This month, General Motors (GM) decided to stop spending ten million dollars a year on Facebook advertising. In a time when many are suffering Facebook fatigue, it’s easy to point the finger at the social networking platform. Surely, as a company which employes 202,000 people, conducts business in approximately 157 countries, and has a 100+ year history, GM must have made an informed and saavy decision.
Not so fast.
While I do suspect that Facebook has reached a saturation point, at least in the United States and Canada where seven million active users left the site in May 2011 (Yes, seven million in one month, according to CNN.), were GM and other businesses really optimizing their presence on social media sites?
The rest of this article will discuss the union between Facebook and businesses in general. I am not familiar enough with GM’s advertising strategy to speak specifically about that company but I do think it presents an interesting starting point for discussing the intersection of advertising in social spaces.
Individuals were much more enamored with Facebook before corporate management realized its advertising potential. While Facebook has been available to the public at large since 2006, many businesses have yet to fully comprehend the power the network still encapsulates & the work necessary to harness the network’s power. I touched upon this subject briefly in my previous article: Public v. Private.
A few months ago, a company who is a leader in management consulting tasked me with creating a Facebook campaign which could be deployed in 30 to 60 days. Deadline: One week. I have never done any outward-facing work for this company before. My first thought: This company does not understand social media.
The most valuable, and consequently most effective component of social media is trust.
Trust is built over time. Even ten million dollars won’t buy that- at least not immediately.
As Ben Kunz wrote for Bloomberg Businessweek, “What GM’s retreat really shows is the harsh reality that other brands must face: Making social-media communications work requires heavier lift than many organizations can muster…”
From personal experience, I would say it takes at least six months to get a new online community to accept, & possibly trust, a new member as one of their own. That is, after a dedicated campaign of listening & regular participation. On more than one occasion, I have been mistaken for a community manager or asked if I worked for the sites I belong to.
Kunz understands that “keeping Facebook conversion rates up and customer acquisition costs down requires a constant battery of audience-targeting refinement, creative testing, and website ‘landing page adjustments,’ whereas those unfamilar with social media think it’s about the number of times the Like button has been pressed.”
If you have a massive budget, it’s easy to get your Like numbers up quickly- just offer people a cool trinket in exchange for their Like. However, it won’t mean much in the long run if you don’t deliver on your core product & connect with your target demographic.
Social media is about postive engagement.
Maintain conversations which lead to trust and exponential word of mouth endorsements. The way that advertising and marketing works hasn’t changed, only the tools have.
Consider a class of senior students attending a lecture taught by the most popular high school teacher versus a substitute who just joined the faculty a month ago. Who would the students respect? Whom would the students pay attention to? These same dynamics hold for virtual communities. Social media strategists need resources and time to build a trusting audience.
Show people you care about them & they will care about your product or service, in turn.
It’s important to note that sucesses cannot & should not always be measured in Likes. People may not be commenting about your company online, but they could very well be bringing the conversations offline. This is why social media is so difficult to quantify.
On the flip side, if people are adding to your number of Likes, do something! How many times have we liked something only to be faced with silence? We toss the ball onto a company’s court & it just lies there, & too often dies there.
If your customer invites interaction, seize the opportunity. Acknowledge their compliment.
1) Do something!
Kunz “tested a dozen big brands, including Apple (AAPL), Bank of America (BAC), Starbucks (SBUX), and others, “liking” them on Facebook to see how they would respond. I then checked into Facebook 31 times over the next week, each time scrolling back through several hours of friends’ posts, to see which brands would reach out to me. On average, the brands I had liked engaged with me 0.6 times over seven days—an awful performance, given the basic marketing precept that three or four interactions are required per week to trigger consumer response. I liked you, Zappos (AMZN)—and you didn’t return my call.”
2) Make your response personal, if possible.
Don’t reward your audience’s attention with some generic algorithm: If Like, respond with form letter. It’s difficult and time consuming, but don’t be just be adequate, be outstanding. What makes a good hotel great? Personalized services. The best hotels offer more than a clean, safe space to sleep and relax. They anticipate their guests’ desires. As a new client, they won’t know your preferences, but they will try to please you nonetheless. After you’ve visited several times, they will have built up [providing you share this information] a database of your favorites. Thus, during your next stay, your room will be outfitted with your fruit, flowers, etc of choice. Without your further input. The most extraordinary hotels will even provide private butler service.
Make deep, lasting connections & appeal to people’s emotions.
Of course, this level of service is hardly feasible for most companies’ social media strategists; and that is where volunteer brand ambassadors enter the picture. A trustworthy social media strategist is worth his/her weight in gold, but unpaid brand ambassadors are priceless. The latter group is motivated to endorse products or services not for money but genuine love (See Apple fanatics.) The social media strategist should absolutely be an active participant of the communities s/he wishes to engage, but ultimately, his/her job should be to cultivate & lead proactive teams by leveraging the trust s/he has built up in his/her followers.
Lisa Chau has been involved with Web 2.0 since graduate school at Dartmouth College, where she completed an independent study on blogging. She was subsequently highlighted as a woman blogger in Wellesley Magazine, published by her alma mater. Since 2009, Lisa has worked as an Assistant Director at the Tuck School of Business. In 2012, she launched GothamGreen212 to pursue social media strategy projects. You can follow her on Twitter.
Image courtesy of AllMediaNY.