All around you.
Everywhere you look.
Self-proclaimed social media gurus, experts, influencers and thought leaders.
They tell you to “know your audience” and “create epic content.”
They promise to help you “grab as many eyeballs as possible.”
“Viral”, “buzz”, “memes” and “stickiness” are what will make your brand conquer the realms of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and all of their brothers and sisters alike.
But when you practice what they preach and all the smoke clears, the pay-off is close to zero: no likes, no followers and, most importantly, no sales.
Rather than generating more customer interest, social media seems to make your brand less significant.
Where is it all going south?
The mindset of quick wins causes brands to look at content as just another product to create.
A ‘thing’ you can one-way trade in for a attention on social media.
But content isn’t a thing or an economic good. Content is a relationship.
And you can’t ‘thing’ your way to a relationship.
In the same way, social media isn’t advertising.
It isn’t a put-this-in-and-you-get-this-out kind of thing.
Social media is… social.
Don’t Try To Go Viral
Spend ten minutes looking for articles on social media marketing and you’re bound to come across pieces like:
- 10 Strategies To Go Viral On Any Platform
- How To Go Viral: 8 Steps To Reach A Massive Audience
- 10 Tips For How To Go Viral Online
Do I want to go viral?
Do I want to write a post that scores millions of views, gets picked up by media publications and makes me ‘internet famous’?
Sure, I want that.
Deep down, everybody wants to go viral.
The same way everyone, deep down, wants to be a superstar.
The same way we wanted to eat a big-ass pizza and down ten beers the evening before a big presentation and still nail it. The same way we thought of taking that one magic muscle-building supplement instead of doing tens of thousands of push-ups and eating healthy.
The same way everyone wants to be the brand that doesn’t have to be authentic and provide value, but still have the whole world clap and bow for them, like and share every post they publish.
It’s that part of us that is careless, lustful, impatient and impulsive.
The part of us that wants to reach goals without a long-term strategy and real effort. Cutting corners and scoring quick wins.
As a brand on social media, that might work. Sometimes. About three out of a thousand times. If you’re lucky.
Those three times might very well be spectacular.
Spectacular in the way a one-night-stand can be spectacular. Extremely satisfying, but without any lasting effect. As you embark on your lonely walk home, it all turns into a hazy memory. You move on, he/she moves on.
A home-run doesn’t win a game, one spark isn’t a relationship and one viral post doesn’t build a brand. It may feel good in the moment, but people will move on the second they click away. From the post, and from your brand.
You don’t want a million random people to glimpse at you once, you want a committed audience that cares about the story you’re telling, bit by bit.
Start With Why
Why are you on social media?
Because everyone else is?
Because it enables you to bypass traditional media and generate hundreds of leads for free?
That’s about the same kind of logic as wearing Air Jordans to be a great basketball player. You may look good, but that doesn’t mean your game is.
The only valid reason for a brand to be on social media is because as a channel it enables them to build a sustainable relationship with their target audience.
Which is another way of saying you shouldn’t be on a social platform if your target audience isn’t on there, but it goes beyond that. People in need of lawyers probably browse Pinterest, but aren’t looking for pictures of your law office. Similarly, foodies are on LinkedIn and Facebook but turn to image-based platforms like Instagram to share and engage. Which is why posting your newest chocolate creation on LinkedIn is probably not the best idea.
Hang where you customers are hanging and catch them when they’re most hungry — pun intended.
Once you decided on a social basecamp, focus on the relationship you’re looking to build with your audience.
Relationships are built on trust. Trust takes time and honesty.
You can’t just create a pile of content and be done with it. There’s no corners you can cut to get people to trust you. No viral posts or quick wins that allow you to be careless and lazy in this process.
The question to ask yourself isn’t “what” content to create.
It’s not even about “how” to create that content.
As Simon Sinek famously stated: start with “why”.
Why do you care about the people you’re trying to establish a relationship with? What makes them special? What kind of relationship do you want to build with them? What part of them do you want to appeal to?
Know What Your Audience Cares About
Chances are one of those social media gurus once slapped you in the face with the one-liner:
“Know your audience!”
Alright, let’s take that to the test.
Say you’re a fitness brand. Your audience: “active people.”
My 86-year-old grandmother takes long, brisk walks with her friends about four times a week. Within her social group, she’s an active person.
Does that make her part of my target audience as fitness brand?
I doubt it.
“Know your audience” doesn’t cut it.
To build a relationship with a group of people, you need to know what they care about. Their desires, their needs. What they struggle with, what they dream about.
As a fitness brand making workout supplements, your audience isn’t going to care about the pictures you post of your products. Regardless of how awesome your packing looks.
If I’m a person who’s struggling to lose weight or build muscle: how is a picture of a container in my Instagram feed going to help me reach my goals?
How about instead you put together a piece of content with actual advice on how I can get started with eating habits and workout routines I can stick to?
I don’t care if you give it to me in a video or as a caption on an Instagram picture. What I care about as a consumer is that you are trying to help me reach my goals.
That’s how you’re going to win my trust.
That’s how you’re going to build a relationship with me.
Aim For Attention Over Dollars
Designing your social strategy around what your audience cares about works because of, well, logic:
It’s easier for people to care about what they already care about.
Most brands suck at social media because they go about their strategy the other way around. They do social media like they do advertising, focusing on what they themselves care about and try to make an audience care about them rather than caring about the audience.
It’s like wearing a smoking to a beach party: you’re totally out of place.
This doesn’t work because you’re trying to make people care about something — a brand — they don’t care about yet.
This goes back to the pitfall of thinking about content as a product. People struggle to build muscle so you make a muscle-building supplement and your content is a picture of that supplement.
The point of a content strategy isn’t to capture dollars and sell a product. It is to capture attention and sell an idea that complements that product.
If you capture the attention of your audience with an idea, you own that idea. If you own the idea, you own the audience.
If you own the audience, you can point them to what to pay attention to. This is how you gain power over a marketplace.
This is what Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Slack, meant when he said:
“We don’t sell saddles here. We sell the idea of horseback riding.”
Harley Davidson doesn’t sell motorcycles, it sells a story of freedom and independence.
Nike doesn’t sell shoes, it sells a story of a hero overcoming obstacles and triumphing. “Just Do It.”
A fitness brand shouldn’t sell supplements, they should sell a healthy lifestyle built on quality nutrition and regular exercise.
Brands that suck at social media want people to aspire to their products.
But people don’t want products.
They want the feeling that products give them.
Show Up. Every day.
The power of content is about the relationship it enables you to build with an audience and how that relationship in return enables you to own the attention of that audience.
Attention equals power. Market power.
But you can’t win and own an audience’s attention with one post. No matter how viral it goes.
Remember how we talked about trust and how it is the key to relationship building?
In a way, trust is another word for time.
You trust someone when you have confidence in their feelings, their talents, their intentions. That confidence has slowly grown because that someone you now you trust has, time and time again, showcased those feelings, talents and intentions over a certain period of time.
You trust that someone because their feelings, talents and intentions have been consistent. You trust them because they show up and live up to expectations every time again.
Consistency builds credibility and character, which in turn builds the trust required to give rise to a relationship.
It’s not that basketball player is good because had one good game or that the teacher is empathetic because he listens to a sad student. It’s that the basketball player plays good every game and that the teacher always pays attention to his students’ feelings every day again.
You don’t trust someone simply because they exist, you trust them because of the consistency of their actions over time.
This is true for brands as much as it is for people.
So yes, building relationships is a long game to play. But there isn’t a short one when it comes to content and, consequently, social media. In today’s cluttered and fast-paced world, you have to keep telling your story over and over again if you want anyone to care.
In case you didn’t know yet: relationships take time and work. Lots of it.
It’s Time For Brands To Step Away From The Scene
“People don’t buy from brands.
They buy from people they know, like and trust.”
You probably heard this one before, but do you know what it means?
It means nobody cares about your brand.
That doesn’t rhyme very well with places filled with millions of people like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and other social media channels alike.
You see, brands are selfish things.
They came into existence as their very own idea and they sell stuff products taking about themselves.
They’re not very good at saying stuff that isn’t about themselves.
Brands want customers to care about them, but customers only care about themselves. And rightly so: brands should earn attention, not demand it.
And yet I still daily see videos overkilled with brand logos and brand names.
As someone who’s looking to build muscle, which video would you rather watch: the one with supplement packages everywhere or the one where a famous personal trainer gives you seven tips on how to build a workout routine you can actually keep up with?
It’s time for brands to take a step back and leave the scene to people. It’s your best shot at creating value that is of value to your target audience and build the trust you need to establish a relationship with them.
To get there, you need to stop talking about yourself and start talking about what interests your audience.
Find where those interests overlap with yours.
Then pull out your hammer and start hitting those nails.
Every day again.