Beyond PR

Jan 11, 2011

Social networking: it’s like dating

In their race to “leverage social media” some organizations make the mistake of rushing in, establishing a presence … and then are disappointed by the results when their Twitter stream doesn’t generate sales leads, or their Facebook page flops.  In my mind, the real problem isn’t the efficacy of social media to create traction for brands online. The difficulty lies instead with connecting social media programs to business outcomes.  What outcomes will be tracked needs to be carefully considered.  The benefits brands will derive from building solid presences in networks will be found in the realms of mindshare, awareness, visibility and reputation, versus hard sales leads.

However, before any social media metrics can be tabulated, one first needs to develop a successful presence in social networks.  And that requires tact and effort.  In reality, social networking for brands is a lot like dating.  You have to click with a person, and cultivate the relationship. One doesn’t walk into a bar, make eye contact with a likely looking prospect across room, decide to get married, acquire the house with the white picket fence, 2.5 children and a dog all in one go.  It’s simply not reasonable to expect this outcome from a solitary visit to the local dive.

And likewise, it’s not reasonable to believe that just because an organization packages all their messaging into a fire hose of information, and then turns said fire hose upon their audience – that the audience is going to open their collective mouths and guzzle greedily.  Nor is it reasonable to think this newly-drenched audience is going to cheerfully shuffle dripping in the direction the organization suggests, happily clicking on links, submitting lead-capture forms and ultimately buying what’s being sold.

In reality, the organization with the fire hose of content will achieve one thing if they turn on those jets of information and aim them at their audience.  They will scrub the decks free of life, creating an environment as sterile and inviting as a surgical suite.

Simply put, social networks, for the most part, aren’t efficient lead-gen machines. But efficiency hasn’t ever been what any social media expert or advocate touts as a key benefit.  In my mind, the key benefits of developing a successful presence in social networks include:

  • Developing relationships with clients, and transforming some among them into true advocates for your brand.  These are the people who jump to your defense against trolls, and who amplify your messages.
  • Creating a continuous feedback loop that reveals what your clients like, need and value – and what concerns them.
  • If you’re lucky and have managed to do the first two well, you’ll also increase visibility for your web site.  The social layer strongly informs search results, and user-generated content frequently makes it to page one of the SERPs.

As I said before, social networking is kind of like dating.  You have to be attentive, present, listening, transparent, trustworthy, witty, funny, entertaining and open.  But most of all, you have to care – and that has to be clearly evident to the people on the other side of the conversation.

Authored by Sarah Skerik, vice president, social media, PR Newswire.

Image courtesy of Flickr user

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