Is Your Social Media Marketing Cart Before Your Horse?
Social media can be a very effective marketing channel -- that is, when brands utilize it correctly. Columnist Mark Traphagen explains how to get the most from social media.
Sure, you can put a cart before a horse — but why would you?
People have been using horses to pull carts for a few thousand years now. It’s safe to say the generally-accepted methodology (horse, then cart) has been thoroughly tested and found to be the most effective.
No sane person would put a cart before a horse, yet far too many online marketers put their social media cart in front of their marketing horses.
And then they wonder why their social media marketing is ineffective.
In this column, I will explain what those horses are and why you need to get them out in front of your social media efforts.
Three Strikes Against Social Media Marketing (Maybe)
If social media is going to retain any legitimate place in the online marketing tool box, it has some explaining to do.
In his recent post, “Stop Social Media Marketing,” Augie Ray paints a bleak picture. He cites three statistics published in the past year that seem to indicate that social media has little effect on real business goals:
- Only 15% of US survey respondents trust social media posts from brands, according to a Forrester Research report.
- Facebook and Twitter account for less than 0.2% of customer acquisitions, according to a Custora study.
- Only 1% of the online sales for Black Friday 2013 were attributable to social media, according to an IBM study.
Sounds like we social media marketers should go look for real jobs, right? Not so fast.
In all three of these cases, the results fail to tell the whole story. For example, the Forrester survey merely asks people what they say about their reactions to brand social media posts, but does not measure their actual behavior. What people say on a survey and how they actually behave are often two different things.
Moreover, we don’t know what sort of “social media posts from brands” these people had in mind. If they’d been exposed to spammy, overly pushy, or low quality posts from brands, then it’s understandable they might feel less trustful. In such cases, they might be less inclined to remember brand social content that had appealed to them.
The Custora and IBM studies have an even more fatal flaw. They only measured direct attribution. In other words, for social media to count as having generated a sale or customer acquisition, those actions had to have come immediately from an individual social media post. But as we’ll see below, that’s not how social works in the sales cycle.
In other words, in my opinion, the cited reports are like grading a chemistry student on her artistic abilities. They are demanding of social media things it doesn’t typically deliver. That doesn’t mean that social plays no part in generating sales and leads, however.
Before we look at the role social should play in meeting real business objectives, let’s get more specific on what social media does not do for businesses.
Three Social Media Marketing “Nots”
Brands that end up frustrated or disappointed with their social media marketing often have unrealistic expectations for the channel. Here are three things marketing on social media generally does not give your brand:
- Instant Trust. Trust is typically built over time. We trust someone because they have been consistently trustworthy. Over time, on the whole, they have fulfilled their promises, walked their talk, and been reliable and truthful in their statements. Just as with people, building trust in your brand takes time. There is no way that a single tweet or Instagram photo can deliver that. However, what social media is good at is building relationships that can lead to real trust.
- Instant Acquisition. It’s rare for anyone to become a customer for anything above the level of a cheap impulse purchase after only one touch with a brand. Rand Fishkin has said that Moz’s stats show it takes on average seven visits to the Moz site before someone will sign up for a free trial of their software. Social media marketing done right provides continual opportunities for prospects to be exposed to you and your content, moving them further down the path to becoming customers.
- Instant Sales. People don’t typically go on social media looking to make a purchase. They go there to be entertained, to get informed, or to catch up with friends. Therefore, social media content designed to directly sell is seen as an interruption. Imagine you’re walking down the street having a great conversation with a group of friends. Suddenly, a street vendor jumps in front of you and asks you to pay attention to his pitch. Are you inclined to stop and listen? Social media networks are realizing that direct-selling content makes for unhappy users. Facebook, for example, has come right out and said it will show much less of such content unless it is in paid promotions.
In other words, social media marketing is not “instant.” Its function in your sales and customer acquisition efforts is generally higher up in the sales funnel, and its effect works best over time. Marketing on social media is less like instant coffee and more like slow-roasted whole beans. It takes longer, but can deliver more satisfying results.
Understanding what social media marketing does not do is an important first step toward understanding where it is effective. The next step toward social media effectiveness is getting your marketing priorities in the right order.
Getting Your Social Media Cart Behind Your Marketing Horses
Too many brands appear to be doing social media marketing because it’s trendy. It’s “the thing to do” and “everyone else is doing it.”
Doing social media marketing just because it’s the latest thing is a recipe for disaster. In marketing, it is critical to understand what your message is and why you are promoting that message on a particular channel.
So, where do you start? I think there are at least two critical tasks you need to have in motion before you even think of starting any social media marketing campaigns: brand identity and content strategy.
1. Brand Identity: Understand Your Brand
Before you can begin to engage in meaningful ways with prospects and customers on social media, you must have a clear idea of what your brand is, what it stands for, and what its overall brand message is.
Having a clear articulation of your brand helps keep you on point and helps your content and social media messages lead people toward a clearer understanding of why they should care about your company or want to do business with it.
There are three components to understanding your brand:
- Brand Values. What does your brand stand for? What are your primary reasons for being in business? Whom do you want to do business with? What does success look like for your brand?
- Brand UVP. This is your Unique Value Proposition. What makes you different from your competition? What do you bring to the marketplace in a way no one else can? Why should anyone want to buy from you as opposed to all the other choices they could make?
- Brand Story. This is the narrative that is generated from your Brand Values and Brand UVP. It’s the story you want to tell through your content and social media posts. You should actually write out this story, as it informs the types of content and social messages you need to create for each stage of your prospects’ journeys toward becoming customers.
So a clear understanding of your brand is the first horse you need to have in place before your social media cart.
2. Content Strategy: Create Targeted Content
But we’re not ready for your marketing wagon train to leave town yet. Understanding your brand gives you the foundation for all of your marketing, but now you need some structure on top of that foundation.
Targeted, purpose-driven content is the next step because it ensures that there is substance behind your social marketing, and it gives your brand (and followers) something worth sharing.
How to create such content is beyond the scope of this article, but the important takeaway here is that your content should flow naturally from the brand values, UVP, and story y0u defined in step one above. Break out parts of each of those to suggest content ideas.
It’s important to begin creating and publishing content prior to your first social media marketing campaigns. Obviously these content pieces will become the heart of what you share on your social media channels. In addition, if they are executed well, your content pieces should entice followers and visitors to reshare them. They should be the kind of content that people want to have associated with their social feeds.
Finally, your content helps establish credibility. When people begin seeing and following your brand on social media, many will eventually want to check you out. They will visit your site and begin to poke around, especially if they have begun to move in their journey with you to the point where they are considering doing business with you. Your published content lets those visitors know there is some “there” there. That is, there is substance behind what you share on social media.
If your social media posts succeed in arousing the interest of people who see them, your longer-form content should reinforce to them that their initial impressions of your brand were well-founded.
3. NOW Do Social!
Only when you have a clear understanding of your brand and have begun to articulate that understanding through authoritative content are you ready to engage the marketplace via social media.
I don’t mean that you can’t do any social media posting until those steps are accomplished. Certainly you should be getting your social media profiles set up and even promoting the content you’re creating, and taking steps toward build a following. However, I strongly believe it is only when you have some substance behind steps one and two that you are ready to do serious social media marketing.
At this stage you can develop a real social media marketing plan. You know your brand’s meaning and story, you’ve become skilled at creating content effective at communicating those elements, and now you have something worth talking about on social channels.
Start by building social media campaigns around your existing content, campaigns that are designed to speak from every aspect of your brand’s story into every aspect of the typical journey of a prospect to becoming a customer.
1. Understand What Social Media Marketing Does & Does Not Do. Social media is great for branding, reach, authority-building, and audience-building. Done well it can even give you “free labor,” armies of brand fans and evangelists who help spread your message. However, don’t expect social media to provide instant trust, customer acquisition, or sales. See it as the necessary “seeding” you do before you can reap a harvest.
2. Don’t Do Social Media Just To Do Social Media. You should never embark on any form of marketing just because it’s trendy or the gurus recommend it. Have a clear reason to be in social media and work from that purpose.
3. Put Social Media Marketing In Its Proper Place In Your Marketing Wagon Train. Make sure you have the brand message and content horses out in front. If you do, they will effectively pull your social media cart where it needs to go.