August 16th, 2012 by Lloyd Gofton
I’ve been involved in a number of discussions recently about the value of a social approach to communications vs. a more traditional approach.
These discussions have focused on developing PR campaigns, digital campaigns and securing leads, but the overriding theme has been very similar.
Regular readers of this blog will know I have discussed/ranted about social and traditional approaches many times over the last 6 years, so this is nothing new, but every time the discussion comes up it makes me re-evaluate where we are coming from, which i believe is a positive thing.
The ongoing issue goes something like this: The majority of organisations: brands, agencies, charities, public sector, etc, have woken up to the opportunities of social media in recent years, but the tendency is to approach social with a traditional strategy. This for me is the route-cause for most of the discussions we have around â€˜fixing failing campaigns’.
Unfortunately, a traditional approach to social rarely works, and when a traditional approach is developed for social customers, the results can be disappointing at best, and the fallout can be very messy and public at worst.
Fundamentally, communicating in a social environment is driven by listening to and understanding the target community, and then engaging with relevant content and conversation.
Traditional approaches tend to miss this vital element and jump straight into the conversation using broadcast messages to engage on what the organisation thinks the community needs to know, with little or no understanding of what has gone previously, or without understanding the debate.
This is not a new discovery, but it is a reflection of the mindset change necessary for those that wish to make the jump to communications online, where the target audience is made up of, or influenced by, ‘social customers’.
So let’s look at the changing customer base that we are dealing with. I have used this definition of the social customer before, but i think it’s worth re-visiting:
The social customer is dynamic, hyper-connected and can shape business and brand reputation by defining an organisation’s value, relevance and reputation. As a result, social customers have compelled organisations of all types to be more customer-centric and have transformed the way in which organisations need to communicate with and, most importantly, listen to their customers.
Put simply, the social customer now owns the relationship, and every organisation needs need to earn his/her trust.
The social customer is also a driving force in the development of the online economy, which is rapidly growing and currently contributes 8.3 per cent to the UK economy. This is more than the healthcare, construction or education sectors.
UK consumers also buy far more from online retail sources than any other major economy and this is expected to continue expanding by 11% per year for the next four years, reaching a total value of Â£221bn by 2016. Compare this to growth rates of 5.4% in the U.S. and 6.9% in China.
So, if we take this learning on the traditional vs. social approach and appreciate the ultimate audience, which revolves around the social customer, I believe the debate on how we develop campaigns can begin.
Let’s start with the obvious; hard sell in a social environment doesn’t work. We know that. But that doesn’t mean we’re not asked to take this approach in our campaigns, and specifically asked why it is necessary to build a campaign around listening and content / conversation development. Why don’t we just focus on the sell?
The beauty of social media is that it is â€˜social’. It rewards a social attitude where brands listen and engage by being useful and relevant, and punishes a traditional broadcast or sales-based approach – i.e. we are the best so buy here.
The reality is that the web is a social tool, and it reflects the characteristics of human behaviour. We don’t tend to buy a service until we trust the provider and have been convinced that it is the right choice by those in our social circle and those that have influence on the subject.
Google ranks websites on relevancy, meaning relevancy of content and relevancy through links, so if we want to be part of that discussion we need to give the community, the brands and Google what they want: knowledge, community, and trust, which makes us relevant and leads to engagement.
If you are under the assumption that people use social media to engage with brands, you will fail, because this is simply not the case for the vast majority. If a brand is interesting or relevant to a specific conversation so be it, but this will not happen through traditional sales-based approaches.
Therefore, if you try selling in a social environment you’ll always be on the outside looking in, wondering why your approach isn’t working, while being blissfully unaware of the social conversations happening all around you.