There’s been a lot of debate on the value of social media. After all, it’s easy to argue about the potential of social media as a powerful sales channel. The ability to communicate with so many people instantly is like catnip to marketers and business owners alike—driving a gold rush that has spawned innumerable “social media experts.”
Despite this excitement, there remains much controversy about the proper way to sell within the social landscape. Even the gatekeepers themselves (the major social networks), struggle to properly monetize their communities. So the debate of social media’s efficacy wages on.
Initial excitement is often followed by frustrated divestment, leading to false conclusions about the potential for marketing in the social sphere. These initial assessments are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of social audiences. False conclusions about the value of social media are not telling of social media’s true potential, but illustrate instead how ineffective it can be to apply traditional marketing initiatives within non-traditional environments.
Put simply, the social landscape is not typically an effective direct sales channel. It’s an opportunity to engage with potential customers. In order to be successful within social media, a paradigm shift is required— a deliberate change in mindset to understand one very simple fact: People buy from those they know and trust.
By teaching your audience, entertaining them, or providing a resource to share with their friends, you create value. Even more powerfully, through consistency, you build trust.
Content then becomes your most powerful tool for forging relationships and building a loyal following. The most basic goal of marketing with content is to nourish visitors — to give them what your competitors can’t or won’t, to educate them, inspire them, excite them. Creating content gives audiences an opportunity to engage with your business, to interact with it, and give feedback. It’s the impetus for the conversations and dialogues that can build trust in a brand over the long term.
Instead of seeing social media users as a faceless mass for you to hawk your wares, they instead become potential fans of your brand, people you can give to, and learn from. Finding ways to become valuable to these audiences becomes the focus. When this becomes the crux of each marketing initiative, you begin to innovate in ways that are helpful and valuable.
By shifting your point of view, it’s easy to see social media as a place rife with opportunity once again. It’s an incredibly deep space from which savvy businesses can mine their perfect audience. Over time, social media marketing can only be successful if audiences can be created and sustained that exist outside of the social networks. Great content has the power to bring social audiences to your website—but this traffic becomes meaningless if user engagement ends here. Long-term success happens if, and only if, you are able to entice visitors into future interactions with your business.
As Director of Marketing at a digital agency, I see first hand the impact of internal marketing strategies that revolve around content creation. In order to achieve results, we’re committed to the consistent production of remarkable content and spend a great deal of our time finding ways to bring new audiences closer to our brand. In particular, we focus specifically on:
- Social Audience Growth (Twitter followers and Facebook fans)
- Encouraging On-site Interaction with Content (commenting and sharing)
- Newsletter Subscriber Growth (email subscribers)
We rely on social media as a primary point of interaction, and count on social users to help spread our message and the content we create. We’ve built our business on these inbound strategies, which are currently responsible for 90% of our lead flow.
Most businesses put the cart before the horse. They see a huge market and assume that market is eager to buy. This is the wrong approach for most businesses in most situations. To find long-term, sustainable success online, build an engaged and loyal audience first. Refine and build this audience through social media. Use content to entice them, engage with them, and build their trust. Continue to cultivate this audience and cater to this audience, and you’ll create an asset with enormous long-term value.
Image Source: Stig Nygaard (Flickr)