Hands Holding Speech Bubbles with Social Media Words

We are living in unprecedented times.

We are in the early stages of an ever-evolving social age that favours storytelling, passionate connection with one’s community, relationship building and progressive thinking over excessive self-centred promotional messaging.

If you’re a solo professional or business owner or marketing manager, or you make your living in PR and communications, the fact we can now create and publish our own media, distribute it globally, in real time and often at zero or minimal cost (comparatively to other traditional promotional methods) represents a massive OPPORTUNITY the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

Throw into the mix we can now also use social media channels to build our networks and engage directly with interested third parties online – again, globally and in real time – and the content marketing opportunity is ratcheted up a few more notches.

Ultimately, of course, you want more traffic to your website, more leads for your business, more members of your organisation, votes for your cause, more sales of your products (it all depends on your goals, of course). I get it. We all do.

Hyper-connected marketplace

But in today’s information-overloaded, hyper-connected marketplace, simply cutting through and resonating with people is a challenge. Doing what we’ve always done and expecting it to continue to work like a charm veers dangerously towards ‘fanciful thinking’ territory.

That’s not to say all traditional marketing methods necessarily have had their day. If advertising on radio or in a niche publication or even paying exorbitant rates for a TV campaign generates results for your brand, go for it! Seriously.

But we need to be more than acutely aware of the shifting sands of the new media and marketing landscape.

We need to understand that people – your customers – are getting pretty good at blocking out the barrage of self-centred sales messages that interrupt their day, preferring to connect with only those brands that add value and relevance to their lives.

The other shift in consumer behaviour is they’re more than happy today to get their news and information from a variety of sources, not just traditional media outlets. These sources can include their online personal networks of friends and connections, DIY media makers (i.e. bloggers, podcasters etc), not to mention brands themselves (but only if they trust them as a source of information).

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

A lot needs to happen today before people will simply flock to your website (and/or buy your products in-store, or contract your services).

Wine retailing entrepreneur, New York Times bestselling author and social media powerhouse, Gary Vaynerchuk, uses the boxing metaphor: Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook to describe how marketing should take place today.

In other words, Deliver value, deliver value, deliver value … then ask for the sale.

This is diametrically opposed to the traditional way of marketing, which has always been “look at me, look at me, aren’t I great – now buy from me”.

As best-selling author David Meerman Scott has been saying for years, consumers don’t care about your products and services, they care about themselves.

If marketing has always been about us and our products and services, the big shift sparked by social media is that it has brought the focus back to our audience. To be successful as a marketer today, you increasingly need to:

  • tell stories that resonate with your customers (and the people who influence them);
  • interact with people as real human beings, not as ’the brand’;
  • build relationships with not just known influencers but ordinary folk who in turn can promote you in a positive way to their personal networks of friends and acquaintances (remember, today everyone can be an influencer in their own right).

The result you want is a growing audience for your content and stories. This audience needs to be respected and communicated with on a regular basis.

Over time, if you’ve done the right things – i.e. you’ve added value, been useful and helpful and friendly, accessible and responsive – growing numbers from this audience will become part of your tribe, or what I like to call your ‘village of support’. People who make up your village of support will hopefully speak positively about your brand every now and then and consume and share your content with their friends and colleagues.

But the work doesn’t stop there, because the deepest connection needs to be saved for that part of your ‘village’ who are what I call the ‘true believers’ – these are your hardcore fans and advocates who will willingly spread the good word about your brand and product or service offering.

You can’t build a village of support or band of advocates through advertising or sales promotions.

You need to:

  • connect with them on an emotional level;
  • contribute to their lives in ways that are respectful and meaningful;
  • single out and cultivate the relationships you have with those who are fans of your brand;
  • reach new audiences by collaborating with other like-minded brands.

This is where using online publishing platforms to tell stories and create content that informs, educates, empowers or simply entertains comes into play in a big way, as does social media, which can be used effectively to distribute your content as well as ‘humanise’ your brand and connect more deeply with customers.

To return to my opening paragraph:

We are living in unprecedented times. We are in the early stages of an ever-evolving social age, one that favours storytelling, passionate connection with one’s community, relationship building and progressive thinking.

THE QUESTION IS: Where do you see your brand fitting into this equation?