A number of years ago, a colleague of mine read an e-mail my firm had sent promoting a loyalty program which also doubles as a social media management system. She sent me a message saying basically “What’s up with this? I thought you hated social media.” My reply was “I hate going to the dentist but that doesn’t keep me from seeing one every six months.”
Since that time I have found that you need to post on social media sites a lot more often than every six months if you want to use it as an effective tool. I also found that I have come to enjoy it and that I like social media much more than dentists! No offense to anyone in the dental field.
That same year I dedicated myself to embracing the nuances of social media and becoming an expert, rather than be left behind. While I wouldn’t consider myself a full expert just yet, I have come to learn exactly how it can be used within the overall marketing mix.
This revelation began during a presentation in 2010 that was facilitated by a group of professionals who I would deem as full social media experts. During their presentation they spoke of how using this medium is truly about being social and sharing your unique story. All of a sudden my ears perked up. “That’s branding!” I thought…almost out loud. I looked around the table and everyone was still staring at the speaker, so fortunately my excitement was kept to my inside voice. I was worried that I might have unknowingly popped up and yelled as if I were attending a revival meeting.
While I may not be have been a social media expert back then, I certainly did, and do, know branding. Finally I had a foundation where I could truly understand how this medium fits in with other marketing and promotional tools. My new perspective gained further credence later when I spoke with one of the social media professionals. He commented on how many prospective clients come to his firm looking at social media as a silver bullet to increase sales. While social media can do that over time, it’s truly about telling your unique story. Therefore, you already have to have an engaging story, i.e. a cohesive brand message to share.
As with any marketing tool, if the message is crap it doesn’t matter how many different promotional tools an organization uses, the desired results won’t be realized. Much like the “garbage in, garbage out” theory many of us learned in high school during a computer programming class, social media isn’t going to help a poor brand message. It will simply expose an inferior communication to even more people. However, a business with a strong brand, and a true understanding of such, can truly benefit from using social media as a tool but not necessarily the tool.
In my journey from social media neophyte to future expert, this is what I came to realize:
- Social media isn’t a quick fix. The basic principles of creating a sound marketing plan based upon the unique brand of the business, as well as implementing a marketing mix comprised of tactics that will work in harmony, still rings true today. Like advertising, billboards, direct mail, and other tools, social media needs to be one of the marketing-mix components that spread the brand message in a consistent way.
- Don’t use social media to sell. The key word is “social.” Whether it be LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, or whatever new program appears, no one wants to feel like they are being sold in this space. Even the best Facebook ads have more of an informational slant than a sales pitch. I made the mistake of blatantly selling several times when I first began using social media. My ignorance inadvertently ticked people off. Not a wise branding move.
- Do use social media to share your brand by providing valuable content. Give free tips on how your customers, clients, or members can help themselves. Whether it be a golf shop sharing the three ways to improve your swing in 30 minutes or a financial institution sharing best practices on building a family budget, people will appreciate and, more important, remember the information a lot more than your advertising. Once I started sharing instead of selling I slowly had people begin to follow me.
- Start slow but start somewhere. There are a number of social media sites. If your business is just about to dive into the social media pool start with just one medium. If your company is primarily B2B you may want to start with LinkedIn. If your business serves consumers you may want to consider Twitter or Facebook depending upon your target market. Trying to learn four or five different media at one time will drive you crazy. I know, I tried…and people tell me I’m already a little nuts.
- You may want to measure the success of your marketing plan and mix as a whole rather than trying to determine an ROI from social media alone. Even before social media, it always frustrated me to hear a CPA/CFO type ask for an ROI on each specific tactic. While I agree that marketing is an investment and that a return needs to be realized at some point, many times it is better to track the ROI on a campaign or the overall mix. Marketing professionals know that marketing programs are successful due to a combination of tactics that work together. Social media is simply one of those tactics. If you do have someone ask you to determine the ROI of your social media activities feel free to share this quote I heard from an expert in this field during a recent presentation: “The ROI of your business participating in social media is that you will still be in business.”
While I may not have completely mastered social media yet, I know there are thousands of professionals that are just as confused as I was on how to incorporate social media into their businesses. As I once told a former boss, I was never one of those guys in school that naturally “got it”. I did about as well as anybody else but I had to study about four times longer and harder to get there. Maybe that’s why I had some success in business development and building client relationships as I can certainly understand why someone else has trouble understanding. When it comes to social media there is certainly a lot to understand and it changes practically every day. Plus, like dental work — it’s necessary, it’s a good practice, and it’s here to stay.