The Way You Think About Social Media Marketing Should Change in 2015. Here’s Why.

Steve Wolgemuth | December 18, 2014
Internet StrategySocial Media

social media apps on smartphone

What advantages do you have in 2015 that you might not have had in 2012 with social media marketing? You’re probably expecting me to talk about the rise of Instagram or SnapChat, but I’m not. The biggest advantage that you have is experience. The experience of seeing fads come and go, advice proven right/wrong, and wisdom gained.

Here are four things I’ve learned.

It’s time to stop getting hung up on social media tools/channels.

If you still think social media are collectively a marketing category — e.g., SEO, direct mail, and public relations — then you need to evolve. Social media are simply tools with one common characteristic — users can generate content, others can see it. Mature marketers are no longer hung up on the tools and instead are talking about adding social media approaches to broader marketing initiatives, such as customer relations, PR, and building web traffic. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube aren’t initiatives, they’re tools. Mature businesses have moved on from asking for stand-alone “social media strategies.”

Social media isn’t an approach.

In my estimation, there are 10 categories of uses for social media (Yes, there are many more as you make sub-categories of these). There are probably some I’ve omitted, but only because they are less common. Here are 10 common approaches to social media that I’ve observed:

  1. Viral Marketing – You post stuff that everyone shares and it goes “viral” to millions overnight.
    Lesson learned: Don’t be ridiculous. Your stuff is NOT going to go viral. This is a bad plan. But do use social sharing buttons. Like the lottery, you have to play to win, and when you create truly useful/valuable content for your audience, you’ll enjoy some sharing victories along the way.
  2. Staying in Touch – You get people to like your Facebook page, then you engage with them.
    Lesson learned: This is the most widely-practiced, terrible idea that someone is probably trying to convince you to do. Who wants to be friends with their dry cleaner these days? Find a better use for social platforms or find a better way to waste your time and money. This approach is so 2010! It isn’t a bad marketing idea until you remember that good is the enemy of great.
  3. Driving Traffic to Your Website – You use social media to increase your web traffic and improve your search engine rankings.
    Lesson learned: This might find a degree of success, especially from sites like Pinterest. Don’t go down this road until you’ve done good work on getting traffic from Google. Remember that the overwhelming majority of your website traffic will come from search engines. Period. Social platforms are one of many things that comprise the remainder of your web traffic profile. Don’t rush out to do this until you’ve mastered other, more effective opportunities for driving traffic to your website.
  4. Broadcasting – You use social platforms for free promotion or broadcasting of messages like sales, discounts, special offers, and changes of operating hours.
    Lesson learned: Social media experts discouraged this from the get-go. They were wrong. You don’t have to be social, you have to be helpful. That might mean telling people about sales, events, deadlines for enrollment, and company stuff, not talking about the weather. And don’t talk about your unique selling proposition. Getting an audience and broadcasting is actually ok to do.
  5. Encouraging User-generated Content – You get others engaged in creating content connected with your brand, like PA Dutch Visitors Bureau’s #Lancastergram on Instagram or Dorito’s Super Bowl commercials contest.
    Lesson learned: This is one of the most brilliant uses for social media that your Internet marketing company won’t propose. Why? It’s the rare social media strategist who can identify a winning strategy and to pull it off successfully.
  6. Personality Broadcasting – You use social media as platforms for a strong personality connected with your brand.
    Lesson learned: If (and this is a big IF) your brand centers on a larger-than-life personality, this is definitely the way to go. You’re bound to be successful. If you aren’t all that interesting (think 99% of brands), please don’t try this! Remember, no one wants to be Facebook friends with their local hospital, unless Ben Carson is the doctor. You won’t find your dry cleaner interesting unless it’s run by the Kardashians.
  7. Building Community – You engage a community to talk about a common passion, interest, or brand concern. It may result in an event or meet up. This typically begins by identifying influencers, and getting them on board.
    Lesson learned: This is another brilliant uses for social media that your Internet marketing company won’t propose. Why? It’s the rare social media strategist that can pull this off. Warning: not all brands are candidates for this approach.
  8. Advertising – You use social media’s amazing targeting capability to buy media space. It’s like traditional media buy, only better targeted, cheaper, and a lot harder to think of a message that works.
    Lesson learned: This is an inexpensive marketing channel you should probably experiment with because of the attractive targeting and measuring capabilities it has. Success will lie in the campaign plan and messaging. It often doesn’t work well, but it isn’t expensive to try either.
  9. Customer Service – You answer people’s questions when they ask them online. It’s getting to be the new customer expectation.
    Lesson learned: More and more, people expect you to be listening on social platforms. If they have a problem with your product or service, they expect to be able to tweet about it and get a response. If you’re not planning to move some of your customer service to social platforms, you’re missing the boat.
  10. Brand Monitoring – You pay attention and monitor mentions of your brand. If something goes terribly wrong, you need to be the first to hear about it.
    Lesson learned: If you’re not doing this you should start or plan to start soon. Your brand should, at the very least, set up a Twitter account with your brand name, then respond when people mention you.

You should start with “what for”

If you’re thinking that you need to use social media because you need to use social media, you’re on track to waste time and money, and get nowhere. Why do you want to use it? It must start with “what” you need to accomplish. Chances are, social media can and will play a role in the digital aspect of your marketing/communication strategy. If you haven’t first determined what you need to accomplish, you won’t be able to track your progress toward that objective. You’ll be marketing without the capability of measuring, the exact place most social media experts have been finding themselves in the past years.

Certainly it isn’t a bad thing for a brand to be involved on social platforms for the sake of being “social.” But being friendly, chatty, and connected may not bring the value you would hope for. If there is one thing we can learn from the businesses we talk to each month who have tried and failed at social media marketing: being social, being friendly, being on social platforms isn’t a marketing strategy that’s worth the effort. Friendliness, connectedness, and having a human personality to your brand, are simply good characteristics of successful participation. You’ll have engagement, but to what end? We’ve been told in the past that being social is a marketing strategy, but it isn’t.

Think of social media as a layer wrapped into a broader strategy, not as a standalone tactic.

As years have passed, we’ve matured in our understanding of this paradigm shift in the communication landscape. We’ve learned from our mistakes in how we should think about social media.

Here’s the central lesson:

If you know what you want to accomplish, you can then choose one or more of the proven social media approaches as part of other online and real world initiatives. Saying that you want to use social media is like saying you want to use a telephone for your business. There are hundreds of marketing strategies than use telephones. You wouldn’t ask for a telephone strategy. That would be weird.

We’ve stopped writing “social media” strategies this year for the same reason. We believe it puts too much focus on the tools instead of emphasizing carefully chosen strategies and tactical social media approaches. Strategies need to drive tactics, and many tactics are only measureable if they track back to specific marketing objectives.

Final Thoughts

Successful marketing using social media is most likely to occur when brands start with marketing objectives not with tactical ideas or specifically, the desire to be “social” online. Smart brands use social media approaches as tactical layers within bigger strategic objectives, not as stand-alone approaches. The most brilliant social media opportunities are often the hardest to identify, and even harder to execute.

Are you planning any changes to your business’s social media strategy in 2015? Let us know in the comments!