Ever have a friend try to pitch you? It’s part of our human nature to occasionally attempt to convince, cajole and persuade—in other words ‘sell’ our ideas. But we’ll only tolerate that from our friends in small doses. ‘Selling’ by it’s very nature means one-way communication—pushing out information. For as long as companies and brands have been around, that’s exactly how they’ve marketed to customers.
In a few short years, social media has enabled an ongoing consumer-brand conversation to happen not just in real-time, but collectively, in social communities. Because of that, brands now want as many people as possible to become ‘fans’. That’s really just a way of asking them to become a friend of the brand. But if our friends treated us like traditional marketers do — we’d dump them.
Social networks, by definition, create the expectation that we’re treated as a participant, rather than an audience. We don’t like our friends to shout at us; we want them to listen. We’re not interested in hearing speeches; we want conversation. The same rules apply to brands.
Brands growing massive fan bases on social networks are doing so not by ‘messaging’, but by actively inspiring their evangelists to talk and share—via video, in contests, in discussion forums and even playing games. They’re keeping the conversation interesting by listening, asking questions, responding — and perhaps most importantly, by making it fun. Many are also engaging even more deeply by using Facebook, Twitter and other networks to identify and support the social causes that matter to their customers.
In other words, subjected by the forces of social media, brands are behaving more like members of a community—rather than traditional marketers. Despite this, many companies are still taking the ‘toe in the water’ approach. They aren’t allocating the resources and commitment necessary to be authentically ‘social’, but simply launching social network pages and posting product messages.
Driving customers to your social network pages for the purpose of ‘pitching’ them ultimately backfires in the culture of online social communities. We know when our ‘friends’ are really listening, and as ‘fans’ we expect the real thing too.
If your brand isn’t already investing in the strategy and ideas that go into building authentic relationships with your evangelists on social networks, the clock is ticking. And if you’re using social networks to simply push out messages, it’s really time to start doing more. Because if you’re perceived as a ‘traditional marketer’, especially in this environment, you’re not only going to have difficulty staying competitive, you may just risk getting ‘dumped’.