Bringing Old School to New Media
"It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us into trouble. It's the things we know that just ain't so." -Mark Twain
Twain's timeless truism aptly sum up where things go awry for businesses in social media. Companies have been doing things one way for so long that they cannot see what they cannot see. They are still applying the outdated principles of one-way messaging to the two-way channels of social media. It can hurt one's brain.
To understand what social media is, let's start with what it "ain't":
- It ain't a "media";
- It ain't a sales channel;
- It ain't Twitter, Facebook or YouTube;
Here's what social media is:
A human relationship.
It sounds trite, but it's true: Social media is a one-to-one relationship, via many-to-many platforms. As such, it takes time and effort, care and patience, respect and reverence. Those words may sound antithetical to "serious business," but in this new word-of-mouth, "thank you" economy, they produce serious business.
This approach to social media will take a little longer, but it will produce a sustained presence-and sustainable results. Your community will appreciate it. Your customers will appreciate it. And, you will sleep better at night.
Take your time. You needn't push. If your product or service genuinely improves people's lives in a tangible way (please make sure it does), then social media will move people through that funnel from Awareness to Interest to Action to Evangelism-the Holy Grail of marketing-without your having to forcing the issue.
By maintaining unflinching integrity, keeping your promises, caring about your customers and listening to them, I promise you will win in social media. Treat customers as guests in your home, and they will reward you with their kind words (words that can now echo across humanity). Remember: good business is good for business. My grandfather Varnum wouldn't sell one of his delicious baked goods to someone without taking the time to get to know them and their kids. He would invest so much of his time and energy into his customers that they all loved him and powered his business. In 25 years, he never paid a dime for advertising. He was consummately old-school. Do that. Be Varnum 2011. Bring old-school business practices to these new-school technologies.
You may be able to cajole or convince people into buying your stuff, but please lay down until that feeling goes away. I understand that the temptation to sell is strong. Social media is a buzzing bacchanalia of hundreds of millions of people making product recommendations to one another in the most mouth-watering way to marketers: word-of-mouth. This is a dream scenario for any business looking to drive awareness and boost sales.
But, if you try to manipulate your audience, or rush your community, you face a graver risk to your brand than ever before. These platforms were created as a very refuge from corporate marketing. Social media cannot mask your faults or your brand's weaknesses. It merely amplifies how and what you are about, what's in your heart. People in social media have highly-sensitive antennae; they know the difference.
Do not under-estimate the social-savvy individual. She does not suffer fools gladly, and now she is empowered with breathtaking tools that can inflict irreparable damage on your business.
In their enthusiasm, most companies are charging headlong into social media with wild eyes-and fast-moving rivulets of drool flowing from their mouths. They see social media as a land-grab. Marketers are so hard-wired to one-way message people, that they are doing all the talking-without listening.
It makes one cringe.
Brands that barge in and try to rush the process are alienating the very communities they are trying to reach. It's like that obnoxious, drunk guy at the party who thinks he's king of the room, when he's more of a court jester. People aren't laughing with; they're laughing at.
Be the stand out brand. Don't ram it down their throats. Make them hungry for it. It's far more powerful. Social media is a more elegant, nuanced two-way dialog. A real human interaction. So, brands: take a deep breath, close your mouth and open your ears-and your heart.
The (Welcome) Demise of "Interruption Marketing"
In this day and age, I believe most advertising is tantamount to spamming.
Here is how Wikipedia defines spam: "The practice of sending unwanted messages, frequently with commercial content, in large quantities to an indiscriminate set of recipients." Distinctly resembles television commercials, print ads and unsolicited, irrelevant sales pitches on Twitter, no?
When I am watching a television program, reading a magazine or engaging on Twitter, I don't appreciate the interruption marketing. I didn't ask for the ad; it normally does not apply to me; and, it wastes my time. I imagine that most people feel the same way, which is why they are employing more ways to weed out the "interruption marketing" from their lives-from Tivo to anti-spam software to Twitter's almighty unfollow button.
With the breathtaking array of largely cost-free tools now available to engage in meaningful dialog with customers-in aggregate, "social media"-it is halfhearted when a company cavalierly throws money at paid ads, which merely interrupt people with messages they increasingly don't want and don't appreciate.
A brand's level of authentic engagement in social media is an accurate litmus test for how much they care about their customers and how hard they're willing to work to connect with them. It's just that simple. Paying an advertising agency to design a slick, emotionally-evocative ad to draw in as many people as possible, often by over-promising and over-hyping up a product or service, is disingenuous. It does not convey care. People know the difference.
A brand that takes the time to engage in a meaningful two-way conversation with its customers, and truly listens, shows that they care. I would rather do business a company that values what I have to say. Wouldn't you?
"The Break Up"
"The Break Up" is an entertaining and cleverly-crafted video that conveys the growing disconnect between advertisers and customers (http://youtu.be/D3qltEtl7H8). It captures how most advertisers still see the world-and how consumers are "asking for a divorce" and moving to other brands. En masse.
We have entered a new era. To succeed in social media, you must unlearn what you've learned. That starts with thinking about relationships first. It's not about selling anymore; that might be the end result, but to get there, you need to work on the relationship. You must inspire, inform and entertain your audience. You must improve their lives with consistently high-caliber, relevant content. You must be transparent, which is exceptionally difficult for companies to do (but they must). You must spend more time listening to your current and prospective customers. Above all else: you must care, not in words, but in actions. If you don't care, people will know, and they can reach thousands of others who trust them implicitly-in one click. Pretty sobering, isn't it?
Actionable Insight: Pour a glass of your favorite pinot and drink in The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual (Basic Books, 2001). Christopher Locke and company wrote the book before social media even formally existed; they literally portended the future. It is a seminal book written in no-nonsense language, and it will change the way you think-and engage in social media.
Let's bring old-school to new media. That's my mission. Who's with me?
Eric Harr is the Founder & CEO of Resonate Social Media: Doing Good Business With Good People As We Do Good In Our World. To move your social media from good to great, visit: http://www.resonatesocial.com.