Contrarian Strategy: Treat Social Media Like The Internet

Tom Johansmeyer is the Senior Content Director at enter:marketing. He also blogs for Cigar Reader, of which he is co-founder, Gadling, and Luxist.
I follow around 400 people on Twitter, and only a fraction of them are truly active. Nonetheless, it’s tough to keep track of everyone who interests me, and undoubtedly, I miss some interesting tweets that could also be great blogging fodder. This is hardly unique problem. Every active social media user is starting to feel crowded on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and increasing information flow only stands to make matters worse.

Twitter is adding users overseas aggressively, and Facebook is pushing forward to 450 million users, and at least of few of these new members will take to the platforms and click like crazy. This means there will be more connections, more status updates and more content for existing users to digest. And, it will impede the traditional Holy Grail of social media – developing genuine connections and dialogue.

As a social media marketer in the B2B space, I’m watching these developments closely, and it’s obvious that the time for a change in attitude is upon us. The objectives of trying to forge strong bidirectional brand relationships and participating in industry- or community-wide dialogues are not as realistic as they were when Twitter had 3 million users and Facebook was creeping out from MySpace’s shadow. Today, social media communities are large. LinkedIn groups boast tens of thousands of members even in niche markets, and major brands have gained following of millions.

What’s a social media marketer to do? Go retro!

It’s the Internet All over Again

Social media communities are starting to look more like, well, the internet. You have extremely large groups forming, and to engage potential clients, it’s becoming necessary to eschew the personal in favor of mass media strategies. Successful engagement techniques in the near future will consist of a hybrid approach – blending the rich outreach features of social media platforms with the traditional segmenting and communication styles that work well when you can’t talk to every community member personally and individually.

This is an unpopular view, especially among early adopters of social media. Few want to give up the revolutionary characteristics of this movement, in which the faceless brands are forced to enter the trenches and become personal, real. This expectation, however, is equivalent to setting up a lawn chair on Columbus Circle and trying to befriend every person who walks by – during rush hour. It just won’t happen.

To turn your social media marketing investment into an ROI machine, you may need to forget the lessons of the masters and think back to the way things were. This starts with being seen.

Assume you have half a million fans or followers. There’s a good chance that each of these people is not following only you (or your company). Thus, you could be competing with hundreds or thousands of other social media users to catch the attention of each fan or follower. Your tweets, status updates and event invitations risk being consumed by a sea of the same. Differentiating yourself by quality is a great idea – as long as you can be seen: this is a retention tactic, not a way to be found.

Conventional social media wisdom, if there is such a thing, suggests that you should get personal, reach out to individuals (e.g., via @ messages on Twitter or leaving comments on individuals’ walls on Facbook). Half a million of them? I hope you have time on your hands. You could narrow the field by identifying the highest-value fan or followers you have, but again, this takes time. Personal engagement is not realistic.

Instead, pair traditional mass marketing (both offline and on) with your social media content and engagement efforts. Use direct mail, e-mail newsletters and media relations to boost your profile, and include calls action that direct your target market to your social media presence (e.g., your blog, Facebook fan page or LinkedIn group. This points people to what you are saying, without requiring you to jockey for position.

Within the social media world, adopt what can only be referred to as SMCO – social media content optimization. Yeah, it’s weak play on SEO, but the intentions and challenges are the same. You are competing with a large group of content producers for share of the social media user’s attention. This approach is the antithesis of community development and management: it’s a volume play. Pump out content throughout the day to increase the likelihood that a person logging into Facebook will see you at the top of his newsfeed.

How to Get out Front and Stay There

Your entire approach to content publication should revolve around how to get in front of eyeballs; this is the only way you can turn looks into clicks – clicks that should later lead to conversions or entries into the sales cycle. For every company it will be different, and you may have to experiment with different combinations to find the right mix. Maybe it’s to post something to your blog first thing in the morning and follow it up with multiple tweets and status updates – some directing people straight to your blog, others couching the link in content that asks a question or contains an observation.

Traditional thinking suggests that you run the risk of alienating your fans and followers with these “repeats,” but this s mitigated by the volume of content with which you’re competing. If you have thousands of followers who flow thousands of people, how likely are they to catch on? If someone does click to the same destination via multiple tweets, that can be frustrating. But, you can reduce the risk of this by indicating where the link points in the tweet or status update. I’ve seen a few companies (which I follow on Twitter) tweet several insights from the same report, using one destination, essentially, to fuel multiple interactions with its followers. To prevent someone who sees all these tweets from hitting familiar turf, they included the report names in the tweets.

This may not be the social media behavior we loved in 2007 and early 2008, but times have changed … dramatically. The maturity of the social media space calls for a corresponding maturity of marketing techniques. It’ 1999 all over again. We’re fighting for eyeballs and positioning for clicks. The tools are a bit different

It’s Not Fun; It’s Work

Does it sound like all we’re doing, with these strategies, is turning a corporate or brand social media presence into a newsfeed? Well, there’s a good reason for that: it’s what the major social media platforms are becoming. We can lament the corruption of this once pure corner of the internet, or we can embrace the reality and change how we use social media to increase marketing results. Save the genuine stuff for real friends and family. As a social media marketer, you need to act for results, and in the eyes of the purists, that means becoming part of the problem. For many, this will mean choosing between being a social media user and a social media marketer. Which would you rather be?