Marketers and companies need to realize that prospects and customers are two different types of people and that their most valuable asset in the social media space are their most engaged, ardent and loyal fans. They need to empower these people to be their brand ambassadors to help attract new customers and convert prospects.

You don’t see them as much as you used to – at least I don’t, but there used to be a bunch of products advertised on TV, usually late at night, that came with the promise: One Size Fits All! They’d be ponchos, or sweaters or jackets or whatever. And you knew darn well that this thing was not fitting everyone.

Well it appears that many companies are taking the one size fits all approach and applying it their social media endeavors. They’re setting up their Facebook page, their Twitter account and so on and sending out the same message en masse, regardless of who’s on the other end – be it a prospect or a loyal customer.

Big mistake…

“Since marketers are less likely to engage prospects directly through social media, they should encourage or guide their current customers to advocate on their behalf instead,” so say Jim Asplund and Blaise James, analysts for Gallup who recently released the findings of its Management Review which contained the findings of a survey of over 17,000 social media user. The survey also revealed that brands should concentrate their social media efforts “on your most engaged customers because these customers are the most likely to advocate on your behalf and the least likely to criticize you.”

See where this is going?

The survey revealed that about 75% of a brand’s loyal customers engage in their respective social networks and speak positively about their favorite brand. These same loyal folks never engage their network and spew negative comments about their favorite brand. On the other hand (it’s always the other hand that gets you in trouble) only 1% of non-loyal fans speak positively about a brand in their social network but 14% of these same non-loyalists WILL criticize a brand via their social network.

This chart says it all… Look at the disparity between Customers and Prospects and how each works for or against a given brand in the social media space.

the star group

Mssrs. Asplund and James stated it perfectly: “Whether you’re targeting customers or prospective customers, some will be predisposed for or against your organization depending largely on their existing relationship with you.”

Not Only “Who” But Also “Why”…

It is of course vital to identify whom your most engaged fans are but it is also vital to determine why these same folks use social media in the first place. As Asplund and James put it, “these customers (your most loyal ones) use social media; people tweet, post, blog, and “friend” others to meet their intrinsic needs, wants, and goals. They won’t change their motivation or reasons to fit yours, so your organization must align its initiatives with your customers’ goals.”

That last line is very powerful and one that should be put to memory for all social media marketers. People will not change to meet your needs, you must change to meet theirs.

Four Levels Of Engagement…

In their analysis of the survey findings, Gallup categorized people into four quadrants or levels (chart to the right) of how they engage or don’t engage…

Ok, so where do your customers fall if you had to place them in one of the four categories? This is what you need to ask the star groupyourself and you need to be honest. If most of your fans and followers fall into the “Not Engaged” and “Actively Disengaged” categories, you’re probably not seeing much of a return on your social media strategies. And you need to alter your focus and target those, assuming you have some, that fall into the “Fully Engaged” and “Engaged” categories.

Integration – There’s That Word Again…

As you well know, I am the poster child for integration, having written numerous posts on the benefits of having an integrated marketing strategy but also of integration in general and apparently Asplund and James are fans of integration too for in their findings they stress the need to measure a brand’s social engagement cross all channels — online and offline. “Digital-only social media initiatives are leaving far too many prospects and customers untapped. Our analysis suggests that the most frequent type of social networking is still analog — face-to-face or over the phone. Don’t confuse the channel (social media) for the desired outcome, (social networking).”

Now some of you may be thinking that the offline they speak of includes word of mouth, and you would be right, of course. A couple of months ago I wrote a post that stirred some debate titled Social Media Marketing And Word Of Mouth Marketing Are Now The Same. In my post I essentially made my case that they (Social Media & Word Of Mouth) are essentially the same. Rod Brooks, who is Board President of WOMMA (Word Of Mouth Marketing Association), in a comment to my post, said “As for SM and WOM being the same, well that’s probably a mater of degree or at least dependent on the definitions being used.”

He was of course right on the money, it does depend on the definition and context. And in this context, it really doesn’t matter if you believe they are the same or not. What matters most is your most loyal customers are talking about brand in a positive light and they can wield a tremendous amount of influence in their respective social networks.

One final quote from Asplund and James: “Your best bet to acquire new customers is to engage your existing customers, then align your strategy with the wants and needs that encourage them to engage their social networks on your behalf.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Sources: Gallup Management Journal, Click Z, Marketers Who Treat Social Media As One Size Fits All Are Making A Tragic Mistake, The Star Group