Despite what we may think about the power of social media, there are still plenty of business owners and corporate executives who dismiss it with a wave of their hands, and pooh-pooh it as nothing more than people who want to talk about what they had for breakfast.
Nothing is more annoying to me than for someone to dismiss an idea or tool without ever having even looked at it, let alone used it. People who repeat their dislike of that idea, just because they heard other non-users say it is about as accurate as thinking you understand fraternity life because you saw “Revenge of the Nerds.”
So I can’t help but feel a little schadenfreude when those same people who dismissed social media as a passing fad of food-sharers and and parents’ basement dwellers find themselves in a panic when a social media mob comes after their company with virtual pitchforks and torches.
Nothing has disrupted marketing more in the last 90 years than social media. Everything in marketing that came after the advent of radio has all been one-way broadcasting — the advertisers talk, we listen. There’s no way to talk back. But social media has changed all of that. Now we have a channel that lets us talk back to advertisers and lets us talk to each other. And it has helped drastically change what is happening in the business world.
After writing No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls, we started to hear from more businesses about how they were using (and not using) social media for marketing, customer service, and PR. After hearing from these people, I began to figure out these five universal truths about social media in the business world.
Five Universal Truths of Social Media for Business
- People are no longer listening to marketers, they’re listening to each other. Gone are the days of people listening to the trained marketing professionals. Now they’re reading customer reviews and making their decisions based on what their friends, and sometimes complete strangers, are telling them. This is why review sites like Yelp.com are so popular, and why people stand in Best Buy reading reviews on the store’s site before buying a piece of electronic equipment. (I once bought a digital camera based strictly on user reviews, and didn’t read a single pixel of marketing copy.)
- Your brand is no longer what you say it is. Now, thanks to people telling each other what is good and bad about a brand, your ability to define yours is nearly gone. That has been lost to your customers. They are the voice of your brand. Sure, you can put out brochures, commercials, and any other marketing piece, but as people’s voices get louder, you’re fighting to be heard in an increasingly-crowded room. What are people finding on the search engines? What’s being said about you on Facebook and Twitter? What are people saying about you on their blog that reaches thousands of readers? That’s where your true brand lies.
- People want to be heard, not shouted at. Consumers are going out of their way to avoid being advertised to. We record TV shows on our DVRs just so we can skip the commercials. We watch Netflix and Hulu because they’re (mostly) commercial free. We listen to iPods and commercial-free Internet radio stations. We block ads from our web browsers.
So when we do interact with companies online, we want to communicate with real live people. We don’t want marketing speak. We don’t want canned responses. We want help, information, answers. We want to know how your product or service will solve our particular problem. That means someone needs to be monitoring social media for our queries. And given Universal Truth #2, someone needs to be monitoring for unhappy customers as well.
- It doesn’t matter how stupid you think social media is. Your customers love it. Why do you advertise on TV, because you love a particular program, or because your customers watch it? Why do you advertise in a particular magazine, because you love the stories, or because your customers read it? What about going to trade shows? Because you love being away from your family, or because it’s the best place to reach your target clients in one location?
You may hate a particular TV show, think a particular magazine is shallow and pedantic, and despise a particular trade show. But you go because your customers are there. It’s the same thing with social media. With more than half of all Americans on some sort of social network, you’re missing a big piece of your audience just because you think it’s stupid. Know who doesn’t think it’s stupid? Your competitors, who are stealing your customers.
- You have to play in it personally before you understand it from a business perspective. The best business accounts are those that are led by people personally. If you’ve been on social media for a while, you already know, and have a few favorite, people and brands that you like to interact with. But if you haven’t, you need to join it, use it, and understand how it really works.
If you can get a feel for what works and doesn’t work for you as user, you’ll start to understand how you want your favorite brands and people to interact with you. And you’ll want to interact with your own customers and clients that same way. But if you’re not using it regularly yourself, you won’t understand how you want people to react to you.
(h/t to Chuck Gose for #5. He said, “The people you see who are doing dumb things socially with their business are not the people you see using social media themselves.” Well said, Chuck!)
It’s easy to tell you what social media tools you need to use — how to use Twitter, what to do on Facebook, whether blogging is a smart marketing strategy for your business (hint: it is). But if you want to truly understand what you need to do with social media for your business, you need to understand these important truths about what’s happening to your business, how your customers are using it, and what they expect from you.