Six Degrees. Bolt.com. Open Diary. These aren’t names most people would cough up if asked to name the progenitors of today’s social media giants. Some would say MySpace or even AOL (yes, AOL). Others more seasoned might argue the early IRC (Internet Relay Chat), various bulletin board services (BBS) and chat rooms were the first incarnations of social media. I’d probably agree with them. But regardless of the form, from primitive to sophisticated, one thing has been consistent among them all: the idea of building communities of people.
Most of the above-mentioned services are but a memory, and today’s big names are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and a handful of other platforms. And just as the underlying technology has grown, evolved and matured, social media has undergone quite a number of radical shifts in less than three decades.
All the mergers, acquisitions and consumer-facing changes aside, one major shift occurred when businesses realized the potential of social media. Product marketers found they could tap into this new channel to reach out and connect with their customers. Even then, it was still about building communities of customers and prospective customers, groups of users that had some sort of common interest. An even bigger shift is that social sites have become gatherers of massive amounts of personal data. Using that data, analytics and artificial intelligence, businesses now have the ability to understand their customers more deeply than ever before.
But once again, a shift is underway in how businesses and social media users interact, a shift that marketers—including B2B technology marketers—can’t afford to ignore.
Teach me, show me, but don’t talk to me
Broadly, this shift is in how our customers use social media. Yes, on a personal level, Facebook or Twitter users want to interact with each other. But with businesses, not as much as they once did. Instead, they now want useful information more than they want socialization.
Your followers still want to interact with your brand (especially if they have a problem), but not in the ways many brands have tried to do so in the past. For example, many brands have tried to use social media as a support platform, or even as a one-on-one tool for following up with or nurturing leads. But besides being a time-consuming (and thus expensive) method for both sales and technical support, even loyal followers are no longer judging you based on their social interaction with you online.
Today’s customers and prospects are looking to brands to provide information on social media, not interaction. They want useful information, interesting points of view, and unique perspectives. And that’s true not only before a protracted buying cycle and decision, but during and long after they make that choice. That means we need to start using social media as more of a broadcast platform than a support channel. And, as we’ve often said about other marketing efforts these days, that means giving your social feed more of a narrative. Tell stories about your brand. Offer your unique points of view. Share your customer successes.
Flip the conventional wisdom on its head
To build and maintain their online communities, businesses used to have to pay a full-time social media manager or agency to nurture their audiences and manage interactions. That left little time for content creation, so brands turned to content curation instead. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with smart content curation, that’s not what today’s social audience wants anymore. The articles you share might be useful or interesting to your readers, but they do little to build your own brand authority. Can any of us really afford to spend our marketing budget bolstering someone else’s image?
Obviously, the answer to the above question is no, and that leads to the need to break from social media traditions. When companies are doing little more than curating content, they spend most of their time sharing the smart things said by others and the rest of their time saying good things about themselves. Now that people are looking to social media more as a broadcast channel, that equation needs to be flipped. Businesses should spend most of their time sharing the smart things they have to say and the good things that other people are saying about them.
For some businesses, this shift will just mean making adjustments to social calendars. They already have a wealth of great content to share and customers who are already singing their praises. But for some, this shift will mean a need to both focus on an authority-building program that will give them both great shareable content and customers willing to say great things.