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Stop Trying to Game Social Media
Posted on February 8th 2013
For those who sell things online, social media seems like any other game of Monopoly; a vast community of users with property for sale that you want to occupy with your product. Unfortunately though, the easiest way with social media marketing is the wrong approach and effectively gaming the system is equivalent to rolling doubles three times in a row. It’s no secret that the old cowboy days of optimization meant a lot of lawless tactics. Subverting the system was the best way to maximize search results, and who was keeping score anyway? Those hoping to translate their mastery of algorithms to a new type of site quickly learn though that things don't work the same way. Instead of a blind algorithm that can easily be fooled, you’re now dealing with real people who have more intelligent reactions to your efforts. Don’t buy utilities, understand railroads are risky, and know that shortcuts in the game of Social Media will get you sent to jail. The only way to succeed is to play the master of the house’s rules, and these days, the master is the average user.
Who Do You Honestly Think You’re Fooling?
The first obstacle in most people’s attempts to game audience intent; people often search Google when they want to buy things, people NEVER log into Facebook looking to make a purchase. So, most people are turned off when they see the same blatant advertising on Facebook that works great in the No. 1 slot in Google. Pushing out tweets and updates has the potential to garner traffic and get in front of a larger user base, but what truly matters is how users perceive and interact with your content. Simply having a social user open an update only to immediately click away in disgust yields literally nothing to your campaign. That only makes marketing numbers appear larger than the conversions really are.
At their core, social media users want something to talk about -- that’s why it’s called social media. Pictures, stories and posts that leave openings for interaction work best, otherwise you might as well just stick with traditional advertising and pretend that people are listening. The New York Times wrote a great article about how this year’s Super Bowl ads did nothing to capitalize on the new wave of information and technology online and simply rehashed old efforts that burn millions of dollars and don’t correlate with audiences today. Yes, Go Daddy’s awful commercial garnered conversation, but guess where? All online and through social avenues. Why not start there and work your way up instead of paying $4mm for a 30-second ad spot?
The real winner of the Super Bowl advertising game: Oreo. Their TV commercial was actually one of the better ones in my opinion, but that’s not where they excelled. When the lights went out in the Mercedes Benz Superdome, Oreo published this photo on their twitter account and it blew up. How you ask? By understanding what people were engaging with and how to tie in their product. Truly brilliant, and all with a simple graphic and understanding conversational social media.
Traditional advertising often falls into the trap of not having a deep enough connection with the target audience. Consider the types of scenes used to sell dish soap. Creative agencies behind soap commercials have identified the target audience to be stay at home mothers, and as a result there is always some woman in a kitchen washing dishes. While that shows what the product is and what it does, it reduces the user to a stereotyped idea – sometimes one that is changing (dorm kids, stay at home dads -- who doesn’t use dish soap?) It’s an organization treating their customers like stereotypes, where as social media provides the unique experience to understand them as people. Real people. So why would you ever want to reduce them back to their old roles?
For social media, don't reduce your customers to tiny testimonial snippets – the online version of the stereotypical dishwashing woman. Provide a bigger view of your prospective clients and let them interact. Discuss parts of life that have nothing to do with the product. Don’t talk about it, be about it.
Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect Your Raving Fans
Have you ever been sitting on your couch watching TV and thought to yourself, “I feel like I’m watching the same things over and over again?” THAT’S BECAUSE YOU ARE. Change is frightening to large organizations since a large strategy needs to be implemented at such a scale, and the motto is usually: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Let’s jump back in time three years. The trend for online marketing, especially within the social realm, was buying followers. Why? Because these large companies are afraid of change and persisted in treating the common consumer as they did in their dish soap commercials: as cardboard cutouts. The easiest way to prove popularity was the number under “Followers” and the easiest way to grow that number was to pay a little money. Only problem is people aren’t cutouts and they want to communicate with companies now, they want honesty from providers, and everyone wants to be a critic. Now they can be, and cheating the system gets you sent to jail.
Buying followers, hacking social media accounts and following massive amounts of people and then immediately un-following them are the new form of black hat marketing in the social realm, except unlike old school SEO, it has no positives whatsoever, even in the short term. That being said, only a few people set out to do things like hack social media accounts. You're more likely to encounter this if you hire a shady promoter. To avoid the risk of getting caught up in someone else's illegal activity, be wary of people who offer hundreds of thousands of tweets or posts for dirt-cheap prices. Instead, only deal with established, reputable social media promotion firms who know how to cater to people in social.
By giving your users something they can interact with and share you can achieve social success. Take Hasbro and the game of Monopoly. They recently concluded a digital campaign with online voting to see which pieces are to be removed from the new sets entirely (RIP lil iron). In an unbelievable twist (heavy sarcasm), the Internet voted in a cat as the new piece. A simple online voting campaign garnered literally millions of votes and rekindled everyone’s love for the game of Monopoly, bringing the 80-year old brand into the 21st century with a splash.
Knowing is half the battle, and in the Game of Social Media, the first step towards victory is knowing that each method of marketing is entirely unique. Social media is about online validity, and just like Monopoly you need to slowly build up your cash and clout online to buy the big properties. By not taking short cuts and slowly building your real estate, you too can buy Park Ave. and reel in the big bucks.