Inbound Social Media Marketing: The Importance of Experience
By now, most marketers realize the value of including inbound marketing as part of their overall marketing strategy. With so many online and offline channels competing for consumer attention, the strongest plans are those with components that meet consumers where they are in order to attract, engage and delight them.
As important as each of these three factors are, engagement is particularly critical right now. Because let’s be honest: your audience is tired. For nearly a year they’ve been at home and online all the time along with the rest of the world. When home, work and play intersect in such an intense way in the same space, it’s understandable that people may feel overwhelmed with options, and are quicker to tune out and move on to the next thing.
Which is why once you’ve made the significant achievement of attracting your audience’s attention, you need to work smarter to move them toward delight with your product or service. Engagement–particularly real-time real-life exchanges through social media channels–defines the experience that customers carry with them.
It’s about positioning yourself as a brand that’s interesting and relevant to consumers. It’s about showing personality and, sometimes, about offering your opinion. In other words, it’s not just about what you do as a company. It’s about who you are as a company.
Embrace the Era of Authenticity
Your brand has an identity. Or, it should. If you spend time on Twitter you’re doubtless familiar with the continual jabs fast food restaurants take at each other, with Wendy’s emerging as a platform darling for its consistent quick wit.
People don’t follow these and other brands on social media because they want to be sold something. They follow because they enjoy the banter and the way these brands are unafraid to either start larger conversations or insert themselves into conversations that have nothing directly to do with selling fries and burgers.
The reason this works, and why these brands have inspired their own armies of enthusiasts is simple: they’re perceived as authentic. They speak directly to their audience with the same tone as friends who are just hanging out. No jargon, no repetitive promos, just reminders that brands are made up of people just like you. And this applies to B2C and B2B brands: most people relate to people, not faceless corporate entities.
That’s why it’s critical to know who you are as a brand. The more you put yourself out there (and you do need to put yourself out there), the more people will question, comment or make demands of you. 2020 was a watershed year in most aspects of our lives, and brands found themselves under pressure to react to the pandemic, politics and the social impact of BLM.
Modern marketing is moving beyond merely positioning products and services. Brands that want to remain relevant need to find the balance between advancing their agenda and advancing larger conversations that impact the lives of the very people they’re trying to reach.
Understand Your Engaged Audience(s).
There’s a reason more than 70% of brand managers consider building an audience more important than converting sales: They recognize the long-term benefits that come from a loyal base. When consumers make the choice to actively engage with a brand–follow, comment, retweet, share, etc.–they’re demonstrating their loyalty to the idea of that brand, sometimes before even becoming a customer.
And that concept may require a little patience and a lot of vision. Because some of the people engaging with you on social media channels–for good or for bad–may not be the people in your intended target group. But could they be? Do they reflect a needed shift in your consideration of your customer base?
The experienced marketer knows that each social media channel has its own purpose, user expectations and demographics that map to it. That affects the content you share and how it’s presented on each channel. But whether it’s quips on Twitter, company or industry news on LinkedIn or brand stories on Instagram, when you weave those threads of consistency across channels and are connecting with an unexpected audience, then there’s something about your brand that is resonating more broadly.
Clearly you don’t want to pivot your entire brand strategy based solely on what you’re seeing in online activity. But you can capitalize on these initial encounters by providing additional content to test the true extent of engagement and provide deeper insight into what your brand brings to the table.
Let Data Be Your Guide
You have your voice, you have your content, you have your strategy. You’re trying to build an authentic, meaningful, empathetic experience for your audience. How do you know you’re succeeding?
It may seem antithetical, but you’re going to need data. Without a baseline and specific metrics to gauge the impact of your efforts, you won’t know if you’re moving in the right direction. In nearly a decade of working in social media management, I’ve found that data helps you understand not just what’s happening now, but where you can strategically set out to explore something new.
Establishing that baseline is probably already part of your planning: building a social channel calendar to see what you have and what you need, determining a schedule and cadence, prioritizing the channels to which you’re posting, etc. But it’s noting weekday vs. weekend traffic patterns, which platforms seem to resonate with your intended audience and conducting A/B testing that will drive better engagement with your customers or clients and improve their experience (and thus their impression of your brand).
The great thing about digital engagement is that it’s relatively quick and easy to switch things up and try something new–as long as you remain consistent with your messaging. Let the numbers guide you to what works, then let social media algorithms work to help expand your potential audience of interest.
Retailer Katherine Barchetti once asserted it was important to “make a customer, not a sale.” That should be at the core of any strategy focusing on creating the best possible customer experience. By establishing connections to show your brand is in tune with what’s happening around you and building a community of people to advocate for you, you’re establishing the mutual trust and respect that serve as the foundation for great things to come for both your brand and your customers.