Are you a digital party pooper?

Social media has developed significantly over the last five years and continues to do so. If you are not using social media as an integrated part of your marketing mix then you either have a very specific limited business objective or you are not aware of the power the exciting channels to market social media present.

In a recent project to promote high street retail in a town centre, our team spoke to shop owners about how they market themselves. Many independent micro-business retailers had not explored social media and did not even have a Facebook or Twitter account. Some even professed to not know how to use these. In stark contrast, big high street brands know about social media and are using them very effectively to bridge the digital physical divide, engaging customers at a range of touch points in the customer journey.

The lack of social media knowledge and understanding of how to use it caused us to create a simple social media handbook for these retailers. At the heart of using social media effectively was a key message: Listen.

I describe social media to the uninitiated as a party. The analogy seems to work well. Then, I describe an individual who bursts through the door shouting at everyone and handing out a brochure. I ask how quickly that person is going to find themselves sat in a corner with nobody interacting with them. The classic party pooper: are they worse than someone not going at all?

The most popular person at the party has a different approach. They have joined a group of people and taken the time to listen to the conversation. They have understood the topics of interest and made relevant comments and observations when appropriate. They have learnt about the lifestyles and interests of the people in the group and demonstrated understanding of their interests, points of view and concerns. They then find the group introduces them to other friends and their social network continues to grow.

When it comes to social media strategy, it’s important to think socially. The approach is not complex, although the range of tools channels and protocols for using them differ. Being the most popular person at the party requires strategy. Charming individuals may be charismatic in nature, but they have learnt a way of behaving that makes people want to know them and what they have to say. They say things in the right way, that has appeal and resonance, as they understand the people they speak with. They achieve this through a lot of listening, together with processing and understanding the information they gather. Social media strategy is no different.

There are a wide range of tools out there to help companies listen and interpret what they are hearing. The big brands what to know what impact they are having across 10 or 15 social networks while tracking discussions on blogs, forums, news sites and a range of other channels. They are looking to understand what their customers think about the brand, be able to react to it and importantly to analyse where their marketing budget is being effective.  While these tools are useful the smaller business can achieve the same intelligence with some diligent analysis of the arena they are operating in.  If you are targeting a young audience social media holds a wealth of data. Twitter and Facebook have been around since 2006 and 2004 respectively, so a generation has grown up with these channels. Millennial’s views, relationship history, consumer preferences, social life, work life and even geographical location are on the internet.

Listening, interpreting and telling a good story then analysing effectiveness is something good marketing professionals have been doing with traditional media channels for years. The same principles apply in the digital arena. Being social is not scary, it’s party time.