I have a love-hate relationship with social media.
Which is to say: I love its potential and hate how it’s frequently abused.
Social media marketing should be about adding value to the digital community by sharing insights, expertise, and opinions.
It shouldn’t be used like a covert (or overt) advertising channel.
I keep seeing social media marketing efforts that are rude, self-serving and disruptive to the online community. Please don’t join that crowd. It doesn’t work.
If you would like to do social media the right way, the ethical way, and the effective way then here are some guidelines that we try to use ourselves.
1. You Can’t Force Word of Mouth Marketing
I love that social media can facilitate more opportunities for word of mouth marketing. Word of mouth marketing is what our company relies on to grow, and I consider it to be the Holy Grail for sustained growth.
Social media marketing accelerates word of mouth marketing only if you’re doing things your customers would want to share.
This should be common sense.
Social media is not a silver bullet. If you have no word of mouth marketing already, then social media will not create it. It can only enhance what’s already present.
So before you invest in social media, start by focusing your energy on initiatives that are of interest to your target audience.
Then, after you have established something that is noteworthy, original and valuable use social media to let people know about it.
I talk to lots of small business owners that doubt the value of social media because they put up a Facebook page and expect that this simple act would spread the word about their company. It didn’t work.
2. Know Your Audience and Target Market
Not to sound completely mercenary, but the only “useful followers” are followers that share interest in your product and your market. Don’t waste your social media dollars (or time) attracting followers that don’t help support your bottom lines and organizational goals.
The basic rule of thumb, as I see it, is:
You get followers based on the content you post and share. So be strategic with what you are sharing.
Don’t try to increase your social reach just because you want your follower count to go up — that’s a meaningless metric. You want to see engagement and hopefully long term conversion to sales.
Here are our own guidelines on content and social media sharing:
- Focus on content that is related to what your audience (and customer base) is likely to be interested in.
- Be original.
- Don’t advertise.
- Don’t waste people’s time.
- Only promote content that has specific and honest value to your audience (or the audience you want).
- Don’t re-post or re-tweet something unless you agree with it, have read it, and it has value.
Pay attention to what content your followers and customers share and read. Use your analytic tools and pay attention to engagement, time on page, bounce rates and conversion rates.
The number of followers you gain isn’t as important as that.
3. Be Conversational But Not Rude
Social media is all about conversations. There is nothing prohibiting you from joining in as a businessperson or marketing professional.
Just don’t try to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Don’t be that ass that barges into a conversation, with nothing to add other than: “look at me, look at me!” — particularly on Twitter.
That type of rude activity might get you the occasional follower but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of everyone else.
Here’s our rule about reaching out to comment on blogs and engaging in social media conversations:
If you want to join into a conversation, then you have better have something valuable to add.
Introducing your product is not value.
Provide a bit of data, a link to a blog article (one that is valuable and not half-assed), or offer a valid and thoughtful suggestion.
Remember, your goal is to promote relevant conversations. If you provide enough value, other people will begin to follow you because you are an expert and they respect you.
In the long run, that will lead to more opportunities and sales in a sustainable and ethical way. Plus, you’ll learn a great deal in the process.
4. You Don’t Own Your Facebook Wall
Many companies treat their Facebook pages like they are marketing pieces. They want them “designed” to show their product in the best possible light.
That’s not how customers see Facebook pages. They see a post as something they own and it’s their right to post whatever they feel is appropriate on your Facebook wall.
Your customers are going to post things you don’t like to your Facebook wall, in blog comments, and during group conversations.
It’s going to make you angry and frustrated, but think very carefully before you delete it or report it — particularly if it’s from a customer.
That customer who’s bad-mouthing you on your Facebook wall is doing you a favor. They are giving you an opportunity to respond, and to respond well.
Deleting the post is most definitely not responding well — and it’s guaranteed to generate word of mouth — just not the kind you want.
If you are serious about social media marketing it has to be on those terms (that is, your customers’ terms). Handle customer complaints in a way that will dazzle and impress everyone who reads your reply.
If you are stuck on the best way to reply, here’s a formula for you: acknowledge their complaint, sincerely apologize, find a way to make it right, and thank the customer for letting you know about the problem.
5. Treat Competition With Respect
Do not use social media to bad-mouth or plant false information about your competitors. It’s unethical and wrong.
Treat your competition with respect and take the high ground. Make it a policy not to engage in conversations about your competitors.
Of course, your competitors may not be as grown up about it as you are. So what do you do if a competitor posts content on your site, blog or Facebook wall?
Here are some rules of thumb:
- If a comment or post has value and is relevant, then leave it.
- If the comment mentions your competitor in an honest and open way, then leave it.
- If the competitor misrepresents himself or herself, (e.g. pretends to be a customer but is really just advertising their own company) then you are entirely within your rights to edit (or delete) the comment.
Remember: Don’t remove or edit a post just because it mentions a competitor. Just don’t allow someone to misrepresent who they are or lie.
Also, if you do edit a comment, don’t hide it. Leave a mark about what you edited and why.
Final Note: Be a Good Digital Citizen
If your job is content and social media marketing then try to live as a good example of a digital citizen.
Do the right thing, try to add value to every conversation and with every post.
Here’s one final rule for this article.
It’s a general guideline for all social media interactions, not just marketing:
“If you don’t have anything valuable to add to a conversation, don’t post anything at all.”