How unsocial is social media?

by Tony Fannin, President, BE Branded

I recently  had a conversation with a business colleague. He is an executive for an online, customer retention platform for business. The discussion point I found interesting was this: This colleague’s platform helps business stay “connected” with their customers through automated emails and segmented messages, but it still couldn’t get away from feeling like a “form” letter. (hence, the automation component) That is fine if you are trying to get people who bought a pizza from your stores last week to come back and buy another one this week, but it doesn’t work well when your business is built on making real relationships with key executives (especially in the B2B world). It still comes down to personal connection. There was a realization that no platform can be a substitute for knowing a C-level executive’s family crisis and being able to send an email, text, or even a human phone call to express your concern and support. That’s real social media and that’s something no automation can replace.

This led to the conversation about social media and it’s place in marketing. I read a recent article that had the same sentiment. The author was writing about how unsocial, social media really is. It has trivialized the word “conversation”. Social media has become a proxy for real relationship-building. I couldn’t agree more. Here are a couple more thoughts:

• Social media shouldn’t be the destination – Social media can be a value-add and the icing on top, but it shouldn’t be the main point or the destination you want your customers to be. There is no relationship building in the social media world that can match the loyalty you get from physically interacting with your customers and talking with them “face-to-face”. If your store is strictly virtual, you can, and should, still connect with them on a real human level, not a digital substitute. A phone call now and then telling them how appreciative you are for their business would go a long way. The point is, social  media is great at keeping loose contact with customers, but it’s not the main driver of real customer relationships. For example, people love Apple products. They have done a masterful job at creating a brand essence that is both authentic and desirable. A large part of their success is Steven Jobs and his “chat with his friends” at any Apple announcement and at the annual Apple convention. People feel like they know him and that Apple isn’t just a cold, tech company. Steven Jobs has been able to connect on a real human level using technology to help reach the masses, but many still feel like Apple is interested in them. The real essence of the relationship is built on how you treat your customers, how your employees interact with them, and how authentic your brand is. It’s nice to get a letter once in a while from a friend, but wouldn’t it even be greater to get to see them?

• Followers and Friends don’t mean much – Too many marketers measure the wrong metric, how many followers do we have and how many people “friend” us. Unfortunately, social media has also commoditized friends, too. If you sell a mass consumer product, I can see why having hundreds of thousands of friends is a guidepost, but if you are selling advanced coating technology, getting mass numbers of hits and friends isn’t the goal. If you do get that, it means your message is wrong and you are attracting people who don’t even buy or care about your product. Be very clear on the company you keep. That is a part of your brand as well. Cool associations. Cool brand. Uncool associations. Uncool brand. Make sure it’s the right “friends” and the right “followers”.

Social media is a very useful tool, if you understand it’s place in the marketing matrix. I don’t recommend using it to replace real, human relationships. It’s easier to leave an “internet friend” than a real friend. There is no emotional equity built that is beyond the “stuff” you sell. When it comes down to it, commerce is still a human activity.


About Be Branded

Tony Fannin is of President of BE Branded, an integrated marketing firm who helps clients BE Somebody to their customers. If you aren't somebody, then you are commodity.

2 Responses to “How unsocial is social media?”

  1. Great post and I agree. Social media is another channel and one that is certainly good at adding another layer of communication. However as powerful as it can be, nothing can replace actual face-to-face time to solidify and strengthen relationships.

    • Ike– Thanks for your comment. In your position of account management, you know better than anyone the power of creating “real” relationships. –Tony

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