I’m old enough to remember when the internet was just making the transition from quirky computer geek fad to mainstream attention grabber. Truth is I was designing web sites at the time, helping businesses figure out how they could use this newfangled tool. In those pioneering days, before you could really do ANYTHING interactive on a web site we talked about web sites as electronic billboards.
As businesses today are trying to figure out how to best leverage social media many of them are trapped in that same thinking. The “information super highway” has definitely developed some significant traffic patterns around social media lanes leading many businesses to feel that they need to put up billboards along those roadways of commerce.
The trouble is that this kind of thinking misses the point.
Allow me to share three truths then about social media, your business, and you
Truth #1: Social Media IS Social
The interesting aspect of all social media channels is that they’re designed for conversation. This is distinctly different than broadcast. The implication is that it is not sufficient to simply have a Facebook presence or a Twitter feed, you need to be willing to monitor and engage in conversation or your social media efforts will just be so much noise.
This requires effort on your part, it may even require guidelines for using social media to help employees understand what they should or shouldn’t discuss. Don’t expect long term benefit from your social media channels if all you’re using them for is another way to broadcast your message into the ether.
Truth #2: Businesses Can’t “Own” Conversation
Obviously you own your message but once the conversation starts you have less control over what is said and where the conversation leads. The corresponding truth here is that while you may start the conversation with a broadcast message there is equal chance that the conversation will be started by someone else broadcasting THEIR message about you… AND because there are so many more of them than there are of you the odds are pretty high that you won’t be starting as many conversations as they will.
The implication is that your social media efforts have to start from the position of listener more often than that of speaker and that you then must be willing to enter the conversational fray with sincerity rather than with marketing spin.
Truth #3: People Are Using Social Media to Create Their Own Brands
WHAT?!?! People have brands??! Sure they do. My favorite example is the Apple sticker that people have on the back of their car:
This isn’t just one more cute way of showing how many people are in the family that rides around in this van. It is a way of identifying this as a “Apple family”. I can honestly say that I have NEVER seen this done with a Microsoft Windows sticker or an Intel sticker or a Lenovo sticker. In fact I’ll argue that more often than not Windows people don’t admit to being Windows people until they’re in an argument with Apple people!
The fact that people are engaging in creating their own brands, and more importantly leveraging social media to create brand awareness, means that the demographics and market segmentation we used to use to figure out how to talk to people are starting to become more and more minutely defined.
The game is shifting from trying to figure out how to simply communicate a brand promise to now trying to determine how to get customers to integrate your brand into their own. Granted this isn’t as easy with some types of products or services as it is with others but thinking through how you allow people to identify their brand with yours can lead to some interesting new approaches to marketing, advertising, and social conversation.
By understanding and applying these three truths to your social media efforts you can more effectively enter into the conversation and remember, the conversation is happening whether you’re joining in it or not.
How is your organization leveraging social media today?