It’s fair to say that there are countless articles, top tips, and white papers claiming to provide everything you need to turn your business into a social media powerhouse. Each piece tends to have a distinctive focus or places a different level of importance on the relevant elements and channels. Some focus on the value of data or highlight the importance of content creation, others shout about effective planning or SEO and a few bring everything into the mix to truly frighten the hell out of you.
However, none of these effectively address the singular most important aspect of social; building mutually beneficial relationships with your audience. Once you have accepted that this is central to your social success, things get a lot more interesting.
Just like everyone in your team, your business or brand has a personality, a character and a tone of voice. Defining these traits should be personal and specific to your organisation, it should reflect the business you want to be and how you want to interact with your audience. If your audience is very corporate and senior, within a more traditional market sector, it’s unlikely that an irreverent, comical or risqué personality is the right route. Equally, if your audience is exclusively under 25, you might want your brand to convey all of those characteristics. Put simply, it’s horses for courses. Find the right level for your audience, what pleases, motivates and engages them and you’ll make your social media a successful part of your communications efforts.
Having said all that, even going through the process detailed above won’t make much impact if you don’t, first and foremost, buy into what makes social so powerful; giving your audience a voice and listening to what they have to say. It is very much a two-way street or a ‘two-way symmetric communication model’ to call it by its academic name. Every business can pay lip service to ‘having its clients interests at heart’ but if the methods deployed continue to use sales driven, manipulative language, you are effectively treating your audience like passive objects. There’s an expectation that they are willing to ingest every message poured down their throats by our marketing, advertising or PR spin merchants and that isn’t the way social works.
One of the reasons why treating your audience this way will only lead to failure is also the key difference between an offline and an online community. In the world of social, your audience (or potential audience) is ready and willing to react, comment and respond loudly about things they like and more importantly, don’t like. What’s more, they are capable of reaching huge numbers of people, in a far more dramatic and vocal way than you could face-to-face.
Another aspect of social, which ultimately must also be respected, is your audience’s desire to listen, be heard and engaged with across multiple platforms, through multiple channels and at a time which suits them. Your audience is unlikely to be active across all social channels and the ones they use are most likely to be influenced by their profession, age, gender or all manner of other factors. Regardless of the channel, however, one thing which remains fairly constant is that your audience or potential client will use their preferred outlets to express their thoughts and feelings about everything that interests them, including your brand. What they say could be positive or negative and will either begin to build loyalty or not, depending on your activity.
So to return to this article’s main purpose to explain what really matters: the relationship you build with individuals who share an interest. Treat this relationship like you’re dating. You should now have your brand’s personality agreed so live it. Be the person you and your team have decided you should be and go out and meet people. Be open, be kind but most of all be honest. Treat your audience with respect and provide them with something of genuine value and they will be more receptive to what you have to say and the product or service you are trying to promote.
Martyn Perks and Richard Sedley, authors of Winners and Losers in a Troubled Economy, define client engagement as:
Repeated interactions that strengthen the emotional, psychological and physical investment a client has in a brand (product or company).
As described above, your success in social media will be determined by whether or not your communication efforts manage to achieve that bond and demonstrate an understanding and acceptance of what the world of social is all about:
- Building a real and engaged community, with two-way conversations
- Be genuine, transparent, honest and forthcoming
- Invest the necessary time, energy, effort, consideration and care in your communications
- Be consistent: don’t be there one day and disappear the next; don’t say a particular value, issue or principle matters – only to drop it next month
- Be approachable and sincere: engage in a respectful, real, human voice, not one comprising corporate-speak that is only about ever selling
- Share information that has real value to your audience and encourage them to make an informed voice, providing all the tools they need to do so.
If you and your brand engage with your audience as you would wish to be treated and adhere to the values social media is centred upon you’re more likely to succeed. So forget what you are trying to sell and focus all of your efforts on what really matters most. If you do, you can’t fail, the only question is how successful will you be.