Does your company practice social media marketing, or do you use social networks for marketing? There is a difference.
The first – social media marketing – requires a strategy specific to social channels, and content tailored to those platforms. The second – marketing on social networks – is simply distributing traditional marketing messages through social media.
Social media marketing works. Marketing on social networks doesn’t.
Social media marketing is a true two-way conversation between a company and its customers, prospective customers, and the world at large. Marketing through social networks “pushes” company offerings to anyone who can hear them. This includes tactics like feeding miscellaneous news to a Twitter stream, posting special deals on Qwiqq and Groupon, and sending direct messages and emails asking people to follow the brand.
Yes, there are times when you should push marketing messages out. The hyper-local promotions on Qwiqq, for example, are highly effective and inexpensive tools. But, in general, simply pushing a traditional marketing or sales message out through a new channel is just another channel for one-way communication. Social media, by definition, isn’t a one-way communications channel.
Here are five rules of thumb that can help you develop a social marketing plan that will work for you and your business.
Limit Scheduled Content
Personally, I couldn’t live without a great scheduling application for my social media. And it’s tempting to just write everything at once, and schedule it all, especially if you use something like Socialyzer that uses advanced algorithms and behavioral profiling of your followers and fans to predict the best time for your messages, and schedules them accordingly.
I tried it that way, and what I learned is that without a conversational component, I was better off not doing anything at all. Why? Because using social media solely as a one-way communications tool made people think that either I didn’t know how to use social media properly, or I couldn’t afford to hire someone qualified to do it for me.
Now, when I publish new content or have a message I want to promote via social media, I still write everything at once – the content, the press release, the banners or PPC ads, the social media messages (tweets and posts and social news and booking mark site abstracts, etc.). And then I schedule the posts, letting the predictive algorithms in my scheduling app recommend the best times and days for each message.
I also schedule some time every day – during the “peak audience hours” for my followers and fans, as analyzed by the geniuses at Socialyzer – to engage in social media conversations. What kind of conversations? I reply to tweets from followers, I comment on other people’s blogs and Facebook pages, and I post open-ended questions asking for help or suggestions or advice – and I say thank you to those who offer it.
Yes, it takes time. But not much. I only have about 15 minutes twice a day to spend on this, and that includes all of the social media channels we use.
Look on the Bright Side
Did you ever see actor and human rights activist George Takei’s Facebook page? If not, I’ll bet you’ve seen someone share something from his page if you’ve spent any time at all on Facebook or Twitter.
He has a million followers, and that helps. But even when George Takei’s social media successes are compared to that of people with many more followers – be they Lady Gaga, Rhianna, or Coca-Cola – Takei blows them out of the water on Twitter in terms of retweets, and on Facebook nobody gets more “shares” or “likes” than George Takei.
Nearly half of all the items Takei posts – and he posts multiple times each day – get upwards of 50,000 likes and 30,000 shares. His success on Facebook – which began in late 2011 when he started his Facebook page – has helped his once sagging career, too.
What’s his secret? I think he has three of them
- He makes me smile. Even when I disagree with his politics, or he’s basically flogging tickets to an event or selling a product (DVD’s or whatever), he does it with humor and hilarious pictures. I can’t help but laugh out loud – or at least smile – at most of what he posts.
- He knows his audience well. Takei’s fans don’t like words. They like pictures. So his posts are typically less than 20 words in length – with a hilarious photograph or image to go along with them.
- He often posts material from other people. Nearly a third of everything he posts is a re-post or credited as “from a fan”. And he is always polite and humorous in his responses to people who comment on his posts. Negative posts aren’t deleted if they’re about him or what he says, but he’s quick to remove anything in which a fan attacks someone else.
The result is that while he is undeniably edgy, he’s almost never offensive. It’s a well-known fact that positive, upbeat posts on social media get a far better response than negative downers. So double-check – do your posts make people smile?
Show Your True Colors
It’s hard to get people to give you their valuable time if they don’t know who you are or what you represent. And that means personalizing your profile, even if the social media account represents a brand.
It’s no surprise that the least successful Twitter accounts are those with the default “egg” photos instead of a photo of a real human being or even a logo. This isn’t a new marketing principle discovered in the last few years. Remember Col. Sanders, Betty Crocker, the Brawny paper towel lumberjack, Mr. Clean, and Tony the Tiger?
If you blog, tweet, or post to social media on behalf of a brand, you could do worse than creating a character to represent your brand. “MufflerMike” represents a chain of muffler repair shops perfectly – and there’s no question about who owns the profiles and accounts set up under that name.
One of the benefits of the new Facebook Timeline for Business page layout is the cover photo: a big photo block at the top of the page. Nearly 60% of brands have opted for a Twitter or Facebook profile that includes their logo, since the profile photo is what shows up next to posts and responses. But the cover photo on Timeline (it appears above the profile picture, across the width of the page) is a great place to “humanize” or personalize the brand with a photo.
What kind of photo? It could be anything attractive – pictures taken at the employee picnic, a photo of employees interacting with customers (get written permission to use customer photos!), a coffee mug with your logo on it sitting on someone’s desk, your corporate campus showing employees bicycling or walking or eating lunch outdoors, a photo of one of your products in use. Cover photos are simple to change (just mouse over it, and an option to “change image” pops up), and can go a long way to encouraging people to think positively of your brand.
One brand here in Dallas rotates photos of its employee volunteer program across its Facebook Timeline cover photo. One week you’ll see someone interacting with kids in an inner city school, the next it’s a building project for Habitat for Humanity, and so on. An oil company shows its people at work on drilling rigs, in offices, in town hall meetings with community groups, and in small town diners or coffee shops.
Make Your Fans Feel Like Winners
Let’s face it, most people like to win. A successful competition or contest can bring a company into the spotlight and attract a lot of new leads and customers. You can host it through the social media site, or through one of the many applications that manage online competitions for you.
Support your contest with email marketing (messages to your opt-in list about the competition or even in the signature files that employees use on routine emails) and other forms of communications (“hold” messages, PPC, banner ads, press releases, SEO, blog posts…and the list goes on). Don’t forget to use all of your social media channels – LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, StumbleUpon, Reddit, etc. – to tell people about your contest or competition.
The best contests are repeatable, simple, and fun. For example, a summer camp runs a “camper photo of the month” contest year-round where parents and campers alike can send in photos of camp alumni or participants in multiple categories (“using what I learned at camp”, “what I did last summer”, and “I’d rather be at camp” are three of the most popular). The camp staff picks finalists, but votes from the page’s fans determine the winner. The prize? A free camp T-shirt.
An insurance company runs a quarterly contest based around their company mission statement: insuring dreams. Social media followers are asked to describe their dreams – and the prize is “helping make that dream come true.” One recent competition was called “Motorcycle Dreams” – and the top prize was a trip to the annual rally in Sturgis, SD. Other prizes included accessories for someone’s dream bike, a professional photograph of the winner and their bike, and a free “behind the bar” safety training course for young riders.
Quizzes are also popular – and if your quiz is interesting and entertaining enough, you don’t even need to offer a prize. They can be a bit challenging, since Facebook requires an app to host them, but a simple landing page powered by a form and survey tool like the one in the Distribion Distributed Marketing Platform can handle them for Twitter, Pinterest, and other social media sites.
One of the most popular quiz campaigns in the world is run by a New Zealand-based news organization called Stuff. (Tip: check out Stuff’s free iPad/iPhone/Android application for a look at one of the most gorgeous, user-friendly mobile apps.) It’s a simple trivia quiz – with all the questions drawn from articles carried in one of the newspapers that make up the coalition behind Stuff. And the prize? Tens of thousands of visitors from around the world come back day after day to challenge their own high score in response to messages like, “Perfect! Can you maintain it tomorrow?” or “Good job – can you do better tomorrow?”
Remember: It’s Customer Choice
Last week, Forbes contributor Todd Wilms said this better than anything I’ve read: social media is the ultimate “pay it forward” media. The truth is that the Internet changed the balance of power between marketers and customers forever – customers have the power, and they aren’t going to give it back.
What that means to anyone engaged in multi-channel marketing communications is that we can never forget that our customers have choices. Do they want our content – or someone else’s? Do they want long-form content (white papers, eBooks), intermediate content (like this blog post), or short-form content (a 90-second video)? Most importantly, do they trust that the information we’re providing is accurate, useful, and interesting?
Social media marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Anyone who goes into the process thinking that it’s going to become a “set it and forget it” process is probably not cut out for social media marketing. It takes time to build credibility – and it takes a commitment to a real, two-way dialogue with the people who visit your pages.
The truth is that a lot of companies just aren’t willing to spend at the levels required to be successful in social media. One of the most pervasive myths of social media is that it’s free. It isn’t. Robert Heinlein’s famous motto TANSTAAFL (“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”) applies here, as everywhere else in life.
Social media consumes the rarest non-renewable resource: time. Employees, agencies, or independent contractors have to be paid for the time it takes to plan and execute the strategy, the creative inspiration to make it memorable, and the tools to manage, monitor, report, archive, and analyze the results.
And this last point is why so many companies are still marketing on social networks instead of actually conducting social media marketing campaigns. They’re trying to avoid the costs associated with doing it right – and that can be a fatal mistake in a medium where the audience is quick to spot (and turn on) those who don’t become part of the community, but become “drive by posters” who just drop in to try and sell them things.