Doing it Right

There’s no shortage of people who claim to be experts on Social media. I have several family members who think that because they waste time on Facebook means they’re qualified to list “Social Media” as a skill on their Resumes. Not trying to be mean here folks, but no. It doesn’t. Social Media, as experienced by the end user, is a very very different beast then Social as understood by folks who make their living designing and building the promotions and marketing campaigns designed to attract the attention of end users. Think of it like the difference between baking a cake and eating one – it doesn’t matter how many cakes you’ve eaten, the only way you’ll learn to bake is by baking.

The question many businesses are facing today is how to distinguish the bakers from all the people with crumbs on their faces. It’s not like there’s a certification you can check after all! And that my friends is the purpose of this post. What follows are a few tips designed to help you sort out the actual Social Media experts from the people who just play Farmville or Mafia Wars. You’re welcome.

1. Social isn’t a “Push” Medium

Television, Radio, newspapers, Billboards – just about all your traditional media – are “Push” media. You have one person with a bullhorn shouting their message at the top of their lungs and everyone else doing their best to ignore the advertising and just enjoy the article / show / program /scenic drive / whatever. Social is different, or at least it should be. If someone claims to be an expert in this domain ask them about what sorts of campaigns they’ve designed. If all their examples are broadcast oriented, they’re not the droid you’re looking for.

You don’t want droids at all in fact – you want humans. That’s kind of the point. Tweeting and posting and stuff from your company page is great, but it’s only one part of the equation. You need to put out content that users want to share on their own. In the best case that motivation to share is because they’re genuinely enthusiastic about your content. In the worst case it’s because you’re bribing them (Invite 10 of your friends to our crappy game and get a free whatsit!), but in either case the user is motivated to share your content. And That’s a good thing because ordinary people are infinitely more credible talking about your brand then you are. So make sure that when you hire someone you hire someone who understands this fundamental difference and can explain it coherently.

2. Provide Real Value

So how do you get people enthusiastic about your product? You provide real value, dammit. We’ve all heard that “content is king” a million times but I don’t think the lesson has really sunk in. Most marketers still want to rely on gimmicks. Provide useful, engaging, funny, content on your website and people will share it. It’s really that easy.

Case in point: Milt’s, the local automotive garage in Vallejo posts pictures of the engines they’re working on along with descriptions of what went wrong. They also post useful tips on maintaining your engine and avoiding problems. It doesn’t matter that they don’t have many followers on their page, they’re a small garage in a fairly small city and they don’t need millions of followers. What they have instead is a loyal base of happy customers who get to learn useful information about how to avoid expensive repairs – and who implicitly trust them because they’ve demonstrated their commitment to empowering and informing their customers. The fact that they have great customer service and treat people fairly helps too. All of that comes through in their yelp reviews. They have one of the highest ratings I’ve ever seen for a mechanic – 4.5 stars – and they’ve earned it.

Another great example that springs to mind is Revzilla.com. They do a lot of things right, from the easy site layout and strong SEO optimization to their deep engagement in Social. In particular, I want to point out the way they’ve used a combination of Youtube videos reviewing virtually every product they carry and a strong emphasis on user reviews to turn their website into an invaluable resource for people looking for information on motorcycle gear.* That gives them a huge competitive edge in a crowded online market with dozens of competitors selling the same gear at the same prices.

Find someone who can come up with a plan to help identify your brand’s core value and build on it to deliver real value to your customers. In the SEO world we call this type of content Linkbait and it’s just as powerful in Social.

REI is another company that’s done a great job with this sort of thing. Google “climbing harness” and you’ll notice that one of the top results is their guide to choosing the right climbing harness. Provide value to your customers and they’ll link to it, share it, sell your products to their friends, and be happy about it. Everyone wins or nobody does.

3. Social is All-Pervasive

Understand that in 2013 Social Media allows virtually everyone to be a critic. I’ve written on this before, but it boils down to this: every happy customer is a success, every unhappy customer is an opportunity. The unhappy customer that calls you complaining because their package was late or your product isn’t working is handing you a gold-plated opportunity.

Happy customers take their widgets and go, they don’t need your help. But tThe unhappy customer who you successfully win over just might become your brand advocate – if you go above and beyond any reasonable expectations and make sure they get what they need. To put it differently, marketing departments don’t win glowing Yelp reviews, your customer service reps do. So make sure that anyone you hire in a Social media role understands that Social is all pervasive and needs to be a part of the fabric of your company from the ground up if you expect to survive in this new altered digital economy.

Case in point: Airports are miserable places and I’ve spent more then my share of time in them in the last few years. Fortunately, at least a few of the airlines go out of their way to make things better. Take American Airlines – last year when I was stuck in a giant line for the bag drop at SFO I hit them up on twitter asking them what was up with the line. Within 2 minutes they’d responded to my tweet apologizing for the wait, contacted the local terminal, and sent two additional people out to handle bag drops so several hundred tired people could make their flights on time instead of being stuck in line and missing them.

I don’t care what industry you’re in, Social offers you opportunities to engage with your customers in real time and respond to their needs faster, more efficiently, and more intelligently then ever before. That’s a Good Thing for them and for you. So take advantage of it! If you don’t your competition will. Facebook and Twitter are a 24/7 help desk, ignore them at your peril. A qualified candidate in Social will understand this and be able to help you develop a corporate game plan to help your entire company engage with your customers.

The takeaway from all this? The game has changed. Anyone can put “Social Media” as a skill on their LinkedIn, so when you’re hiring make sure you hire players who know the rules.

*Incidentally, those Revzilla reviews don’t just happen – every time a customer buys a product on their site they reach out by email a few days after it arrives and proactively ask you to review it and have a monthly sweepstakes that everyone who writes a review gets entered in. Remember my earlier point about motivating people to engage and share your content? Same goes if you want them to engage and generate content about your products.