A conversation about why social media matters to your business: this month’s Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly column

Every month, I write a column for Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly. My August column is one I’ve been wanting to write for a long time.

A conversation about why social media matters to your business

There’s a lot of hype about social media. Too often, style wins out over substance, and the next big thing is presented as a panacea when it’s really not all that different than what came before.

When you look beyond the hype, however, there’s an undeniable business case for social media driven by a very real shift in our communication and marketing environment. Knowing how this affects your customers is central not just to the success of your social media efforts but to the very future of your business.

Understanding why social media matters begins by acknowledging how it’s different than other marketing and communication tools you’ve used in the past. Consider this definition from consultant Marta Kagan: “Social media is people having conversations online.” This is pretty simple, but it’s also profound in that it highlights the most important word in social media, the key difference between social media and other forms of of marketing and mass media communication: conversations.

Why is the word “conversations” so critical? First, it’s an excellent reminder of the fact that social is the first mass-media channel that gives consumers a voice equal to that of brands. Other forms of marketing communication have been somewhat like communicating via a megaphone, wherein you simply craft the message you think the audience wants to hear, pick up a “megaphone” (television, print or radio, for example), point the megaphone in the general direction of the audience and shout your message at them. Want to reach more of them? Simply turn up the volume by spending more money or increasing reach or frequency.

Today’s consumers will no longer tolerate that approach. They have too much choice in where they can direct their attention. If they don’t immediately discern how a message is relevant to them and they don’t see an opportunity to participate, they’ll go elsewhere. In short, they want a conversation, not a monologue. Furthermore, they want those conversations to be tailored to them on a personal level. Gone are the days of broadly marketing the same message to everyone. The digital age has ushered in the ability to target our messages to specific audiences to make them relevant and therefore resonant.

It’s also important to understand that consumers prefer to source answers from their peers more so than brands. They always have, in fact, but historically it was very difficult for them to do so — and that’s part of the reason they used to tolerate the marketing megaphone. The branded megaphone message wasn’t a reliable source of answers, but what they could get from their peers wasn’t much better.
Why? Until very recently, soliciting information from your peers was only possible via face-to-face interaction, phone calls, or email. Not only was this labor intensive, but you could only access information from those you knew. The difference with social media is that it has now become incredibly easy to reach those you trust quickly and effectively, while also allowing you to reach beyond those you know.

It may seem like brands would be shut out of this conversation, but they don’t have to be, not if they truly understand social media. In this environment, brands have the opportunity to listen, respond, engage and — most importantly — help customers and prospects solve problems. What consumers won’t tolerate is a one-sided conversation that ignores their needs. And why would they, when they can get exactly what they want elsewhere, anywhere, at any time?

This phenomenon is affecting businesses of every kind. It’s not just restaurants and retailers but also business-to-business entities, health-care companies, governmental bodies — anyone who has customers, in fact. When you consider the implications of a better informed consumer who has a voice equal to that of your brand, you can quickly see how this is a different time requiring a different approach.

The fact is the battle is over, and consumers have won. Their collective voice is now more powerful than your brand’s will ever be. If you think social media is all about getting your message out, you may never make the most of social media.

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