TV is social. Ironic given that social media and digital distractions were supposed to kill TV. Instead, as Fast Company tells us, appointment viewing is back. Why? So we can tweet with our friends while we watch.
Advertising is social. On YouTube we seek out stuff to watch, comment on and pass along. On other platforms we gather our own friends for lively discussions on brands we love or those we love to hate.
Retails is social. And not just in the Groupon way. Dressing rooms connect us to our Facebook friends. Innovative marketers crowdsource price reductions. And forward thinking retail employees leverage their own social networks to boost both sales and service.
For marketers, however, social media’s proliferation poses as many challenges as opportunities. In fact, in its 2011 predictions, Forrester suggests that the easy days of Social Media Marketing are over. Once it was enough just to engineer your digital presence, buy a few likes and slip some content into the stream. Now marketers have to contend with saturation, fragmentation, and the big issue of privacy.
Their recommendation, no surprise, is to elevate engagement. Not just the kind that gets a customer to check-in or respond directly to a brand, but engagement that motivates a brand’s friends and followers to make an impression on those with whom they’re connected. Think in terms of the Crowdtap model, which does exactly that.
Forrester also argues that more companies need to turn all employees into marketers. (Good news for start-ups like 1Yell.) At Mullen we’ve developed training manuals and guidelines for select clients on how to do that. But one tip is to make social media participation an actual criterion for hiring. (Recent Gen-Y graduates, if you are at all socially savvy, use that to sell a prospective employer on your future value.)
Finally, Forrester reminds all those marketers who can never see beyond the immediate, short-term ROI that they shouldn’t disregard the significant risk of doing nothing. Given consumers widespread fondness and enthusiasm for all things social brands have no choice but to be there.
Yet when you consider the scenarios mentioned above, consumers don’t participate because they want to connect with a brand or its information. Appointment TV viewing and conversation, group advertising critique, and social dressing rooms all have one thing in common. They attract people by connecting them to each other.
The smartest social media marketers recognize that it’s the gift of community – whether built around conversation, data or utility – that serves them best in the social space. Doling out coupons still works. And disguising a sales pitch as social engagement may be tolerated, but they won’t be enough over the long term.
Two of my favorite social media examples have less to do with platforms that sell likes or gather followers and instead demonstrate the value of connecting people to each other. One is Garmin Connect, a community of runners and cyclists who may have thought they were buying a GPS device to save them from getting lost only to discover that they bought into a community of like-minded athletes who readily share their runs, rides and routes, making content from others as valuable as the personal data captured by the device itself. Oh, by the way, the community also encourages a greater dependency on the brand – increasing the likelihood users will buy the next upgrade, and building a brilliant barrier to exit.
The second is Skype’s In the Classroom, a free community for teachers to connect, find partners, recruit speakers, and share inspiration. When Skype, with its partner Made by Many, discovered that the only thing limiting educators’ use of Skype was finding people to Skype with, they built this two-sided directory as a solution. They didn’t ask teachers to follow them on Twitter, or click on a Like button. They offered the gift of community, connecting people to each other.
Want to be embraced by the consumers whose attention and involvement you covet? Give them something they actually value. Connections to people they want to connect with.