The use of social media in business is not really rocket science. Indeed, while social has in recent years become a bona fide industry with its own somewhat confusing ecosystem of systems, processes, tools, platforms and ‘gurus’, if you strip it right back, social media still works best for businesses that are willing to put in the time and effort to:
- regularly publish relevant content that’s useful/helpful/engaging/thought-provoking/entertaining (tick whichever applicable),
- over-index on humanity, take people behind-the-scenes of the brand, show the “whites of the eyes” of the owners and leaders of the business, and
- listen to consumers and engage in conversation with people in a genuine way, responding with empathy if an issue is customer service based.
In other words, if as a business you deliver value on social media over and above your products and services, and if you do it in such a way that is open and human, then you’ll do okay. No-one ever went wrong being useful and helpful!
My background in social media dates back to 2005 when I first joined LinkedIn. It was a period of time when, if you invited someone to connect with you on the platform, they thought you were a stalker! I’ve closely tracked the progress of social media ever since. Has it changed in that time? Of course, yes … and, no.
Social media has become big business for sure, but that’s also brought with it a downside for users. As social media grew in popularity, business owners – faced with additional channels to reach potential customers – continued to do what they’d always done: interrupt people with their unwanted promotional messages. As we know, this doesn’t work all that well on social media.
Then social channels – natch, Facebook – squeezed the life out of organic reach, forcing businesses to rethink how they got their content in front of their audience. This rethink, naturally, involved cash, and if you were in a competitive space, wads of it!
Of course, paid social is now very much a thing, but within marketing circles, sometimes it is the thing. Focus is on paid, not on building a community of engaged consumers who like and trust your brand.
Given nearly half of social media users (48%, according to this report) take no notice of ads on social media, and 53 per cent ignore sponsored posts from businesses they don’t follow, merely interrupting people on social channels with promotional messages is only going to become tougher.
To me, it has always been a question of balance.
Organically build visibility, trust and respect with your audience over and over again through ongoing value-added communications. This means that when you do advertise, those people who have been exposed to your brand not only might take notice of you, they may even like and trust your brand because of the connection you’ve nurtured over time. The result, therefore, is an audience that might be more predisposed to your sales message.
In other words, warm up your audience before you start pitching your wares on social media, versus simply advertising to them cold.
This works well organically, of course, but that can take an extended period of time. If you want to fast-track the process, use social advertising to promote your non-sales content and in doing so, create familiarity and affinity with your intended audience. Online marketing guru Dennis Yu refers to this type of advertising as “digital postage”.
Humanising your brand
Are people who work in your business, especially the owners and leaders, involved too? Are they out, loud and proud on your branded social channels? Steve Plarre, CEO of Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses, is a great example of this with his fun videos on Facebook. Ditto the directors of property investment company, OpenCorp, with their Facebook Live Q&A Shows.
And if representatives of the brand engage with the public on social channels, so much the better.
Indeed, the 2020 Yellow Social Media Report backs this up, with over half of the respondents saying they are more likely to trust brands if they interact positively with customers on social media, make their content engaging and relevant, and keep it regularly updated.
Businesses seem to be on the right path here, with 63% using social media to engage in two-way conversation with customers and connections, while almost half the businesses canvassed (45%) claim to monitor or update their social media at least once a day, with 80% doing it weekly.
The bottom line is this: We do business with people we know, like, trust … who are front of mind and talked about in a positive way in the marketplace. If you can achieve any of these cornerstones of familiarity using social media, then your business will be in better shape when it comes to marketing your products and services over the long term.