With the recent acquisition of Zappos by Amazon, many companies are now taking a serious look at social innovation especially after the latest Engagement report by Wetpain and the Fluent report by Razorfish on social influence marketing. Basically these reports prove that brands with high social media activity increased revenues while the less active ones aren’t as profitable.
The statistics not only adds fuel to the social media hype but helps to convert the naysayers to believers.
Even Twitter is leveling the playing field by publishing its own “Twitter 101” guide, which contains ideas, tips and case studies intended for businesses to make the best of the service.
The beginner’s guide to Twitter is intended to lower the learning curve but could evolve into the ultimate Twitter knowledge base.
This is actually a good thing because it allows users to focus more on the strategic usage of Twitter rather than the tactical side.
It also forces the “experts” to elevate their game to the next proof of concept level on those “how to use social media” content.
Recently I’ve notice that there has been a lot of coverage on social media from the mainstream authorities from Wall Street Journal to Reuters, another tell that the knowledge is becoming ubiquitous.
While the nature of using social media has low barriers to entry, some brands are still struggling in defining their social media strategy.
Having a presence doesn’t necessary mean a good thing, the fundamental of networking online is essentially the same as offline – engage in meaningful conversations with your audience.
In my opinion, that’s the core element of any networking beyond the high-level fundamentals that we all agree: be authentic, credible, and identifiable. If not you can read the post “Why You Should Always Be True to Your Brand.”
Let’s look at the change in social media to better understand how it should be used in conversation marketing.
World-of-Mouth Consumption to Production
In the social marketing landscape, word-of-mouth (WOM) starts playing a factor immediately effecting restaurant reputations to box office numbers.
You no longer need to wait to meet someone in person to discuss a movie you watched, a product you’ve purchased, or an event you’ve attended to get feedback.
Simple use your internet enabled mobile device to start aggregating content into your social networks letting everyone know your views.
For live events, people are broadcasting themselves via Twitter or Ustream for real-time content production not to mention the interaction as others tweet, retweet, comment, like, or post reactions.
The traditional “push” communications techniques are becoming less effective while still costly.
We’re transitioning into a media environment meant to be about conversations where the media and its message, instead of articulating the endpoints of meaning, represent the staring point for the production of meaning in social media.
Digital media has relinquished the control to the increasingly social crowd as both the conductor and engineer.
Viewing a TV commercial, reading a blog article or listening to a radio ad are all forms of production as the viewer or listener interprets and makes sense of the message. Following the consumption of the content is a reaction which could potentially spiral into further conversations and that conversation can get into another network and so on and so forth.
If you’re actively using social media, you have a higher chance of being heard, connected and engaged because you’re part of the viral WOM network.
This is why brands care more than ever about you, what you say, and how you say it. They are actively listening and participating in order to humanize the relationship through interactions. Or simply put, managing their reputations.
Influence the influencers
Whether you’re a blogger, a marketer, or an entrepreneur your opinion counts and can be contagious.
It’s now possible and easy to circulate your message via the new digital channels like Facebook (fan page), Linkedin (groups), Twitter (tweets) or Youtube (videos).
The key is to facilitate effective word-of-mouth campaign through these communities spreading horizontally rather than vertically described in Clay Shriky’s book “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.”
Each time you’re able to influence experts, opinion leaders, or people with authority you’ll instantaneously gain a little more credibility and access to their fan base.
Then the collective minds with shared visions will continue to spread your message forming the viral wave pushing all the way to the long-tail shores.
If you want to attract “relevant audience” to your branded social network, you must do more than just spam visitors with self-promoting ads.
In fact, you need to offer compelling value that keeps your audience engaged as well as perpetuating the interaction.
The more interactivity a social network platform allows their users to have, the more engaged users will tend to be which often leads to a greater chance of influencing the network effectively.
This is why blogs are still amongst the most influential social media because they encourage bloggers to interact with their audience in a simple and easy fashion.
A recent NY Times article points out how Procter & Gamble focuses on getting honest opinions from bloggers rather than paying for positive press is the perfect example of targeting the right influencer.
However, P&G knew they had to leverage bloggers strategically because bloggers are being viewed by their fans as one of the trusted source, thus the pay-for-favorable-endorsement doesn’t work as well as the pay-for-your-opinion.
In addition, according to a recent article from eMarkters, majority of the social media marketers “rated social media marketing effective at influencing brand reputation, increasing awareness and improving search rankings and site traffic.”
As you can see, social media is largely used as a mean to manage reputation and generating awareness.
Notice that the top 3 most effective tactics used are also the most interactive platform thus generating the most influence: user reviews or ratings, bloggers or online journalist relations, and forums or discussion groups.
Conversation and Behavioral Targeting
Great product and services can strike a stimulating discussion and ultimately leads to consumer buy-in.
The goal is to have a strategy that will allow you into the ongoing conversation or to create the opportunity to start one.
Social conversation is not about UVP (unique value proposition) or the USP (unique selling propositions), instead it’s an opportunity to discover and learn about the networking ecosystem (you, your audience, their audience etc.) in order to earn trust through caring and helping.
UVP and USP are important but should come later during the engagement cycle.
Think of the social media conversation as WOM on steroids.
Once you have an understanding of your ecosystem you can then create targeted advertising strategies within social networking.
The whole idea of collecting data is to learn and anticipate what your audience might be interested in based on their behaviors.
This enables advertisers to develop the proper call-to-action that could lead to conversions via conversation marketing rather than accumulation marketing (focus on quantity instead of quality of the traffic).
As someone who started a career as a designer (graphic/web design and product design) and now providing brand strategies, I see the core elements in social media similar to that of communication design and user experience.
The difference is that a brand must communicate like a person optimizing the experience to initiate interaction.
The intention should be to focus on adding value to the conversation, prolonging the dialogue and elevating its relevance to the participants.
Not only will people come to expect more of the same great value you’ve provided but they may become your brand evangelist spreading your messages, advocating your brand.
You can have the greatest product or the best selling book, if you don’t care about others the chance are, they won’t care about you to take actions.
Even if someone is influenced or bought the idea it doesn’t mean he or she will take action.
So position yourself as a prolific contributor will definitely help but don’t loose your personality that’s uniquely you, and if you don’t have anything to say, simply listen first.
Don’t become those annoying people who always talk about themselves and don’t listen to others. Another example what NOT to do in social networking is to just repeatedly blast out press releases or spam-like promotions ignoring the two-way communication dynamics.
Remember, anything that you put out there in the community can come back to you in a heartbeat.
Monitoring the conversation is the foundation of engagement.
If you’re going to play ball, be ready to follow through and make it fresh and keep it real.
Love to hear your tips, success stories, and pitfalls to avoid in the comments about your social network engagement experience, how are you engaging your audience?