Among other disruptive characteristics that have altered the nature of business forever (real-time interaction, every customer is a reporter, customer service is a spectator sport, etc.) a major way that social media changes the game is the Democratization of Voices.
Your Company Needs to Be Human Because You’re Competing with Humans
Social media is the first time in history that companies communicate alongside real people, and with no inherent advantage. Go to your Facebook Wall and scroll down for a while. Mine looks something like this:
I’ll bet yours is approximately the same. Now look at Twitter (public feed of the people you follow, not lists). Basically the same, right? A mixture of people you know, people you love, people you want to know, and companies. All of them using precisely the same tools and formats to jostle for your attention. This is simply unprecedented.
Your Mom does not buy full-page magazine ads adjacent to car companies. Your friends do not make 60-second radio spots. Your high school ex-girlfriend doesn’t put up freeway billboards (unless she’s even more deranged than most). Those are brand tactics, not people tactics. Yet in social media, brands and people are using the same toolbox.
Because social media strips away the corporate communication advantages (money, personnel, expertise) they have enjoyed forever, brands often try to fight through the clutter of social media and curry your favor by giving you the BEST OFFER EVER. The paradox is that’s exactly what we don’t want.
We Don’t Want Promotions in Social Media
We the people don’t want promotions in social media. It’s not as if we signed up for social media sites so that we could hang out with software companies and hotel chains and T-shirt purveyors and ham merchants. We signed up to connect with each other, not with commerce.
New research from my friends ExactTarget (I am proud to have them as a client) puts a mathematical fine point on our collective abhorrence for social promotions. In their 2012 Channel Preferences Study (download it here for free) 1,500 Americans ages 15 and older were asked about their usage of email, social media, and text messaging. The results are astounding.
Even for companies that we have given permission to send us offers (not Spam), only 4% of us prefer those messages to be delivered via Facebook, and just 1% via Twitter. 77% of us prefer offer to be delivered via email.
Only 4% of us would look at Facebook first to find a deal from a company. Another 10% would look at Facebook second.
Where do we prefer to receive and look for promotional messages? Email. That old, neglected war horse of digital marketing still delivers the dollars, as 77% of survey participants want promotional email from companies, and 44% would look to email first to find a deal.
Be Social Don’t Do Social
I’ve been critical about Facebook’s Timeline and how the company is forcing companies to act like people on the platform. But they’re right. If we so clearly don’t want special offers and promotions clogging our social streams, companies must focus on being social, and worry less about doing social media in ways that approximate direct marketing.
I’m not saying never run a contest or a promotion or a special offer or a threshold deal in social media. But if your company doesn’t have a social media editorial program that emphasizes spontaneous, personal, human, light-hearted, interesting, funny, timely, and photo-driven content, you are swimming against a powerful tide of customer desire.
Smart companies use social to turn customers into fans, and fans into volunteer marketers. They worry less about squeezing every nickel and click out of each tweet and status update.
The more you sell, the less you sell.
I’d like to hear what you think in the comments. Are companies headed down a blind alley by relying too much on social media promotions? Get the Channel Preferences study for free here.