Social media has evolved and will continue to do so. As part of its development, it's switched its focus from "media" to "social." No longer is it about making a video, pushing it out on every social network and waiting to see if people watch it. The brand does not need to be the center of the social activity, because people prefer to focus on themselves and what they like to do. Instead, the brand should go and be where the social activity already exists and interact with the people there. Let them keep doing the stuff they already like to do, just let them do it with your brand.
"The trending for the first time ever in a decade is that the opportunity for social is to leverage pre-existing communities," said Chris Cunningham, CEO of Appssavvy, a firm that works with marketers and social media. "Rather than hiring a game developer to build a branded farm game on Facebook, you're going to integrate into Farmville. Before, it was about building something around my movie or my content or my bar of soap. Now, it's about the people."
Do I have to put up with the bad things?
Some brands jumped on the social-media bandwagon only to recoil at the mere hint of criticism from their customers, shutting down comments and putting out the frozen-smile press release. Yeah, that doesn't work in social media -- customers can smell a PR tweet before execs walk out of the meeting that approved it. If you are going to be current and use all the power social media avails you, you can't be scared of your own consumers. They are the backbone of your business, so if you can't have an honest conversation with them, what kind of company are you? A scared one. And fear means the absence of trust. And we all know that trust is what creates brand loyalty and delivers the right kind of point-of-purchase decision making.
Remember that if you're gonna listen to people, be ready to take some hits and be OK with that. "Some brands attempt to do social media without the social," said Seth Goldstein, founder of SocialMedia.com and StickyBitz. "They want all the benefit of the warm and fuzzy feelings of consumers communicating around their brands, but also want to lock down what consumers say about them. The best brands understand it's important to be vulnerable, and consumers reward companies that are willing to be criticized. Companies like Zappos and Comcast have done a great job being open to criticism. They can turn the critics into advocates."
So what's a brand to do? Take it slow and easy, but know that the social part of social media is the human part. So show the human side of your company. You can do it. But you might need some help.
What's the deal with these social-media gurus?
A big part of being human is making mistakes. Another is asking for help. In case you haven't seen the warnings, let's review: Just because someone has 5,000 friends on Facebook and 100,000 followers on Twitter and calls himself a social-media expert doesn't mean he is.
But there are definitely people out there who know how to handle this stuff better than others. Most of the time, they don't work alone, and a lot of the time they have things they can show you they've done that are pretty impressive.
This stuff isn't hot off the presses anymore, so you can look up what brands they worked with and what they've done over the past few years.
If someone's Twitter stream consists of nothing but promises to triple your followers in two days -- or worse, offers to sell followers -- you'll probably want to move on.
Social media these days isn't just a matter of whether you're blogging or tweeting. The question is, are you interacting with your consumers in an authentic way? Are you a trustworthy brand for real, not just for show? Are you less media and more social?
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Irina Slutsky is based in San Francisco and covers digital media and marketing.