The One Key to Making Social Media Count For Your Business

We all want to use social media more effectively. As business owners or marketers, we understand the value of being able to connect directly with our customers like we’ve never really been able to do before. But it’s clear that most businesses aren’t coming anywhere near to capturing that true value. Sure, there are brands out there engaging through social media and probably quantifying their success by tracking sales garnered through social activities (i.e., social selling) but for most of them? It’s business as usual: collecting fans and patting themselves on the back.

If organizations want to make social media count for them, they need to start doing two basic things: stop collecting, and start selecting.

Step #1: Stop Collecting

The problem with how businesses use social media today is in how they measure their success: in numbers. Many businesses will proudly proclaim that they have X # of fans or Y # of likes. They will pound their chests and thump the table about how big their “fanbase” is. But that is not a measure of the power of social media. That’s just a new way to segment the broader market: people who are aware of you from people who are not. Ultimately, it may help an organization reduce their spend on “awareness” marketing. These people who are “fans” are already aware of your brand and probably its product. Bravo. But beyond that what purpose do they serve? These people are no more engaged with you than they would be if they weren’t fans. Just because they have “liked” an organization’s Facebook page or followed them on Twitter doesn’t mean that they are going to pay attention. There is absolutely no barrier to expressing interest in social media. In fact, according to a 2011 study from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, an Australia-based marketing think tank that counts Procter & GambleCoca-Cola and other major advertisers as its supporters, only slightly more than 1% of people engage with the brands that they follow. 1%. So why do most businesses still use this as a barometer of their social media success? Because it’s easy.

Step #2: Start Selecting

The key to social media is finding those individuals that want to have a deeper relationship. In order to utilize social media more effectively, businesses have to test, segment, and select:

  • Test. The goal of testing your relationship network is to determine who wants to be engaged and how do they want to engage. This can happen by directly engaging with people (DM, mention, etc.), it can happen by posting a generic topic and seeing who engages, and it can happen through a number of other methods. But the testing results in segments.
  • Segment. The goal of segmenting is to categorize people into their propensity for purchasing or recommending. Segments might include “light buyer,” “potential buyer,” “existing customer.” But more than their buying habits, segments should also include how they want to engage. Do they want information? Do they want conversation? Do they want discounts? This reflects their relationship type (as I’ve written about before in my book Recommend This! Delivering Digital Experiences that People Want to Share).
  • Select. Finally, you can’t be friends with everyone. There just isn’t enough time in the day (and enough hands) to engage with everyone in your relationship network. Thankfully they don’t all want to engage. So the key is to find those that do and give them what they want: your attention. And, by the way, if you give everyone else what they want, their relationship value with you will go up (because they are happy; don’t force-feed engagement to the person that just wants discounts).

By cultivating deep and intimate relationships with a selected portion of your relationship networks (i.e., all those social networks to which you belong), you can hope to develop not only long-term, repeat buyers but also a greater sphere of influence. According to a 2013 survey conducted by Dimensional Research and sponsored by ZenDesk, 30% of people were likely to share a positive customer experience with others via social media.

Don’t Be A Social Media Robot!

Everyone complains about the bots on social media: those fake accounts that are all about driving up social media activity for whomever pays for them. But are those the only robots? I’d argue that most businesses that use social media today to post content according to a schedule are no more than robots themselves. Again, they don’t want to utilize social media for the opportunity it provides (i.e., deep, meaningful relationships with a select group of people). They want to use it like they did advertising: for blasting out messages and hoping for a little conversion.

Want to make social media really count for your organization? Then stop collecting and start selecting. Find the individuals in your network that want to engage and get connected with them. Have conversations. Post things privately just for them (if that’s how they want to connect). But stop measuring success based on the number of fans collected. The only thing that gets you is another number to manage.

Jason Thibeault is the senior director of marketing strategy for Limelight Networks. In this role he helps direct Limelight’s corporate messaging and positioning, develops whitepapers and e-books, blogs, and evangelizes the Limelight solution offering to audiences around the world. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine Honors Program and a M.A. in English, with distinction, from California State University, Northridge. Jason is the co-author of the marketing thought-leadership book Recommend This! Delivering Digital Experiences People Want to Share (Wiley), the middle-reader chapter series Marmalade (Dime Novel Books), and rethinkeverythingblog.com. He is an inventor on a number of technical patents with Limelight Networks. Follow him on twitter @_jasonthibeault.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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