Keeping social media social

Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Two gentlemen chatting in a park.Many brands have figured out the basic mechanics of social media.¬†They’ve set up accounts, they’re building an audience, maybe they’ve run ads, and perhaps they’ve taken the opportunity to field support requests and answer questions.

But, it seems to me that many brands still don’t understand how social media really works. They forget the human aspect of it all.

We’re given this incredible opportunity to reach out to people as individuals, invited into personal conversations, and allowed to interact directly with our biggest fans and worst detractors.

But, this is all squandered because most marketers are chasing some holy grail, home-run event. They strain for something clever to say, hoping that their brand will become an instant hit overnight with just a tweet. Or, they post videos to Facebook, hoping to wake up the next day to find out that it’s become a viral sensation being passed around by millions.

But, what people are really longing for is simple, genuine human interaction. The most basic gestures — conversational banter, genuine interest and empathy — are what carry brands to high levels in social media. Despite the pushes for marketers to drive more sales and more traffic, the thing that we want most is the most basic. We want social media to remain social.

Take, for instance, what’s called the “most successful Twitter campaign of all time”: The Audi “#WantAnR8″ campaign.

This entire campaign started not from the brand, but with the persistence of one of their adorers who, unsurprisingly, really wanted an Audi R8 — the brand’s race-inspired, unicorn car.

The car maker simply responded in a human way (which turned out to be a pretty awesome R8 test drive), but it fueled a massive marketing and PR win.

It was eventually bolstered with paid media and supporting marketing content, but it started with a simple human interaction: a response to one person’s outreach. It was a social gesture that made the brand feel like something human and real — exactly what you expect from social media.

In an even simpler example, check out Whitehall Lane’s social media strategy. Even as a fairly-small winery, they’ve mastered the art of personal engagement across platforms. They routinely provide personalized messages, shout outs, and contests with their fans.

Direct interaction turns fans and followers into friends, supporters, and advocates of your brand. These small gestures, even aimed at one or two individuals, can pay off massively.

Unfortunately, we tend to hear most about negative meltdowns of brands on social media. The push to broadcast — rather than engage — can lead to some pretty embarrassing moments and public ridicule on a massive scale. But, don’t be fooled. The brands that get it right — the ones that are authentic and human — are usually the ones that turn out on top.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for more brand-focused messages. They definitely have a role in a strong social strategy.

But, don’t lose sight of what social media is really about: Conversation, connection, and actual (not just marketing) engagement.

Image by Stijn Nieuwendijk.

About me

My name is Tyler Hakes. I'm a digital strategist in Des Moines. I write and tweet about marketing, strategy, media, and technology.

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