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Social Media Marketing: For Commerce or Community?

Social Media Marketing: For Commerce or Community? image stock blog brand community 300x2251Why doesn’t social commerce work? Theories abound. Among the most popular are “People use social sites to communicate, not to shop,” and “People don’t want to use their credit cards on a social network.”

I’d have to say I agree with these assessments, and I understand the fear of a new concept. It’s primarily about behavior. When social media users visit their favorite sites, it’s to share jokes, keep their friends notified about what they are doing, no matter how mundane, and to see what other people are up to.

There’s even a theory that despite the emphasis on communication, social media is really just the latest manifestation of the ‘cult of me’. Whether you’re a showoff, a drama queen, a troll, or a humblebraggart, it may be the little shot of adrenaline you get from being noticed that drives everything social media is about.

How does a brand, whether a B2C or B2B business, cut through all of that and do some real business on social media platforms?

The answer is: You don’t. At least not yet.

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Some tricklings of s-commerce (or f-commerce) are starting to occur, as some companies have either figured out a formula for selling through Facebook, or were just lucky enough to be the right kind of brand for social selling from the get-go. Countless smaller brands came out of nowhere using social platforms, but many larger ones, strategy or not, have been stymied by their inability to monetize their social endeavors. GM, Nordstrom, The Gap, and JC Penney have all given up on selling through Facebook, for example, at least for now.

So is there hope?

The verdict on social commerce is in: a direct selling strategy, like a mall presence, does not work for social media. Social media is not a mall, it’s a playground. It’s where people go to watch their kids play and bump into friends. It’s also a place where they hang out with business colleagues, but the closest they get to a sale is to trade business cards and promise to talk later.

When you try to sell using a social network, you’re basically acting like a used car salesmen at a kid’s birthday party. Instead of commerce, you want to build your community. The way to fit in is to lose the tie, drop the product slicksheets and raise a glass. When you represent a business, how do you do this?

  • Be a person. Nobody wants to be pals with a company logo. The most successful social brands are usually people, who create an aura of excellence, experience, leadership, humor, creativity, or some combination of these traits around themselves. The brand they represent is secondary, but they make themselves inseparable from it.
  • Listen. This means find out what drives your followers on social platforms. If you are a person, it will be easier to engage them in discussions about their interests. The social networks may let you stalk people to find out more, without them knowing, but it’s better to just ask.
  • Lose the fear. If you’re that person at the cocktail party who stands quietly by the cracker tray trying to avoid eye contact, that behavior needs to go. On a social platform, you’re better off being the person who strikes up conversations and commiserates easily.
  • Be positive. It may be cathartic to lament things going on in the news or politics, and it is widely accepted to join a discussion where you can be harsh toward various people or organizations, but it’s best to leave the cynicism at the login screen. It’s not just because you’re representing a business, but because people who are positive are just more fun to be around.
  • Be yourself. There is no need to go out of your way to pretend to like certain sports, art forms, or pop bands just to get along with your followers online. You should be a person people want to know and want to listen to, and it should not go against the suggestions listed above. Of course, if ‘yourself’ is a phony, self-centered, shy, negative, boring person, maybe you should find another person to be the face of your brand.

The quest to ‘fit in’ may bring back memories of awkward moments in high school, none of them positive. But here in the social realm, you get to be the jock, the cheerleader, the class president, the genius, and the teacher’s pet all at once. As you represent your organization in the social universe, it’s better to take the ‘extremely soft sell’ approach rather than the carnival barker. To gather people to your brand, just be somebody people want to know better.

Comments on this Article: 2

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  1. Hey Tom!

    Thanks for the post.

    Totally agree with your premise that the social networks are not a place for the hard sell – or selling an old jalopy at a kid’s birthday!?!?

    To use your analogy, though, I’d argue that social media is indeed much more like a shopping mall than a playground.

    People go to malls for much more than the direct sale experience. They go to gather and wander and explore. They go to see what everyone else is wearing and buying. They go to contrast and compare. They go to interact with brands, products and people.

    All of this, in my mind, proves the value of social networks in driving commerce.

    Cheers!

    Trent!

  2. Tom Bishop says:

    True Trent! Sometimes in my case the shopping mall is the playground (for those rainy days). The kids (both preschoolers) already know that: Lego Store > Apple Store > Build-a-Bear > Everything else combined.

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