This week’s guest post comes from social media and content marketing pro Jim Dougherty. The Belle Team is already a fan of his skills, and we’re sure you will be too! Learn even more from Jim by reading his content on leaderswest.
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Social media is the great panacea for PR and marketing. It is the new way that we consume media, changing our consumption habits and the way that we communicate with each other. Nearly everyone in the U.S. is on Facebook, nearly everyone in the media is on Twitter and there are slices of opportunity for every social network that you can think of. But consumption and audience aren’t a particularly helpful way to gauge how social media can help to grow your business.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of questions, contests, and social posts to realize that a lot of the advice you get about social media is wrong. What I want to do in this post is take a look at six ways that social media can help to grow your business. Not hypothetically or in the dissonant abstract, but to question how social media can really help your business to grow.
1. Focus first on your organic touchpoints
Think of all of the flowery things that you’ve read about social media. What it can do, how little it costs, how many people use any particular platform, et cetera. Here’s an insight that may shock you: people don’t use social media so that they can consume your messaging or enter into a brand dialog. People primarily engage a brand on social media for two reasons: for customer care or for a discount.
These aren’t always the first considerations that people make when they develop a social media plan, but they should be. Consider the customer perception if a person complains to a sporadically managed Twitter account. A customer may expect a response in an hour, and the lapse between the hour and the actual response time will exhaust goodwill pretty quickly. Consider also the social fan persuaded to follow a brand with a discount, deal or incentive. What is their expectation from the brand going forward? To get more discounts, deals and incentives. Trying to create a different sort of engagement to these social followers is a bit of a bait and switch.
The bigger insight here is that most social users have very personal reasons to engage on social media. For most Facebook and Twitter users, their intention is to use these platforms for (some degree of) interpersonal engagement. Brand engagements are oftentimes done with customer service intent.
2. Convert social users to email subscribers
Here’s a thought experiment: try to visualize the path of an email versus a Facebook post.
- The email travels directly from sender to recipient. The only impediment being spam filters and the sender’s copy. If an email gets into an inbox it has to be dealt with.
- The Facebook post travels from sender to their Facebook profile page (where few of your friends dare to travel). It is shown to a portion of your friend network based upon a proprietary algorithm, and can be completely ignored by recipients without any action.
The point of this exercise is to show that email is a much more reliable means to communicate with people than social media. Email is not sexy, it is not new and shiny, but it is quite a bit more effective than social to communicate your point of view to people.
The primary difference between social and email acquisition is barrier-to-entry. You can acquire a Twitter follower, Facebook Fan, or Google Plus enthusiast with one click of a button. Email subscribers must enter their email and other information and confirm their subscription. From a behavioral standpoint, the odds for social acquisition are far higher than email subscribership.
However, once you’ve acquired a social fan you can leverage their attention to graduate them to email subscribers. You may Tweet a special offer only available to email subscribers, or offer an ebook of some sort. The value to promoting social fans to email subscribers is that reaching social fans costs a lot of money.
3. Budget for social reach
I wrote a piece a while back using different statistics about Facebook time on site, login frequency, and content posted / consumed to examine whether Facebook filtering is as necessary as Facebook says. Spoiler alert: it isn’t necessary for most users. And most people understand that randomly filtering content serves Facebook’s advertising objectives. Whether a couple wants to announce the birth of their baby or a brand wants to run a Facebook promotion, they need to pay for the opportunity for their network to see that information. It’s a counterintuitive thought, and one that increasingly holds for Twitter and other social networks as well.
Many PR folks find paying for social reach untowards (with good reason). PR has traditionally been “above the fold” where marketing has been responsible for buying ads and placements, and many businesses approach social media with the same sense of propriety. But there’s a Catch 22 to social media promotion and PR: social media oftentimes falls under the purview of PR, or sometimes there isn’t a PR or marketing function… it’s just you. It’s important to understand that organic reach is oftentimes inadequate to achieve an intended social audience.
Point being: in order to grow your business using social media it is important to budget for reach. Whether this is unsavory is irrelevant: the largest social networks are increasingly pay-to-play.
4. Personalize your outreach
Nearly everyone is on Facebook. Most professionals are on LinkedIn, and about 20% of people use Twitter. On and on for any social network you can think of. People share a lot of information to inform “high-touch” outreach tactics.
In the PR profession, there are also automated tools that allow you to send blast emails to every journalist or influencer in a geographic area or with a very broad target of concentration. Yet the most effective pitches tend to be personalized. This insight is directly applicable to businesses – people want you to know about them. They want you to understand them to some extent. This is why segmentation proves so powerful to many marketers.
So much of our personal and professional lives are projected onto social platforms that it makes a lot of sense to use these to get context about people who can influence your business growth: your customers, your advocates, and your competition.
5. Don’t overthink what you can do with social
You’ve probably heard these social media tips and suggestions before:
- There’s no ROI in social media
- You should use social network X to grow your business
- The newest, hottest social network for X is Y
- Social / analytic app X will help to grow your business like a weed
Many people have points of view that are irrelevant to the specifics of your business verticals. When people write or speak definitely about social media tips and how they can impact every business, it’s usually a good indication that the advice is less than substantial.
Johna Burke, EVP of BurrelesLuce shared a perspective in a recent PRSA talk that many businesses would be wise to heed: tactics like social media should have clear purpose and responsibilities, and businesses should engineer metrics into their process to measure the effectiveness of these tactics to the overall business objectives. That’s a pretty dense sentence, so let’s dissect it a bit:
- Social media should have clear purpose and responsibility: Your social tactics should have an expected outcome and somebody should be responsible for executing these tactics
- Businesses should engineer metrics into their process to measure effectiveness: Followers and Likes and traffic are pretty irrelevant measurements in the real world. An example of an engineered metric would be to say that you want Facebook to drive a certain percentage of referral business, and then use a tool like referral codes or ask for a referral source at the point of sale.
- Overall business objectives – this is simply to say that having a marketing-specific metric isn’t especially important if it doesn’t track to an overall business objective.
Point being, a lot of people like to show off shiny new toys and espouse a lot of jargon but the right mindset for deploying social media is pragmatism: what do I intend to accomplish? How can I measure the effectiveness of this? Who is responsible?
6. Be (for lack of a better word) social
The last point is pretty straightforward. My Facebook account is primarily full of pictures of my kids. My Twitter account is pretty dormant unless I want to engage or share something that interests me. My Pinterest is a repository of recipes I never use. My Instagram has more pictures and videos of my kids. My Tumblr page is simply a list of things that I appreciate about my wife. I tell you this not to cop to being the most annoying social media user ever (I’m not btw), I tell you this because the intention behind the way that I use social networks and nearly everyone else in the world uses social networks is different than your business’s intention with social media.
The better you are able to align what you want to accomplish on social media with how your audience uses social media, the more effective you’ll be to grow your business.
Social media is the new shiny thing, which gives us very little historical data to call BS on some more extraordinary claims that people make about it. It can be an effective tool for you to grow your business so long as you understand its capabilities and implement social tactics pragmatically. I will go so far to say that social will not be an isolated means for you to grow your business, but it does have an important role in your marketing mix.
I’m going to close with an interesting quote from Ashton Kutcher, which embodies for me the challenges of using social tactics:
A lot of what businesses find fascinating about social media are dissonant from what people find fascinating about it. A lot of the potential of social media is extraordinarily under realized. The challenge is to find a way to understand those mundane, self-glorifying things better and try to bridge a connection between what will resonate with people and what will grow your business.
How do you use social media in business? Do you have a favorite social channel? Let us know in the comments below!
Jim Dougherty is a writer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. He primarily writes about content and social media on his site leaderswest.com and is a frequent contributor to the Cision blog.