Although social media are still hyped as the “new frontier” of marketing, your organization may be starting to get a little...disenchanted with them.
Maybe your Facebook fan page has stagnated at 150 members, and nobody ever shares your posts. Maybe you try to reach out to your followers on Twitter, but no one ever replies. Maybe you looked at Google+ or Pinterest, even created circles or boards, but you can’t figure out how it will help your organization’s bottom line.
Maybe social media are not all that they’re cracked up to be.
Understanding social media
Perhaps this is an overly negative assessment of social media marketing. But it reflects the frustrations that many organizations experience. The free and direct connections to consumers—as well as the overzealous opinions of well-meaning bloggers and “gurus”—have created the impression that social media marketing is easy.
This perception of ease has masked an important fact: Success on social media is similar to any other kind of marketing—if you don’t have a clear understanding of your goals, you’ll never feel like you get results.
Once you define your goals, it becomes easier to plan an approach that will lead to success. Most organizations have a tangible goal that they are trying to achieve, like a donation or a purchase. However, in order to be successful on social media, you cannot jump directly to “the ask.”
Social media users are not on the Internet exclusively for the purpose of buying. They are looking for entertainment and connections—perhaps with their family and friends, or people who share common interests. They may be looking for information, but are only sporadically interested in making a purchase. As a result, if you frequently post hard-sell content, your fans and followers will be more likely to ignore you—or stop following you entirely.
The marketing funnel
The marketing funnel has long been considered the ultimate guide to the buying process. Potential customers seemed to move smoothly through a linear flow—from awareness and interest, to evaluation and purchase, then on to a committed relationship with the brand, repeat purchases, and referrals.
Although this loyal consumer is still highly desirable, the marketing funnel and its assumption of a linear buying process is no longer considered reliable. In an article for Forbes magazine, Steven Noble of Forrester Research discussed the challenges facing brands today, writing that “marketing has grown increasingly complicated over the past decade, media choices have exploded, and consumers have asserted themselves more visibly than ever before. So it's no surprise the funnel struggles to account for many of these new realities.”
In place of the marketing funnel, Noble proposed the consumer life cycle, reflecting the fact that changing needs and experiences will inevitably lead to changing buying patterns. Other writers have used the analogies of a maze, or a neural network—metaphors that reflect the different paths now available to a consumer making a buying decision.
The 5 types of social media content
Whether you prefer the metaphors of funnels, mazes or neurons, the Internet in general—and social media in particular—has changed the way organizations reach an audience with their products, services and ideas. However, the stages laid out in the original marketing funnel remain basically the same, even if consumers no longer follow them in a recognizable pattern.
These stages are guidelines for the types of content that we should be sharing on social media. Each type of content serves a different marketing goal, but at its heart, each goal is about building relationships with your audience, because those relationships are what will make “the ask” for you.
- Awareness content. If your customers don’t know that they need a product or a service, they won’t buy it. Awareness content is all about education, and you need to talk about subjects that are bigger than your organization alone. What general topics might your readers need to understand in order to become interested in what you offer?
- Evaluation content. Evaluation is often blended with awareness content, because it takes the same principle and gets a little bit more specific. How have people who used this product or service benefited from it? Highlight positive outcomes—again, in general terms—and provide tools that help them determine if they want those outcomes too.
- Engagement content. On any social network, content that is not shared will stagnate quickly. That is why engagement is such an important goal for social media—you want consumers to talk with you and with each other so that you can increase your reach and build relationships. Remember—sometimes all it takes to increase engagement is to ask for it.
- Decision content. Most of the time, social media content should reflect the first three categories on this list. But it is important to show why you are unique, too—that’s why you share content that gives your fans and followers a reason to choose you over your competition. Decision content can include testimonials, links to your blog, or new portfolio pieces.
- Purchase content. Once in a while, it’s not a bad idea to highlight your specific products, services or ideas—especially if you can offer an incentive! Use social media to highlight special offers and regular promotions, and if you have a new offering that you’re excited about, don’t be afraid to share in moderation.
When you do social media right—mixing in important elements like humor, emotion and great graphics—another type of content will emerge naturally over the course of time. This highly desirable advocacy content originates with your fans and followers, who spread the word for you. Social media make it easy for customers to provide advocacy content, but it is the responsibility of each brand to earn their trust and readership with posts that reflect both marketing objectives and consumer needs.
Carolyn Capern is the co-founder and communication director of CT Social in Orlando, Florida. She looks forward to socializing with you through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or Pinterest.