“When companies think of social media, they hope to get consumers to “like” them or “fan” them, as if that increased connection is meaningful. Again, that captures the marketing aspect but misses the strategic point. The social object that unites people isn’t a company or a product; the social object that most unites people is a shared value or purpose.” — Nilofer Merchant
“None of these intangible assets has value that can be measured separately or independently. The value of these intangible assets derives from their ability to help the organization implement its strategy. . . .Intangible assets such as knowledge and technology seldom have a direct impact on financial outcomes such as increased revenues, lowered costs, and higher profits. Improvements in intangible assets affect financial outcomes through chains of cause-and-effect relationships.” — Bob Kaplan
Take a minute and think about your friends. Not your social media friends, your actual friends. Why do you like them? What brought you together? What has held the relationship together over the years? If they’re the type of friends I’m thinking about then the answers probably have little to do with the kind of car you drive or the house you live in or the amount of money you make every year. The answer probably has to do with a shared set of values, beliefs, interests, ethics, and commonalities that forge very strong bonds. They are your friends because of the relationship that, over time, you have created and nurtured and protected and grown. And without making too silly of a leap I’d say that designing a social media strategy for a business is very much like developing a great friendship–one is based on shared values and purpose rather than objects and services.
Designing a social media strategy for small or medium sized businesses is never just about the product or service the company provides–especially if that product or service isn’t that fun or sexy. Plumbing, for example, or heating and air conditioning–not the most glamorous trades. And to build a social media identity on these services alone is incorrect. The services are commodities and they suffer from their own unique types of parity. Instead, companies are beginning to understand that community building needs to be about humanizing the business in a way that goes beyond the nuts and bolts of daily operations or simple promotions. New friends and visitors need to see a value system that they connect and identify with–one that is relevant to their lives in the same ways that our best friends are consistently relevant to our lives. This means that the content a company chooses to curate, share, and create needs to have a clear, value based perspective that key influencers will actively spread in to their own evolving networks. So as we head in to 2013, here are a few best practices to engage your social media customers–regardless of the industry you’re in:
1. Quality over Quantity. One of the fast-emerging trends in social media design has to do with the quality and influence of the connection rather than the number of connections themselves. Connecting with clients via social media makes sense, but not every client is the right client–some are far more important to your business than others. As your business acquires new social connections it’s important to evaluate their influence. Smart companies are beginning to overlay CRM information over their social connections to determine which clients are more influential or important to their business than others. “Likes” are great, but influence and active sharing are far more powerful and important to a business.
2. Convergence Marketing. Social media allows you to expand your cross-channel marketing in ways that have been impossible to accomplish in the past. Events, activities, promotions, people, milestones, philanthropy…they can all be feathered in to your social sharing through a simple hashtag that catches fire or a video that just happens to go viral. With that said, convergence marketing also means that your outbound sharing needs to have a clear, value-based point of view that participants can relate to and want to share without a prompt.
3. Roles and Purpose. Facebook functions differently than Twitter. Twitter functions differently than Tumblr. Tumblr. functions differently than Pinterest. And as tempting as it is to create content and hit ‘share’ across all of these platforms it sends the wrong message. Social sharing is value-based sharing and each social channel his its unique value platform and mindset. As difficult as this may be to undertake it’s vitally important to understand: Regular participation means regular, unique sharing respective to the social channel. What works on Twitter won’t work on Facebook.
4. Image Based Sharing. If Instagram and Pinterest have illustrated anything this year it’s that image-based sharing as a form of direct marketing works better than almost anything! Images–pictures and video–are frictionless media and can both understood and shared faster than anything.
5. Great Content. In the social world content is still king. Which is to say that it’s time to get tactical about the nature of the shared content. The things a company shares reflect that company’s value system and culture. Is the business affable? Are they experts in any discipline? Do they give back to their community? What do customers say about the business? In other words, sharing great content is the act of sharing the business’ core identity. More importantly, it’s how prospective social connections determine how relevant the business is to their lives–and if they should devote the time and energy to the relationship.
6. Influence Marketing. Why do movie stars receive gift bags at the Oscars? It’s not because they need more stuff or can’t afford a new cell phone. It’s because they are influencers. Every business has clients who are influencers–folks that are great return customers, or have actively referred the business, or fit a target demographic. And, once you know who these people are then tactical social promotions that target these influencers will prove more effective at generating new business or positive referrals than one-off blanket messaging.
7. Mobile Optimization of Digital Channels: Saying to yourself “We should really budget for mobile” is so 2011. In 2013 if your digital channels are not mobile then you are missing a significant opportunity. Just do it, trust me.
8. Social ROI. The elephant in the corner. I’ll refer to Bob Kaplan’s quote at the beginning of this post. Ridiculous amounts of time and energy are going in to fuzzy metrics that attempt to quantify the value of social media. Huge companies have an easier time with this. Audi can track brand awareness pretty well. The Grammy’s can track trending data during an event or program. But it’s a little more difficult at the small business level. Personally, I’m ok with that. Not because I like the idea of frittering away marketing dollars or paying an agency to “manage” a social media campaign. I’m ok with the real lack of quantifiable metrics because we’re living and working in an era of brand co-creation. Customers want to participate and are actively co-creating company brands using social sharing in much the same way that good friends co-create their relationship. It evolves in to something remarkably important and can’t be easily measured…but it becomes brilliant over time. Social media is, first and foremost, social. It’s a conversation. It’s about shared values. It’s about influence and reciprocity. It’s about participation and creation. Social media just happens to be about all of the things that traditional advertising never could understand: That pitching a product is easy. Influencing short-term behavior is pretty easy. But sustaining long-term relationships and positive sharing demands a value based core that it outside of the product, service, or promotion itself.
Social media–doing it well–is serious work these days. To my friends that are small business owners I’d simply say this: Don’t delegate it, own it. Don’t ask the administrator to do it. You need to roll up your sleeves and design it. And please, design it. And design it carefully, thoughtfully, and tactfully. Act as if you’re in the process of starting a new friendship–treat it with that level of care and respect and you can’t go wrong.