Bringing the Social Back to Social Media and Referral Marketing

Opinion: Recommendations from family and friends are more genuine than sponsored posts

You want users to be able to share their own messages with friends and family krung99/iStock

We’ve come a long way since the early days of Facebook, when social networks were just that—a network of contacts within your social circle that shared posts and pictures of where they were and what they were eating.

When you compare the use of current social networks to those at inception, or even just the past couple of years, gargantuan changes have been made regarding content and features now geared toward monetization and advertising efforts, rather than pure socialization.

As a whole, these recent changes to platforms have made it easier for brands—not everyday users—to share content and reach their target audiences. While this has helped brands get their messages out to the masses, the supported advertising strategies seem to neglect one of the most powerful tools possible for brand sales: word-of-mouth sharing among a consumer’s network.

At the start of 2018 however, Facebook drove the charge by announcing plans to reprioritize content from friends and family. This change shows just how much users still value and want to see content, including recommendations, posted by the people within our own networks.

Supporting consumer referrals is one of the best ways to maintain the social aspect of a consumer’s social media stream instead of bombarding them with ad after ad. To do this, some brands are looking to reward consumers who share the brand message across their own social platforms.

The key is to get users excited enough to provide referrals to their own network of connections by offering a digital reward in exchange for a post, with the intention that the people within a consumer’s network will be interested enough to either purchase the product or reshare with their network to get the reward.

Digital rewards are often very easy to deploy and an economical way to get consumers interested in sharing news with their networks as they receive some form of compensation for a simple share to their friends and family. But this share is much more valuable than the coupon or a free digital download that a brand offers. Recommendations from family and friends in social streams are often seen as more genuine than sponsored posts.

Consumers know their friends and families. They’re the people who they initially were looking to connect with on these networks, so their word can carry a significant amount of weight, even if they’re sharing an item to unlock an award. But how can you ensure that a post is interesting enough to convince them to “share this to get that?”

The first step is to make sure that you have a reward or multiple rewards that users are interested in. In short, it has to be worth the share.

For independent musicians and authors, this could be a free song or book download to get readers and listeners interested in the rest of their collection. For lifestyle brands and services, they can offer an instant coupon or digital offer that provides either a discount on a product, or perhaps a sweepstakes where consumers can enter into a contest to win a larger prize.

To make sure a digital reward is of interest to the target audience, brands should leverage marketing platforms that provide in-depth data analytics to gain real-time feedback on whether or not the reward is engaging social media users to share and provide referrals across specific social networks.

Second, you need to promote sharing across multiple platforms and use key visuals in these shared posts. If you can help users visualize the reward—whether it’s the digital item they’ll be downloading, or a video of the contest they’ll be entered in—you want to clearly show consumers what they’ll get if they share the campaign link or content with their networks. These visuals can help pique the interest of consumers and capture attention from their followers, increasing the chances of it being shared across their networks, as well.

Third, and finally, you need to make sure that the content promotes organic sharing. You want users to be able to share their own messages with friends and family—not where they have to simply copy and paste a message, but easy enough that they can if they want.

If the post seems like a recommendation that comes from the heart of a family member or friend, it maintains that genuine quality that consumers are still interested in. It also becomes less spam-like and instead feels like a real suggestion.

Social platforms are changing to support different advertising efforts, but brands should keep in mind the value of having everyday users share a brand’s message. When consumers connect and share brand information in exchange for digital rewards, it’s possible to keep the “social” in social media, while still promoting products across social networks.

Herman DeBoard is chief marketing officer at social referral marketing platform Grabbr.