My theory: The model espoused by most of Social Media Experts can be summed up as build relationships: listen, respond, converse. The problem is that doing this is time-consuming and resource intensive. That was fine when SMM was young. Now, the strategy needs to change. As the demographics of social networks change and the types of businesses trying to market through them broadens, this relationship model fails.
If you just want the summary, here it is (but the rest is a good read!):
- Social networks began with a young, dedicated users—who would spend lots of time chatting on these networks.
- The businesses that have succeeded fit one of the below models:
- Personality brands (GaryVee).
- Large companies with large brands that have broad appeal (Starbucks).
- Hip brands whose niche justifies social media marketing (The Auteurs).
- Social network demographics are changing to older (and more affluent) users who don’t spend as much time online conversing.
- The broader set of businesses seeking to market throughs social networks don’t fit the above three models.
- The relationship-building, conversational model of social media marketing isn’t cost-effective for most of the new businesses coming onboard.
- 73% of consumers are spectators, consuming content online rather than creating it or participating in conversations. Online users spend 3 hours in community, but 7 hours consuming content.
The new, successful model for most businesses will be to regularly provide content of value to these consumers, in order to engage them.
The Consumer Side to Date
Each social networking site begins with a small, dedicated, and close-knit community (see Greg Satell’s excellent article). A s it turns out, the original social networking sites (FB and MySpace) also began with a younger demographic, primarily students, who had considerable time to devote to the network and spent a lot of time on it. (My own small survey showed that 73% of the 18-24 set accessed Facebook several times daily. Only 40% of 25-34 year olds did, and even lower number of 35-44 year olds. )
Keep that in mind.
The Business Side to Date
When they started, the demographics of these networks were primarily younger, tech-saavy, heavy internet users. Not surprisingly, the early success stories from business seem to fall into three categories that either fit well with the original demographics of these networks or are otherwise well-suited to the nature of social networks:
- Personality brands. Some of the early social media marketers have become brands in themselves (think Chris Brogan). Other successful online personalities were first to adopt new sites like Twitter (think GaryVee) and connect with the Twitter early adopters. Others were already “personality brands” outside of the social networks, like Richard Branson, and have been able to leverage that, even as latecomers. Social media is well-suited to personality brands. After all, it’s social. When your brand is built or marketed via a person, it makes absolute sense for that person to spend a lot of time blogging, posting, tweeting and otherwise engaging with people.
- Larger companies with broad-based brands. Some of the marketing success stories have come from large companies with large brands that have broad appeal, such as Starbucks or Dell. These companies and the nature of their brands warrant a significant investment in resources in social networks. For them, social networks are just one more channel, one more way to reach their market, and they are willing to invest significant resources in that channel just as they do in others. Oh, they can afford to.
- Hip brands. Other companies may be smaller, but their target customers are exactly the demographic of social networking sites, or their marketing needs are a perfect fit for social media marketing. Independent film companies that need to create a buzz; media websites targeted to the tech-saavy user; clothing designers focused on youth. Again, the products and audiences of these companies warrant putting their main or least a significant marketing effort into social media.
The Changing Consumer Face of Social Networks
Social networks are expanding into a broader set of consumers and an older demographic. It’s interesting that Facebook’s own statistics show that when kids are working during the summer months, they’re using Facebook less. Likewise, the new audience for social networks, who are an older demographic, frequent these sites less often.
As more consumers embrace social networks, the average time spent on them is likely to go down. Most of these users are not going to be spending all day checking their Facebook and Twitter accounts. (Hmmm, work, kids, houses to take care of…might cut into the time you spend playing online.) What’s especially interesting is that these consumers, who spend less time on social networks, are also the more affluent demographic and the one that businesses most want to market to.
The Changing Business Face of Social Networks
Similarly, the types of businesses looking to use social media are changing. The Social Media Experts have been successful. Marketers think they do need to be on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
But for the most part, these companies don’t fit the three models above. Many of them are boring B2B companies, providing practical services, tools, or materials. Others are consumer companies, but smaller and with less well-known brands. And many, many have niche products, rather than ones with broad appeal.
For the majority of the companies out there, it doesn’t make sense to build their brand around a personality. They don’t have a likely candidate and it would take way too much effort to try to create one, with a low probability of success.
A small or even a medium-size company with a smaller or niche brand that isn’t “hip” or primarily online can’t afford to expend the considerable resources to build and maintain a community. They have other marketing methods they need to continue to use. They can’t dedicate three full-time people to prompting, monitoring, and responding to people on social networking sites.
These companies do want and need to be engaging with their customers on social networks, though. They know that their customers are out there. They know the demographics are changing such that more and more of their target customers can be reached through these sites. They know they need to add it to their repertoire.
The Changing Requirements for Social Media Engagement
That’s why the old model of relationship building and conversation isn’t going to work. Clear and simple.
The expanded user-base for social networks aren’t going to be spending hours on these sites. They aren’t going to have the time, and frankly aren’t interested, in conversing with a bunch of strangers. That’s the kind of thing that college students have the time and interest in doing. Once you’re busy working and raising a family (the highest spending demographic), you don’t want to spend what free time you have networking online.
Likewise, the businesses now coming to Facebook and Twitter don’t have the money to expend on resources to “engage” with their audience one-on-one. Their products and market don’t warrant the kind of time and money it takes to do that kind of continuous, personal communication. It’s just not cost-effective. Not to mention that much of their demographic doesn’t want to do it either.
The Social Media Experts tell businesses that they have to build relationships with customers. Experienced marketers know that building online relationships will take a lot of time and money. And they can’t see how it makes sense for their businesses.
This is why we keep hearing the repeated interest and demand for metrics and ways to measure the ROI. This is why we keep hearing the hesitation from marketers about entering the arena of social media marketing.
The New Model: Provide Content of Value
Luckily, as I said in “Sorry, but it’s not all about the conversation,” there is another approach. It’s very straightforward. Provide value to your customers on social networks. Provide the information, tools, discounts, etc. that they want, as your way to engage them.
According to Forrester, 73% of consumers are Spectators, meaning they consume content that others provide. 51% of consumers also are on community sites. Put those things together. Social network sites are a great way to reach consumers and 73% of them read content, watch videos and otherwise consume content.
(Engage: “To attract and hold the attention of; to draw into; involve)
According to the Online Publishers Association, internet users spend about 3 hours a month on community sites, but almost 7 hours consuming content.
People who may not have the time to chat and post and tweet all day do dip into the stream to find interesting, useful information.
If you’re providing it, they have a reason to stick with you. If you’re providing it on your site, they have a reason to go to your site. If you’re constantly providing it, they’ll keep coming to you.
Does that mean that the relationship-building, conversational style of social media marketing goes away? No. There is a role for that. It’s the right strategy for certain businesses. It’s just not the right strategy for most businesses.
The Social Media Experts have one thing right. Engagement is key. But it’s engagement through good content.
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