Social Marketing: What & To Whom

In 2017, if you want to develop and execute a social media strategy for your brand, there’s an ocean of advice available online to get you started. You can find out how Facebook, Twitter or Instagram serve your needs in different ways, and why some audiences respond to chatbots as they would to a trusted friend. And then there’s the snapchat phenomenon, which is sure to morph into a snapchatbot by year’s end.

Just as important, you can learn how easy it is to track for whatever metric you decide measures the success of your strategy. Who’s clicking through, who’s looking at more than one offering on your site and, the ultimate, who actually bought something? There’s also a ton of advice about how to “assign roles.” Jimmy? Video. Marsha? Analytics. Chandra? Engagement.

Ah yes, Engagement. There’s a word that surfaced around a decade ago and remains the unicorn too many marketers dream of capturing, by simply checking a few boxes and cloning copy from exiting promotional materials. But what can you expect from someone with an MBA in Pretending Google Analytics Mean Something? That is, despite the fact that any discussion of engagement quickly devolves to a puddle of over-thinking.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there’s some sense in studying statistics, but I often wonder if the real reason people devote so much attention to it is the false sense of security it brings. Metrics tracking makes the nebulous relationship between communication and motivation seem more concrete.

After all, if the ratio between your click-through rate and your bounce rate achieves the golden mean, you’ll surely grab more market share, right? Common sense says nothing is so certain. If you’ve ever had to say, “No … please … let me explain,” you know perfectly well there’s no predicting how people will react to the simplest stimuli.

That’s because, regardless of demographics, human behavior cannot be predicted. Why else would The Big Bang Theory continue to be popular, long after it mutated from a fresh comedic take on science nerds to a multidimensional version of I Love Lucy with better sets and a shade less misogyny? Although the latter qualifier is open for debate.

Too busy living to care about your brand.
Am I getting distracted here? That’s because I’m human and that’s the point. You can have all the triggers you want but that doesn’t guarantee anyone will pull them — no matter what Facebook’s bar graph captures or how often the pie chart makes you hungry. People only care about your brand when and if they care, and only for as long as they do.

So, for example, if I buy a printer from Epson, then ask my Facebook friends how to treat my sprained ankle, I have absolutely no interest in the three to five Epson ads that inevitably appear in the sidebar. Trigger? Only if Epson has a scanner bed that will keep me from seeing a doctor.

If Epson had done their research properly, they’d have found out that I’ll do anything to keep from seeing a doctor — and come up with a branded ace bandage. What? Google Analytics doesn’t track that? Too bad. Because that’s one of the many thousands of things that make me, me, and which no amount of demographic theory can tell you. It’s the kind of insight you can only gain in the real world.

What this suggests is that long before you visit the hundreds of sites that offer advice about social marketing, you sit yourself down and work out what you’re selling and to whom you’re selling it. Does that sound too old school for you? Well, I’m willing to bet the larger your company is, the more different ideas about “What?” and “To Whom?” there are.

Would everyone, for instance, on your social marketing team answer these questions the same way? And what about your brand team, especially if, for some ungodly reason, you’ve outsourced your branding to a separate company? Better find out now. Because until there’s agreement on this basic point, you’ll be so stymied that no about of “tweaking the campaign” will make a difference.

Cracking the chicken-egg conundrum.
But let’s assume you’ve already reached a true consensus. The next step is accepting a simple truth: Trying to discover who your audience is, based on their random responses to Web content is like trying to create a chicken-laying egg. You have to know your audience and build your engagement strategy around that knowledge. And it’s a kind of knowledge you can’t acquire in digital space.

After all, there are already plenty of cues as to what large groups of people respond to. From the most popular books, TV, film, music and sporting events, to favorite foods, vacation spots, cars, to points of general agreement, about honesty, courage, love, babies, kittens, puppies and roses, you can glean a lot of information by direct observation.

The test for any fine-tuning you want to make based on opinion polls and the experience of similar brands is whether your assumptions align with what you know from your own experience. Of course, if your entire experience of the world derives from popular culture and me-too posts on Facebook, you need to get out more before you have any hope of striking a nerve.

And the only nerve to strike is the one that motivates to action. Titillation is entertaining. Entertainment can be titillating, but if you don’t know what drives your customer to buy a new car, it doesn’t matter how engaging your dancing baby/hotdog/chicken is. A mishmash of TV-style ads and “Share My Experience” posts like the one on Ford’s Facebook page won’t jangle the cash register unless it’s curated properly to rouse genuine emotion.

Which emotion, you might ask? I vote for trust. Once you decide To Whom you’re selling, you have to package the What in terms that evoke trust. Whether you deliver that in packets of seriously useful advice, an exclusive offer for a service your audience actually needs, the ability to customize your product, or a no-questions-asked return policy, you’re no longer straining to sell a thing. You’re offering your audience emotional satisfaction, free of charge. Ask yourself whether there’s any product more valuable than that. To accomplish this, you need more than an editorial calendar. You need a narrative voice to give shape to the “whatever” you and your customers post.

Wait until you’re ready.
It’s only when you’ve achieved a deep understanding of your audience that you’re ready to build a social media strategy. Not, that is, from a cookie-cutter formula, based on an acronym like SMART, but from your knowledge of human nature. The most powerful aspect of social media is its ability to create, with an artfully developed tone and voice, a multidimensional personality for your brand.

That this personality is only possible as an extension of the offline brand you create should be obvious. Digital space is too immediate, too action-oriented to allow for actual brand development. Your audience needs to come to your social media presence already knowing that you’re the brand that delivers “it” better than any other brand. Only then can you offer content based on a shared premise that your audience can immediately relate to.

Whether you’re an excitable brand manager, a hyperactive account supervisor or a world-weary creative director, don’t make a move in social marketing just to check off that box. Stop, take a deep breath and look at the world around you. Travel. Talk to people — no, not in a focus group — and most important, listen. You’ll find out more about why your customers do what they do in half an hour on public transportation than you ever will in Statistics for Dummies.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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