My Nov. Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly social media column: Do you have commitment issues?

Every month I write a column about social media for the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly. My Nov. column features an analogy that will serve you well if your organization is trying to make effective use of social media.

Do you have commitment issues?

There’s a big difference between dating and being married.

Dating is a short-term phenomenon that starts with an attempt to get noticed. If everything goes well, maybe—just maybe—it will lead to a more serious relationship.

Being married is, of course, a lot different. It’s a long-term commitment that requires a sustained effort. If things don’t go well? Well, you might just find yourself dating again.

There’s a lesson in all this—not just for those who want to be lucky in love, but also for organizations that want to succeed with social media. The problem is that many companies confuse traditional marketing strategies like advertising, a short-term commitment that’s a lot like dating, with social media, which is much more like a marriage.

The primary reason for this confusion is that many businesses approach social media marketing with an emphasis on the word “marketing.” That leads them to deploy social media in the same way they’d use traditional marketing communication tactics, including advertising. The goal is to get some attention, achieve a short-term objective, and maybe—just maybe—convert some prospects into customers. Then they’re off to the next campaign.

The problem is that this isn’t how social media works. Short-term thinking and attempts at quick fixes don’t get you very far. To make social media work, you need to make a sustained commitment.

It’s no coincidence that this sounds a lot like a marriage. Some of the same things likely to keep you and your partner together apply when you’re trying to make sense of social media:

  • Listen as much as you speak. In every marriage, there will come a time where your spouse doesn’t want advice—he or she just wants someone to talk to. It’s a good time to close your mouth and open your ears.

When it comes to social media, there will be times when your audience wants to hear from you, but just as often they will simply want to be heard. The key is to listen intently to what they’re saying—and then respond accordingly.

  •  Understand that both the lows and highs are temporary. Even happy marriages are full of ups and downs. If you stay together long enough, you’ll have to tolerate some challenges amid the good times.

Social media is the same way. If your company dives in expecting that only good things will happen, you will be severely disappointed. You need to be confident that your efforts will be worthwhile in the end, while preparing for the times when the audience inevitably will not respond as you hoped.

  • Spend your time with the people who already think you’re great. Let’s face it: a lifetime is a long time to be with someone. As a result, it’s understandable that you may occasionally take your partner for granted and not put the same effort into your relationship as you would if you were meeting someone new. The key to getting things back on track is remembering that no one is more important than the person already by your side—and there’s no one more likely to be worth your time and attention in the long run.

Social media is exactly the same way. Too many times, companies think of social media as a customer acquisition tool, and they focus their efforts on chasing down new relationships and putting more prospects in the marketing funnel. All the while, your existing customers are desperately seeking more attention and more of the content and conversation that attracted them to you in the first place. The question businesses need to ask is whether there’s more benefit in pursuing someone who doesn’t know you that well, or reinvesting your time in those who are already inclined to listen to what you have to say.

There’s one last way in which a successful marriage is a lot like a successful social media strategy: neither is easy, and both require time and effort. Remember, though, you got married for a reason, and you’re in the business you’re in for a reason, too. Start courting your customers via social media as ardently as you courted your spouse and you just might end up with relationships that are built to last.

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