to get someone’s attention these days, you have to engage with them in a meaningful way. You have to ask them questions and be genuinely interested in how they respond, ask them follow-up questions to prove that you’re not just killing time before the sales pitch, and share stories of your own. You have to offer free advice that actually helps them with the specific problem that brought them to your attention in the first place. You have to imbue the conversation with meaning by actually being meaningful. A radical concept, I know.

There’s not much of a difference between education and entertainment in social media. Do whatever you can to be of value. Make them laugh. Laugh at yourself. You need to make them see you as a human being, and not just an lifeless avatar with a screen name.

If you take the time to do it, do it right

All of this engagement outreach comes at the expense of time, but it’s worth it. When a customer got good service in the old days, you’d be lucky if they told one or two people about you. Thanks to social media, one person’s comment about good service on Facebook or Twitter can reach millions.

Follow these simple tips to build a quality brand on social media:

  1. Be considerate of the people you communicate with.
  2. Be authentic in how you represent yourself and your brand.
  3. Make your point as briefly as possible and follow up with interested people.
  4. Be consistent in the frequency of your postings.
  5. Avoid selling unless someone distinctly says they’re looking to buy.

Social media is about building relationships, not revenue. That might sound counter-productive, but it’s an organic process. The sales will come eventually, and those buyers will be very loyal customers who will do your selling for you. They’ll do it because they’re not just customers; they’re your new friends.

Use social media to talk with, not at, your customers
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