Is Anyone Out There?

Someday soon someone will retweet one of my mildly coherent musings on Twitter and what an amazingly glorious day that will be. The birds will sing (and tweet ha-ha) and maybe even land on my shoulder as in a live-action Disney movie. I might even pop the top on that special bottle of Champagne (of beers) I’ve been saving for a very special occasion. It’s similar to the decibel breaking w00t I emit every time a real human being comments on the blog—there’s a call to action in that last statement people!

The other day I had a discussion with the boss about social media marketing, which stimulated my somewhat humbling comments above. Our talk focused the frustration business folks can feel with trying to implement a social media strategy for their organization and the perceived successes and failures of those actions. Be it a blog, Facebook. Twitter or LinkedIn, the expectation with Web 2.0 technology is that there should be an immediate response to information shared through these communication vehicles. The rub is that it takes time to build a community of followers and participants and, depending on how much time your organization wants to spend building that community, you’ll need to be patient as that online community develops. In other words, not only will your mileage vary with social media, the time it takes for people to start to interact with you can be lengthy as well.

Traditional direct marketing methods are well defined. Determine your market and develop your marketing contact list. Create a message with a specific offer and call to action. Mail your design piece and track the response and then measure your return on investment. If you got a 2% return rate on the mailing and it is profitable you can do a little happy dance before modifying your next campaign based on what worked and didn’t work with your current offer. In contrast, people are still trying to figure out how to measure ROI on social media. A company’s number of Facebook friends or hits to the blog doesn’t necessarily translate into hard factorable cash.

Let’s assume you have a blog. Weekly, you spend two hours putting together a post to share with your customers. Then when you post it, an undefined number of people read it. Nearly all of your readers won’t comment regardless of how compelling the writing or information is—that’s just the nature of blogs. However, if people are finding your blog and reading it, it is likely that it’s influencing them. Blogging or Tweeting is a lot more amorphous than using a promo code to track an offer, but it is likely you are having an impact. You just need time and focus to help build your community.

You also need time to build credibility. Just because some dude in business casual writes something and sticks it on the wide-wide-world-of-web does not make it gospel (I’m looking in a mirror right now), but over a period of time a collection of posts or tweets or rambling somewhat viable ideas can develop trust in your audience and/or customers. There’s an opportunity to prove yourself an expert through your body of work and allows you to develop a level of trust with current and potential customers. It isn’t a Field of Dreams, “if you post it, they will buy” scenario. You can’t just cut out a cornfield and expect new customers (but it would be pretty darn cool if you could). Instead it requires persistence and desire to be successful.

Personally, I’ll keep blogging until they pry the keyboard out of my rigid, firmly clutching fingers—or ask me nicely to stop. Eventually, I’ll reach that critical mass that illustrates there is a valuable return on investment. At some point, people will retweet my tweets (the fools!) and the time I’ve spent babbling will be worth it. My advice to any organization experiencing frustration while dipping their toes into the social media ocean is to hang in there. Measure the time investment you are putting into social media to see if what you are doing makes sense, adjust your commitments if necessary and understand that community building takes time. Now if you’ll excuse me while I go check my twitter account.

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2 Responses to “Is Anyone Out There?”

  1. Ellen says:

    Interesting. Perhaps we should be considering social media work (like the blog) in the same way we consider branding work not meant to drive the customer out this very minute for a whatever. If you grow a blog, facebook page, twitter account, etc that people trust they will be able to think of you eventually (when they need x service.)
    Good to keep in mind.

  2. Joel says:

    Thanks for the comments Ellen!

    To be specific, I see the value of our blog in three ways:

    1. It helps drive brand awareness, builds your community and increases credibility. While those may be different activities, they can be bucketed together under the idea of brand awareness.

    2. It increases traffic to our site. Every time we post a new article, overall traffic to the site increases. Even if that brings in only a few customers it’s been worth the time investment we’ve put into it.

    3. It helps us to be found. You’d be surprised how people look for information on the web and how they use the internet to find businesses. Having a varied blog that is updated often can only increase your chances of being found on the web and potentially bring you new customers.

    I wouldn’t think of any social media activity as specifically geared toward just the development of brand awareness, but trying to frame these activities within historical direct marketing guidelines can be frustrating for businesses trying to get started with social media interactions.

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