"If all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump off it too?"--my mother
In today's business world, it's a given your company needs a social media strategy. My favorite question in the last year or so is to ask why. Here are the three most typical ways in which that conversation starts.
Scenario #1--Start up--a company using online professional services portal sends out a request for social media help to sell more of their product or service, OR to advertise on Facebook, OR to gain followers on Twitter, OR to gain visibility, OR to improve their search engine rankings, OR...or...or...
Scenario #2--I'm in a meeting with an established mid-size company ($10-$50 million annual revenue) because they feel posting more content on social media will help them better distinguish them from their competition.
Scenario #3--Same two companies six months later wondering why they aren't going viral and getting thousands of followers and scores of new leads because they invested in social media marketing.
Why Are You On Social Media?
After I ask the "Why" question, here are the most typical answers I hear.
- It's the fastest way to gain exposure for my business
- It's free
- I don't want to invest in a website when I'm not committed to this business model
- All of our competitors are on (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.)
- It's free
- We have to be on social media to be taken seriously
- Everyone says you have to be on social media
- It's free
- I want to sell more (name of the product), and my target market is on social media
- Did I mention it's free to market your business?
These answers can be boiled down to a simple, "Everyone else is doing it." As I pointed out above, my mother always had a ready retort for that answer. Today, I'm the one who gets to ask that question.
Social Media Strategy vs. Tactics
Unless you have one of those newly minted, self-proclaimed careers as a 'social media influencer' that's ripe for parody in 20 years like the much-maligned leisure suit of the '70s is today, simply being on social media is a means to an end, not the end itself.
Strategy always comes before tactics, so before your company invests significant resources in social media, you need to answer the following questions:
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- Is social a primary or secondary communications tool?
- How else do you intend to share your brand story?
- Is the audience you need to communicate with on social, and if so, which platforms?
- What makes this medium so crucial to your customers?
- Like the dog that finally catches the car, what are you going to say to all of these followers once you recruit them?
- Is social media the entrance to your sales funnel, or is it the exit?
- Why is your audience going to gravitate towards your company on Facebook rather than a search engine or an email?
- If social media is a sales funnel tool, where will your customers go once they show some interest in your product?
Where Social Media Falls Short
Unless you appear regularly on television, have a record contract, or are running for high political office, social media isn't likely to be your primary communication tool. And if it is, it probably shouldn't be. Here are a few reasons why.
- Even if you generate followers on a platform, only a small percentage of those followers will see your post. Social media companies figured out years ago their business models required them to sell ads to for-profit companies. If they let all of your followers see everything you posted, they wouldn't make any money. So unless you are paying for ads on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, most of your audience will never see it. So much for free.
- Social media posts have a limited shelf like that runs from a couple of minutes on a Twitter feed to maybe a day in a customer's Facebook feed, unless you are paying for promoted posts. Again, not free.
- Ninety percent of product purchases begin with a search, and if your company isn't on the first page of that search result, it's unlikely your customers will find you. Individual social media posts have a harder time ranking on search engines because they have a short shelf life. And while your platform profile has a better chance of ranking on Google or Bing, the search algorithm is likely to send the searcher to your main profile, and not to a particular post. In other words, you don't have much control over what your viewers are likely to see.
- Social media is a poor fit for longer content. Your product or service is going to need a website or at least a landing page if you want to sell something.
- While there are billions of people on social media platforms, it's no guarantee they are on the platform at any given time or if it's a platform they use for commercial purposes.
Where Social Media Excels
If this column is starting to read like an old man yelling, "Get off my lawn!", take heart because I believe social media is a valuable tool, when used correctly and in conjunction with other tactics to meet a strategic goal. One of the best ways to create value is to reverse engineer it several steps until you reach your company's unique value proposition.
By starting at your purpose and your sales goal, you can more effectively deploy the content you post.
One thing social builds like few other tools is a loyal community...as long as your company isn't using it to close sales. The best means to determine success on social is engagement. Are people commenting on your posts? Are they sharing them? Do they like them? Social is about infotainment and opening up the sales funnel. It allows your audience closer, behind the scenes look at your company, and makes it more familiar to them.
Social media is about indirect sales and creating advocates for your brand. Can you ever sell directly on social? Sure, as long as the ratio is at least 10:1, with the 10 being stories of interest or value to your customers. That's why your brand needs to publish engaging and original content. Trust is the coin of the realm.
When you open the sales funnel on social media, it's more likely to open wide when your company is promoting posts or purchasing ads. The algorithms used by social media companies are unlike anything the world has ever seen, and it allows for microtargeting your key demographics and likely buyers like no medium before it.
Finally, if your business is time-sensitive, social is the best way to get your news out directly to your audience with the fewest keystrokes. Building a new web page consumes much more time. Amending the old saying--if you want to go fast, go social. Depending on the number of followers you've captured, your news could be in the stream of thousands of customers, employees, and brand advocates in minutes.
Simon Says Don't Look At Everyone Else
So interpreting my mother's edict for growing children into advice on using social media, sometimes following along with others can be a good thing, but you need to consider it on a case by case basis. And always wear clean underwear.