The most common things I hear about people who are trying to figure out social media (blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube) are: “I don’t get it.” and “Do I have to?”. These are the sounds of change, of lasting change, of change that isn’t just a passing fad. The most effective way to understand this change, however, is not stare at the social media tools themselves – they’re just the tools – they aren’t what’s driving it, and they’re not what it means. Understand first, then go back to the tools, and you’ll see them making sense. Here are the five rules:
1. Marketing your business now is about what you contribute, not what you’re selling. Yeah, I know that sounds like hokum, but that’s because this is change. Before, marketing was an elite activity. The mysterious priests of marketing dispensed the wisdom of what works, demographic charts in hand. And it did work – it usually worked better than just randomly trying things. But watch now as those same marketing gurus try to make corporate blogs work, and you’ll see they too are trying to grasp a change that they themselves are not driving. Marketing your business now is about what you contribute. In other words, don’t say “I offer this product or service. If you want this, pick me.” That lowest common denominator panhandling never really was marketing, but it’s less so now than ever, and it’s downright offensive in social media environments. Want to ruin your brand, pitch underhanded. Watching people try to grasp this change is interesting – it’s requiring more people to take their work more seriously. What is a contribution after all? It’s insight, expertise, opinion, advice, education, analysis, explanation – but it’s not thinly veiled sales pitches – let me explain 3 benefits of picking us. The best marketing in social media never mentions ‘us’ or ‘me’. It talks about the world around us – it looks with the community out at something, instead of trying to funnel the community down a chute like cows to slaughter. The quickest route to failure is having nothing that interests you and nothing to say. This is, of course, daunting for those who chose their profession solely to pay bills rather than for the love. But even that can be an angle – one way to capture people’s interest is to talk about the boat a lot of people are in, to express that dissatisfaction and angst. It may not be your way, but it’s one way.
2. Being genuinely gregarious and amiable is attractive where trolling for clients is offensive. I say this as someone who in some ways is more of a brown moth than a social butterfly. I’m not the guy with 3000 contacts, who is the center of parties. Those guys are social anchors, and they truly have it made. I am connected with a few dozen social anchors, though, each with their own community. And I’m connected with lots of other people who dig what I’m putting out. Effectiveness, for me, comes from including people, inviting people to connect, and generally making that small effort that brings people into my orbit, without ulterior motives. In a way, you have to like being connected to people. And again, I’m not selling them anything or pushing product down their throats. I like certain movies, and share them. I like certain wines, and share them. And when I say something related to internet marketing, as I do frequently, people know it’s free information and it’s coming from a certain degree of experience. I share that experience consistently, and so people refer me and consult me, and I get some benefit from being considered by some a resident expert. If I were a landscaper, I wouldn’t say “call us if you need your lawn mowed”, I’d say “To protect your lawn in this heat, prefer one long watering per day over two short ones, for maximum ground penetration”. or “Fall is coming – time to start thinking about what trees you’ll plant – but resist the tree sales at your big box store – it’s really too soon.”
3. Your reputation is already public – you either add your voice or concede it to others. One question is what if someone says something negative about the company? It happens. You’re not a serious enterprise unless someone doesn’t like you. If one disgruntled client (or ex employee disguised as a client) makes you want to hide in a hole, then obscurity is in your future. It’s rough, but getting past five stars to 4.5 is worth the journey, because that’s when your orbit is pulling in enough people to sustain you.
4. You will adapt to the new social media, or your business will die or begin to die in the next few years. It’s not a passing fad. Some businesses can still grow by handing out flyers, or with a phone book ad, for a while. And traditional marketing isn’t dying – it’s evolving. Event marketing, for example, is more powerful than ever. But effective event marketing requires effective use of social media. After all, how are you getting out the word about your event, and to whom? If you have a big announcement, and haven’t already cultivated an audience that respects you, attendance will be limited. Even if you hand out flyers or placing a paper ad, isn’t your web site or facebook page at the bottom? If not, you’re missing takers. But as media is transformed, clinging to the old way, if coupled with failing to grasp the new way, is a sure recipe for decline. Adapting will mean revising an evolving internet marketing plan that places a strong emphasis on social media tools, but will be effective only with a social media mentality.
5. Those who adapt their assumptions will find social media a windfall. That’s true whenever this kind of cultural change occurs. In this case, adapting assumptions means neither trying to ignore social media, nor trying to treat social media as the old kind of marketing. The list of things that are so basic that they aren’t changing is getting smaller. People don’t respond anymore to “agreement by a panel of experts” – or they respond by asking their friends and checking ratings. The customer process is social. The business process is social. Change sometimes causes people to get scared, and scared people act in a variety of ways – some shut down, some pretend the wave isn’t coming – cling to what you’re doing and hope, and there are lots of other ways. But here is the last rule: you can learn to use social media effectively. You can adapt. You can “get it”. It may be that, when you do, you won’t like what it means. “Do I have to?” The new marketing requires actually working at it, not just throwing money at it. Most people don’t want to do new things. Social media is asking you to do different things. If you don’t want to be the person in your company that thinks about and connects with community, then the different thing is identifying and empowering the person that’s passionate about it. Before, you called an agency and tossed them some cash, and you were done. They’ll still take your cash, but those days really are over. That said, if you need help learning how to use social media effectively, we’re happy to help.