By Steve Borland
He makes no effort to introduce you to the other guests – a collection of people so random that you half wonder whether he just picked you all out of a telephone book. Instead, he treats the room to a loud monologue about his recent promotion, the wonderful holiday he’s just been on, and his children’s academic and sporting achievements. And to top it all off, he seems to have forgotten that you can’t tolerate dairy product and is offering a cheese fondue as the evening’s meal.
You make your excuses as soon as you can, and you’re pretty unlikely to reciprocate the invitation, right?
Social media marketing, badly executed, can look a bit like this disappointing dinner party. More and more businesses are finding that a superficial, scattergun approach does not yield results and can even alienate people. Having lots of Facebook fans or Twitter followers does not, in itself, magically translate into increased revenue; any more than sending out lots of dinner party invitations will automatically make you lots of friends. Remembering some basic social niceties can go a long way towards optimising the way you engage with your customers online.
Remember the importance of the “social” in social networks. It’s not about broadcasting your message through a megaphone. There are many parallels to be drawn with real life conversations: It’s not much fun listening to someone drone on and on about themselves at a dinner party without any apparent interest in their conversational partner, so why should that be any different on the internet? An adept host has a genuine interest in his guests and you should have a genuine interest in your online audience: – what are they interested in, what is important to them, what are they talking about already? Review your platforms, find out who you’re talking to, and use that information as a starting point to create conversations that are real and meaningful to your audience.
You cannot have meaningful social interactions if you aren’t genuine and true to yourself, and you cannot be liked by everybody. That’s as true of our individual social interactions as it is of the way businesses engage with customers through social media. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, you should have a clear idea of your brand that you are promoting to a specific target audience in a clear, focused way. Think carefully about the image you are constructing. What makes your company unique? Warm? Human? What stories can you tell about the founding of your company, the development of your product, and the people who work for you?
Quality, not quantity
In social interactions, whether in real life of on the web, quality trumps quantity. It’s more satisfying to have a meaningful conversation with one person than to exchange superficial “Hello-how-are-yous” with a dozen. Whether you’re considering Facebook fans, Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections or bloggers, the number of people is trivial in comparison to the quality of their interactions with your brand. You’re trying to get people to engage with your content – read it in detail and share it with their own audiences. It’s far more important to get a few people really interested than to have lots of through-traffic of one-off connections.
It takes time to form friendships and it takes time for social media marketing strategies to have an impact. This can hardly come as a surprise when you consider the enormous amount of traffic on the internet. You need to allow time for the word to get around, and you need to be committed to sustaining your efforts long-term. This is no flash-in-the-pan quick fix.
As in real life, so online: Ignoring people who make social overtures to you is not the way to make friends. A little acknowledgment goes a long way. Always answer someone who has got in touch with you, and try to make that acknowledgment as positive as possible. It might not seem like much, but it’s another building block in your relationships with your customers.
Quite a lot of friendship and social success consists quite simply of being there. Being available when needed. Being around to share good times and bad. The world of social media marketing is no different. You need to be available to your audience. Don’t just publish content and disappear – monitor reactions, participate in conversations, and thereby nourish relationships.
Be aware of social status
If you’re trying to make friends in a new context, it’s worth hanging back and observing for a bit to find out who the influential people are. You want them on your side. Similarly, spend time finding out who influences your market online. Who is interested in your product and has a quality audience? Those are the people you want to connect and build relationships with. They can act as gateways to whole new audiences for your brand.
Friendships are built on having fun together. Serious conversations have their place, but if there isn’t a sense of shared experiences, humour and enjoyment, any relationship soon goes stale. Keep this principle in mind when you’re communicating with customers. It doesn’t all have to be about your product or brand. Not all of your content has to be a more or less well disguised sales pitch. Have fun, too. Make room for frivolous “off-topic” conversations – jokes, tips, or fun anecdotes about staff members. It’s a bit of a paradox, but sometimes the best sort of advertising is not to advertise.
It’s a basic rule of politeness to return calls and emails, as well as favours. If someone does you a good turn, try to do something for them. It’s the same in the world of social media marketing. There’s an implicit principle of reciprocity operating whereby it’s simply rude not to spend some time responding to and disseminating other people’s content. You’re returning a favour.
None of these rules of social engagement are rocket science. They boil down to something not much more complicated than the kindergarten adage of “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.” But this obviousness and simplicity are deceptive. Listening to and engaging with people in a real, meaningful way, over time, to build enduring relationships is not easy. It takes commitment and energy. It takes self-awareness as well as openness to others, balancing your own and others’ needs. All that may seem like a hard slog but the potential rewards are manifold.
It might help to keep the image of yourself as a dinner party host in mind and revisit it every so often as a way of monitoring your online presence. Have you invited people who are going to enjoy the occasion and each other’s company? Are you taking care to make each guest feel welcome and at home? Have you planned your menu with care and attention to detail? Do you make a habit of writing thank-you notes when you’ve been to dinner at someone else’s house? And finally, are you doing everything you can to make sure that you, and your friends, have fun?