There are times you simply have to destroy what exists and replace it with something better. Such is the case with social media.
The past seven years have been so full of mistaken beliefs, poor assumptions and outright misinformation that the time has come to reassess completely what social media is, how it works, how consumers use it and what it means for brands.
Much of the social media dogma we take as gospel has been wrong from the start. As a result, brands are wasting good money to chase irrelevant or even damaging social media outcomes, and the required improvements are not minor adjustments. In many cases, the wrong departments have hired the wrong people to do the wrong things evaluated with the wrong measures.
The key to success is to stop most of what today passes for social media strategy and rebuild social media plans from the ground up.
Here’s what you need to know to conduct social media marketing properly:
1. Create and measure a new definition of word-of-mouth.
An individual who recommends your brand based on actual experience is gold; a customer who clicks the “heart” button on a pretty photo posted by your brand isn’t even tin.
Now is the time to recognize that not all consumer interactions are equal and that to succeed, brand managers must generate the word-of-mouth that matters-not the activities that are easy to manipulate and tabulate but those that are difficult and meaningful.
Discard the fake word-of-mouth strategies created with brand-to-consumer content broadcasted in social media channels and focus on the real word-of-mouth forged peer to peer with customer stories, recommendations and advocacy.
Fake word-of-mouth gets people to click “like” on something the brand posted; real word-of-mouth gets people to tell others why they should trust, try and buy your product or service.
2. Toss out your social media scorecard immediately.
The first step to refocus social media activities on what matters is to change what is measured. Stop rewarding employees or agencies for generating engagement that fails to deliver business benefit, and start measuring what matters—changes in customer loyalty or consideration, positive and authentic word-of-mouth, inbound traffic that converts, solid lead acquisition and customer satisfaction.
3. Reconsider which department should lead your social media efforts.
Once you have reconsidered the metrics that matter, the next question is who within the organization is best equipped and staffed to deliver on those metrics.
If organic social media is not proving an effective marketing channel, should your marketing team be responsible for content creation and managing social media calendars? If one-to-one engagement and responsiveness are the new goals, which department is best staffed to provide what the brand needs and what consumers expect on social media?
These are vital questions, because whichever department funds and manages social media will expect the outcomes and use the metrics about which they most care. A recent report from Econsultancy makes the case: Among financial service firms, just 38 percent see social media as a channel for retention; most see it geared to acquisition and cross-selling.
That means most of these firms are using social media to chase marketing strategies to drive sales (an approach we now know will fail) while the minority have social media strategies designed to improve customer satisfaction, reputation, loyalty and retention—goals generally not associated with marketing but with public relations and customer care departments.
4. Objectively assess the return your brand generates with content marketing in social media channels, and stop doing what is not working.
If you are not today validating positive return on marketing content posted to social media channels, you certainly will not do so in the future as organic reach crumbles to nothing.
Marketers continue to act as though content marketing is destined to work and they have so far failed to find the right content marketing strategy. Data tell us otherwise; customers and prospects inundated with marketing messages, distrustful of brand content and protected behind social paywalls and ad-blocking software are not interested in nor available to your content marketing output.
Content is essential and has a place in marketing strategies, but now is the time to rebalance the investment the brand is making to match the return it receives and can expect.
5. Stop talking at consumers and telling them what you want them to hear. Start listening to customers and responding with what they want and need.
Your brand messaging’s intent is more evident than its content, and actions speak louder than words. If the best thing your company can think to do with this wonderful one-to-one relationship channel is to talk about itself, you have no right to be disappointed when consumers perceive and punish your company for its self-interest.
Organizations that win in the social media era will not be better at storytelling but at using social media to hear, help, educate, encourage, empower, connect and respond to their customers and prospects as individuals.
6. Get social customer care right.
There is no excuse for failing to staff a customer care team properly, secure the right social media management platform, listen for customer needs in every appropriate social channel, manage inbound messages, answer every question, address every complaint and help every prospect or customer in a timely manner.
Self-service and peer-to-peer support are valuable tools, but they are no substitute for getting responsive one-to-one customer care right in a growing (and very public) channel of preference for many of your customers.
7. Get people talking to each other.
Your brand is disappearing from consumers’ news feeds (if it has not already), but friends will always see content from the people they know, care and trust.
Stop trying to spark engagement using funny, clever, hip, edgy or inspirational content, and stop acting as though authentic peer-to-peer engagement can be bought by paying influencers to tweet about your brand. Find ways to get people talking to each other about their real experiences with your company and its offerings.
Engage your happy customers and help them to share their experiences; intercept customers at moments of truth to encourage sharing; build P2P ratings and assistance into every mobile and Web experience; connect people in meaningful ways; and more than anything, provide the sorts of product and service experiences that people will want to talk about and that their friends will find worthy of attention and consideration.
Here is a place to start as you rebuild your company’s social media strategies:
- If your brand never posted another piece of marketing content to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, how would you demonstrate your firm’s values in social media channels?
- If the ability to post promotional messages were taken away, what social media strategies would your company execute to create awareness, attention, consideration, trial and loyalty?
- If you could no longer rely on your brand journalists, paid influencers, social designers and marketing agencies to create content for social media channels, what one-to-one, peer-to-peer, responsive, collaborative, integrated, authentic and meaningful strategies would your brand execute?
- Why isn’t it doing those things effectively today?
The question is no longer whether the tired, failed strategies of the past seven years will miraculously yield success; it is whether your social media leaders are willing to admit the mistakes of the past, throw out what is not working and chart a new course. The data to build practical and potent social media strategies are not hard to find, but they are easy to ignore.
The true benefit of social media has never been and will never be to get people to share your brand’s latest viral video or inspirational quote on Instagram. The future belongs to brands that follow the lead of companies like Uber, Nest, Square, Apple, JetBlue, Costco, Trader Joe’s and USAA-brands that get people talking to each other about their differentiated products, customer experience, values, innovation or community commitment rather than about their clever social media posts.
Grab the fire extinguisher, build a social media bonfire and start from scratch. Do this now, and 2016 can finally be the year your brand meaningfully succeeds in social media.
Augie Ray is director of global voice of customer strategy for a Fortune 100 financial service company. His background includes more than 20 years of experience in digital, brand, customer experience and social business. A version of this article originally appeared on Experience: The Blog.