Do you need another social network?
LOL. Hope you’re laughing with me. Google announced its launch of its Google+ social network recently. And Facebook just launched BranchOut, it’s professional social network, allowing one to import one’s LinkedIn profile with a click. So many social media choices! Are you, like many, overwhelmed yet? Realistically social networks are here to stay, which means that you should probably get involved. But the question is… with which networks? The answer depends upon your objectives. If you’re out to have fun the bigger networks are likely to have more users and apps to enjoy. But if you’re a business owner read on,
First some background about social media. The reason social networking has become such a hot activity has several roots. One is the population itself, which is growing astronomically at a very fast pace. As populations grow, relocate, and shift to better find jobs and interests, traditional ties to family, heritage, and one home town are being replaced by social networks. Humans are social beasts. We are tribal. We form new groups based upon new criteria, but still want authentic human connection. Social media makes this possible, transcending geographical (and other) boundaries. This is the human side of social media.
But social networking for businesses is really about making money. One reason that social media is so exciting for businesses is that it enables far better targeted marketing than in the past. The reason that Google is trying to get in on the social media wave is because Facebook is eclipsing it’s advertising results, driving income to Facebook and away from Google.
The reason Facebook ads are so effective is that Facebook collects far more personal data about individuals than Google does. This personal data allows Facebook to target its ads to appear to specific demographics in a more fluid and detailed fashion than Google searches can. A Facebook ad can be targeted to people within a 10 mile radius of a certain town, further targeted to an age group, a gender, college education… you get the picture. By adding these demographic specifics which show the ad to only those Facebook users who fit all the criteria, a business can reach its target audience more powerfully, generating better ROI.
Google is trying to catch up, and it wants your personal data so that it too can target its advertising more effectively, so Google launched it own version of a social media network to compete. Meanwhile, Facebook is trying to compete with LinkedIn, essentially for the same reasons by launching BranchOut. But the good news is that this means less wasted marketing dollars for businesses, because continual strategic advertising becomes more affordable when ROI is increased. The sales cycle gets stronger with repetition, allowing businesses to grow more dynamically. As ads are targeted to more specific audiences, conversion rates (sales) climb. As I like to explain to my clients… “we don’t need to reach the whole world (although we can), we just need to reach the right people, specifically your potential clients”. So our message becomes more specific along with the demographic targeted, and ad impact is increased.
Another reason that social media is so popular is that it’s fun and the user is in control. Do you ever feel like the world has taken control of your life? Do you find the constant demands for your attention from the media, mail, etc. stressful? You’re not alone! Most folks have gotten pretty savvy at tuning out commercials on TV, radio, and now internet as a result of being bombarded with advertising.
In the past advertising has relied upon a method of interruption to gain the viewer’s attention. The idea is to make the viewer hear/see your message at least 6 times, the average number of times it takes before the human mind forms a memory of it. To this end advertisers have been pretty pushy, interrupting the audience’s experience and doing all they can to force attention to their message. This has backfired. We now stand by our recycling bin as we sort our mail and chuck the bulk mail out without even looking at it. We change channels to avoid commercial breaks. Our main engagement is figuring out how not to engage!
Social media is an interactive pursuit, not a passive one… so users are already more engaged than they are, say, watching a TV show. Since users are active online, their brains are turned on and attentive already, a plus for marketers. Traditional advertising is also, unfortunately, filled with lies and distortions. Too many companies sell inferior products and services after big advertising promises. The result is distrust among viewers of ads. This had led to a climate in which people are becoming more selective in whom they will give their attention (and their business) to.
Businesses are discovering that the best way to gain new customers is just like the process of making a friend, meeting, communicating over time, sharing some experiences, finally becoming friends… Once that person is your friend, there’s a good chance they’ll want to do business with you. Social media marketing is about making authentic “friends” with your clientele, and gaining their recommendations.
The popularity of LinkedIn shows the value of recommendations. This is a central reason to be involved with LinkedIn… to gain professional recommendations and referrals. Networking groups like BNI accomplish a similar function offline; the basic principles are well proven. It is 68% more likely for a customer who engages with a company via the company’s Facebook fan page to refer that company to a friend. So advertisers are learning that in order to attract new customers, they will need to engage with existing and new customers in a manner that does not seek to control behavior, but rather to welcome authentic interaction… to make friends.
Some social scientists speak of the growing personal divide between people in traditional groups such as family, church, and community groups as a by-product of the internet. I have a different view to offer. It may be that our social spheres are merging, reshaping, and redefining themselves based upon a yearning for authenticity and connection, a push back against growing feelings of being “lost in the crowd”. We may simply be witnessing the formation of new tribes. The question is which tribes should you join?
This advice will change over time. The internet and social media are extremely dynamic. But for now, I’d stick with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, BranchOut and your favorite blog subscriptions. Facebook and Twitter are the most widely used networks, both growing steadily. LinkedIn is where most professionals have a presence, but adding BranchOut (by Facebook) is easy and will make sense for business owners especially. If you have a storefront you may wish to include Foursquare, but otherwise I’d stay with the main sites for now and see how the others perform.
Google, in my humble opinion (or IMHO), lost its chance for social media stardom and should stick to what it does best, simply search. Yahoo is in the same place and should remain a search engine, although Microsoft, no doubt, has other plans for it. But now at least you know part of the secret behind why social media is such big news. I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog and would love your comments. Welcome to my tribe!