I think that one of the biggest reasons why some brands succeed in the social media space and others don’t is the simple fact that they have taken the time to understand the nature of each network’s core audience and user base. They don’t just assume that their content will be viewed by a large number of people on Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc. based purely on the size of those communities. Successful organizations come to realize that to live and grow within the social Web they must be true to themselves and those they interact with. They don’t just throw something on the wall and see if it sticks, they take the necessary time to hear the true pulse and rhythm of the community.
Consumers today can pick out a “social media” imposter from miles away. Brands need to provide consumers with value in participating in social media conversations, as opposed to launching one-off applications and community profiles that pander to the lowest common denominator. For a company to succeed in the world of social media, it must be passionate about the opportunities that social platforms provide. For example, posting to a company blog shouldn’t be viewed as another task on an employee’s checklist of things to do on a given day. It should be looked at as an opportunity to share ideas and interact with the community at large.
Tapping into a company’s life blood and sharing that with a broad audience, humanizes a brand. It allows a company to exist as more than an imposing skyscraper or bland press release. To become a true member of the “social media community,” a company must be willing to speak candidly, while entrusting consumers to shepherd, and shape, its message across the Web.
When brands take an active role in the social media space, their interest in interacting with the members therein must be genuine. Being there is just the first step. And, if you’re there and do nothing, it’s worse than if you had never stepped inside the sphere of social communication at all. Brands must take the opportunity to listen and learn from those around them, gaining invaluable insights on how they are viewed by a diverse group of individuals. Twitter gives a company the opportunity to coexist with its supporters and detractors. It furnishes the ability to answer questions, reinforce brand values, thank loyal customers, respond to complaints, and fix problems as soon as they arise.
Social media isn’t a platform that a company should endeavor to game, gaining friends and followers through marketing gimmicks and incredulous tactics. It’s not about giveaways and free knick knacks; or communicating for the sake of hearing your own voice, applauding how smart and with the times you are for having a company Facebook page or Twitter profile.
The last type of company you want to be is one that thinks that by having a blog, Facebook page, Twitter profile, Squidoo lens, Linkedin page, Ning community, and YouTube channel means that you understand what it means to be a “social” company. It’s like saying that you traveled across the country and saw the whole of the United States simply by flying from New York to California. What would say when I asked you what the Rocky Mountains looked liked?
If a company were to have a profile on every social network that existed, the tactic wouldn’t prove that its management understood social media. If anything, such a display of aimless strategy would crystallize an organization’s low social media IQ.
My questions to marketing executives who exhibit brand ADD when plastering their company’s logo across every available channel in the social Web are, “Why are you a member of those communities? What is your social media strategy (both short-term and long-term)? What value do you provide to other members? What do you hope to gain? Why should I or anyone, for that matter, be your friend or follower?” It’s critical to know the answers to these questions before your company ventures into social media.
If your whole pitch is that you’re a social media guru just because you’re a member of every social network and community out there, then you’re sadly mistaken. Anyone can join Twitter or Facebook or start a blog. It is what you do once you’re there that counts. There are already countless blogs and profile pages without any user activity to speak of. If your company tries to climb the mountain of social media without a clear strategy, it’s contribution to the community will be nothing more than a blank page.