Speak to your TRUE fans. They’ll do the rest.

Marketers using social media need to figure out social first.

When surveying the social media scene, it’s disheartening to see so many “experts” preaching ways to get more followers (with the end goal, I presume, of increasing the value of each individual’s “brand” and “reach”). Marketers are looking for ways to “use” social media to get their messages out and the easiest way for them to do that is to simply have a lot of followers.

What I don’t see a lot of them doing, however, is providing added value that would make them worth following. Sure, they promise a few lucky winners a free iPod or iTouch or iPad or iTunes gift card (why not a free Blackberry?), but the result of that is a lot of dropped followers once the contest is over. I would love to see a good campaign where people follow a brand because of the value of their content alone.

I know that there are many local examples, such as the famed “cookies are out of the oven” or “here’s our special brew of the day” tweets, but I’m not sure a BIG brand has yet found a way to be a “must-follow” tweeter because of their “must-have” content. Sure, that’s more expensive then a free iPod every month.

But maybe it’s OK to not have 10,000 followers.  Maybe it’s alright to just have a couple hundred key followers who will spread your content far and wide when you do have something sensational to share.  It is social *networking* after all. I appreciate viral campaigns that people spread because they’re just so cool or because the informations is just so vital. There are benefits to the brand marketer when their message spreads through the network rather than having the message arrive on the audiences’ virtual doorstep via their own direct tweets.

People listen to other people they know and trust and respect.  They do not value as much the marketing messages that come directly from the brands themselves. It’s advertising, after all, and Yankelovich studies have shown that 60% of American consumers don’t believe companies tell the truth in advertising. On the other hand, Nielsen reports that 78% of social media users find consumer recommendations credible, and MarketingSherpa says 84% trust user reviews more than “expert” reviews.  

When something arrives in my Twitter stream or Facebook homepage or via another social media platform from someone I know saying “this is cool,” I check it out. When it comes from a brand I am likely to skip over it, knowing that the brand itself is not an unbiased party when talking about its own products.  

When a brand selling coffee, provides lots of useful information about brewing and beans and baristas to coffee aficionados, they are providing a service. When said aficionados ask questions and the coffee brand responds with useful answers, they’re being good social media citizens. This earns them the right with their audience to slip in a marketing message now and again. This strategy might not get them ALL coffee drinkers as a direct audience (i.e., they won’t have a million coffee drinkers as “followers,” although they might have 1,000 aficionados).  However, when the aficionados re-tweet or forward information from the brand to *their* followers, the brand now has earned the benefits that come with third party endorsements, which are much more powerful.

That said, I do enter some of the contests now and again.  I doubt I’ll win an iPad as a result. But maybe. I do know that the brand that made me follow them in order to be eligible to win is unlikely to get a long-term follower out of me as a result. I haven’t seen one of the contest tweeters yet provide enough content to keep me interested.

I’m much more interested in the real people having a real dialog about what they (and I) love (even if that means I have to follow some of their silly foursquare meanderings). So, I follow people who love GR (because I do). I follow people who love PR (because I do). I might even follow some people who love hockey (because I do).  I don’t follow people who cram the same message into my feed day after day, because they’re not honoring the social agreement — this is a two-way dialog, after all!

Author: Robin

Communications professional with more than 25 years' expertise in PR, crisis communications, social media, community relations, marketing communications and more!

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