Here’s the fundamental thing most businesses have failed to grasp about social media – it’s social. Think about what you do when you go on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever your platform of choice is, when you’re not working. You chat to your friends, check out what the people in your life are up to (or the people you wish you were in your life – I know you still check your ex’s feed), catch up on the latest news or read posts from the groups you follow. Even on LinkedIn, the most work-y platform of them all, your main consideration is the people you know and the information that’s useful to you. What literally no one on the planet is doing is leaping out of bed eager to see what’s new in the world of every brand they once considered buying from.

Oh, you’ve changed your logo? You’ve got a sale on? One of your products comes in three different colours? Stop it. No one cares. Stop cluttering up my feed.

Because that’s all incessant brand noise is – clutter. You’re getting in people’s way – in the way of their friends’ holiday photos, cute new kitten pictures, baby updates and Tom Hardy memes. You do not want to get in the way of my Tom Hardy memes.

Facebook has changed its algorithm to reduce the reach of brands who post too often after a backlash from users who were sick of too much branded content. Facebook now recommends posting just once or twice per week – in an abrupt change to its previous urgings to post as often as possible. More importantly, however, it will prioritise content that inspires conversation – if you’re not getting comments and shares, you’ll be nowhere and no one will see your posts about how your logo is a slightly different shade of green.

I will only care about your sale or your product colours if I’m currently searching for that product – that’s what PPC and (in part) SEO are for. If you’re on my social feed constantly screaming about how great you are, I’m not going to buy stuff from you – I’m pretty likely to actively avoid buying from you in future.

Well then what’s the point of being on social media? Why bother if you can’t sell stuff? In the excitement of how closely we can now monitor conversion rates, we’ve forgotten a step before we get to the sales. People like to think about things for a while before they buy them. They form impressions of brands and products before they even think of buying them. They don’t know they need or want a product until something sparks that desire in them. That’s why we invented marketing.

Marketing isn’t sales. They’re two separate disciplines, but they are closely related. As marketers we don’t sell your products, we entice people to you and set them up for your sales people to knock them down. And social media is the perfect place for you to draw them in.

So how can you make your marketing truly social, and make people want to follow you and engage with you rather than angrily hide all your posts from their timeline and try to chase you off the entire internet? Here’s an idea – take an interest in them.

No one wants to be friends with someone who only talks about themselves, expecting you to listen for hours to their inane stories or help them with their problems, but never once asking you how you’re doing. Social media marketing, like your regular social life, involves creating a two-way connection with your audience. That means taking the time to understand what they care about, what their needs and concerns are, and how you can add genuine value to their lives.

I worked with one major retailer who had a range of free-from foods. They understood exactly who their audience were and what they needed, which allowed us to create an active and engaged community of people with food allergies, intolerances and special dietary requirements. We produced recipes, food swap guides and lifestyle tips that our followers found really useful, but what they got the most out of was the opportunities we facilitated – through Twitter chats, Facebook discussions and even a Bake Off style competition – for them to share information and advice with each other. We rarely spoke about the retailer’s own products, but that community, who came back to our accounts every single day for the information and support they received from us and one another, will be lifelong customers of that brand.

It’s true that this kind of activity won’t immediately get you 100 sales. But trust me when I tell you that neither will shouting about your products in a flurry of Facebook posts every day. Social media is never going to be your main sales channel. Whilst 58% of consumers research brands and products on social platforms, only 18% have actually bought anything directly from social channels. Social marketing sits much more towards the top of the funnel, bringing new customers to your brand and helping them get to know you. With social media influencing 74% of consumers’ purchase decisions, you need to make sure that when they get to know you, they actually like you.



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