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Social Media Strategies in 2014

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Written by on October 10, 2013

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Daniel Van+Meer

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2014 is not far away, at least not in terms of a brand's budget planning, and the question of how to create the right social strategy is one that people keep asking.

I have already posted loads of articles about how to think of social media, from simple strategy planning to more in depth analysis into how it works. So in this article I'm going to take a step back and look at the social strategies from the bigger scheme of things, and help you focus on the right things in 2014.

Social got boring

In the beginning of this year, I wrote that 2013 would be the year that social media got boring. The social revolution is almost over, the shift from traditional to connected is almost complete, and all the social platforms have transformed from an inventing phase to an establishing phase.

In fact, if we look at the new features on the big social channels, they are no longer about creating new ways to be social. Instead they are all about establishing control (like Facebook Home, and Twitter shutting down 3rd parties), and finding ways to monetize the traffic (promoted/sponsored posts).

Brands can no longer say that they have created a new Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, or Google+ page and expect people to get excited about it.

Being social, in itself, is no longer exciting. It's something everyone is doing, and it's something that everyone expects you to do. Social media now ranks the same as having a website or doing traditional advertising.

And we see this in countless studies measuring the impact of social media. Like this one from Salesforce:

Here we see that the click-through-rate of publishing a post to your Facebook page produces an average CTR of 2.03%, while a sponsored post produces a CTR of 2.13%.

Yep, that's right. The value of our social connections are now less than advertising on Facebook. Just think about that for a moment.

It's still 2.03%, which is a lot more than the 0.09% average CTR we get from adwords or banner ads. But in terms of actual sales, it's not that exciting. It means that for every 1,000 fans, 20 people will click on whatever product you are trying to get them to buy... and of those, how many would end up actually buying it?

But wait a minute. That's not what social media is about. It's not about getting people to click. It's about creating a connection that in turn changes people's perception about your brand to be something they care about.

And as we all know, people who care are far more likely to buy something a second, third, or 10th time than someone who doesn't. At least that's what most believe. In reality, most of your sales are probably coming from other groups of customers.

But you are right about your social strategy not being about clicks. It is, however, about sales.

The three paths to sale in a socially connected world

Social media has changed. It used to be new and exciting, but now it is ranking at the same level as other forms of marketing. Just doing it won't make any difference, just as doing print advertising or buying Google Adwords isn't going to change anything.

In an established market you have to 'unestablish' your brand to stand out from the crowd. So instead of looking at the point of social media, let's look at it from the point of sale.

Because of the social world, our path to sale has changed tremendously over the past five years. At a macro scale, there are only three paths to sale. There are:

  1. Existing customers coming back for more
  2. The result of word of mouth (referrals and recommendations)
  3. New customers discovering you via exposure to advertising and SEO

In the past, because of the limitations of marketing channels (like print and banner ads), it was extremely hard for us to do option #1 or #2. Using traditional channels to reach existing customers was nearly impossible because traditional channels couldn't distinguish between people. And while word-of-mouth did happen, it was only via direct contact between people. The average person couldn't publish themselves.

So in the past, the world of marketing was almost exclusively focused on option #3... exposure based advertising. This is why marketing teams would focus 90% of their budgets on ads, why companies spent 80% of their budgets on reaching new customers, and why your online team focused on SEO to the point of designing content just for that purpose.

But what the social revolution did was to open up option #1 and #2 as viable channels for you to focus on. When you create a Facebook Page, you do so in order to care for your existing customers first.

And the nature of social, both via social channels and blogs, allows people to publish on their own, fueling the word-of-mouth effect to levels previously unheard of.

This is a tremendous shift that most brands still don't understand. Most brands are still operating with option #3 (exposure based advertising) as their main focus.

Even when they engage with social media, they are using them as exposure channels, by exposing people to rather poor messages optimized for engagement, hoping this will create reach (more exposure), so that they can attract new eyeballs to their site.

They are still doing option #3 (exposure), even when social is far better at providing sales via option #1 (caring for existing customers) and #2 (positive referrals).

This is why we see so many studies that find that a brand posts has a lesser effect than advertising.

Which path is most effective?

Let me ask you this. Of these three paths to sale, which one do you think works the best? Which one is the cheapest? Which one generates the highest level of sales per customers and the highest ROI?

Remember, brands today spend 80% of their budgets, on average, on option #3:

  1. Getting existing customers coming back for more
  2. The result of word of mouth (referrals and recommendations)
  3. New customers discovering you via exposure to advertising and SEO

The answer, of course, is caring for your existing customer (option #1).

Just to put this into perspective. Adobe recently came out with a study about repeat purchasers that found that:

  • In the US, 40% of revenue comes from returning or repeat purchasers, who represent only 8% of all visitors
  • Marketers in the United States and Europe must bring in 5 and 7 shoppers, respectively, to equal the revenue of 1 repeat purchaser.
  • Repeat purchasers account for even more revenue during the holiday season and times of slow economic growth.

So, option #1 is 5 to 7 times better than option #3. That is a significant difference.

Note: A repeat purchaser is not the same as a returning purchaser. A repeat purchaser is one that comes back repeatedly. It's a customer that you can rely on.

So while social media today has established itself and become boring as a concept, the social revolution is still as important as ever. It has opened up two new channels for us to tap into, namely, the immense power of repeat purchasers and the open publishing platform of social that allows us to influence and encourage word of mouth on levels previously impossible to do.

This is what the social revolution is about. It's not about Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, or Google+. Those are just platforms.

The real social revolution has changed the concept of marketing itself. From being a separate division in your company that was charged with creating exposure, to a fully immersed experience ranging from learning about your brand, experiencing it, connecting with it, getting help from it, and being a part of it.

In other words. In order for you to create a social strategy for 2014, you first have to turn marketing into a company-wide strategy that permeates everything you do.

So let's look at each option and discuss how we can best achieve a result.

Caring means a renewed focus on your product

We will start with option #1: "Getting existing customers to come back for more", which is by far the best path to sale. How do you do that, or more to the point, what would motivate your customers to act this way?

The answer lies in three elements:

  1. Your product
  2. Your passion/purpose
  3. And the experience people have when learning about and buying your product. (i.e. it must be remarkable).

Remember, existing customers have already discovered you, so exposure-based advertising has little effect on them. To your existing customers it's all about the experience, the connection, the feeling.

Here's one example from a friend of mine, Jesper Outzen. He recently posted this picture on his instagram account:

I tested my new Trek Speed Concept 9.9 this morning. It was the greatest "bike feeling" ever :-D

But ask yourself if Jesper would have had the same level of excitement if Trek hadn't taken the time to make such an amazing bike as this?

What Jesper is excited about as an existing customer is not their marketing campaign. It's the product. And this is the first thing you have to learn about the social revolution.

The social revolution doesn't give you more marketing channels. It widens the scope of marketing itself. Instead of being just about exposure, marketing is now just as much about your product.

Let me give you another example, from Elan Musk and Tesla.

As you might have heard, one of Tesla's cars recently struck a pipe which punctured the batteries and caused the car to catch fire. This resulted in an instant social reaction and a ton of misleading press reports, like: "Tesla Fire Sparks Panic Over Company's Future" (which is total BS)

As a result, Tesla's CEO, Elan Musk, wrote a blog post explaining what really happened:

Earlier this week, a Model S traveling at highway speed struck a large metal object, causing significant damage to the vehicle. A curved section that fell off a semi-trailer was recovered from the roadway near where the accident occurred and, according to the road crew that was on the scene, appears to be the culprit. The geometry of the object caused a powerful lever action as it went under the car, punching upward and impaling the Model S with a peak force on the order of 25 tons. Only a force of this magnitude would be strong enough to punch a 3 inch diameter hole through the quarter inch armor plate protecting the base of the vehicle.

The Model S owner was nonetheless able to exit the highway as instructed by the onboard alert system, bring the car to a stop and depart the vehicle without injury. A fire caused by the impact began in the front battery module - the battery pack has a total of 16 modules - but was contained to the front section of the car by internal firewalls within the pack. Vents built into the battery pack directed the flames down towards the road and away from the vehicle.

...

It is important to note that the fire in the battery was contained to a small section near the front by the internal firewalls built into the pack structure. At no point did fire enter the passenger compartment.

Had a conventional gasoline car encountered the same object on the highway, the result could have been far worse. A typical gasoline car only has a thin metal sheet protecting the underbody, leaving it vulnerable to destruction of the fuel supply lines or fuel tank, which causes a pool of gasoline to form and often burn the entire car to the ground. In contrast, the combustion energy of our battery pack is only about 10% of the energy contained in a gasoline tank and is divided into 16 modules with firewalls in between. As a consequence, the effective combustion potential is only about 1% that of the fuel in a comparable gasoline sedan.

The nationwide driving statistics make this very clear: there are 150,000 car fires per year according to the National Fire Protection Association, and Americans drive about 3 trillion miles per year according to the Department of Transportation. That equates to 1 vehicle fire for every 20 million miles driven, compared to 1 fire in over 100 million miles for Tesla. This means you are 5 times more likely to experience a fire in a conventional gasoline car than a Tesla!

For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid.

What a great response! It serves as a perfect example of handling a (social) media crisis.

But you also have to realize that the only reason Elan Musk could write such a great response was because Tesla cars themselves had been designed for perfection in the first place. Imagine, for instance, if Tesla hadn't built in firewalls between the battery compartments? Then the car would have burned to the ground (just like most petrol cars).

Elan Musk is a master at social PR, but what makes him so good is because he has created an environment in which the product itself is his PR channel.

Your product is your most important marketing channel in a socially connected world. It's far more important than any other thing that you might do.

In comparison, we often see articles like these: "How I Increased Facebook Reach and Engagement by 200-300% This Week". This is one by Darren Rowse, who is a great person. And in the article he writes about all the normal social tactics that social media experts writes about.

  • Use images
  • Create collages
  • Pull several images together to form an album
  • Create 'engagement' updates like "what did you photograph this weekend?"
  • ...and provide link updates

And in his article he presents great examples of each tactic. But none of these things would have persuaded Jesper to be so excited about his Trek bike, or have helped Elan Musk deal with a fire in such an effective way.

The tactics work great for creating engagement and reach, but they have almost zero impact on anything else. In other words, the tactics are all focusing on option #3 (exposure), and not option #1 (caring).

See the difference?

It's not that these social tactics don't work (they do). As Darren writes:

Since publishing this post we've seen a result on a status update that has us shaking our head - our most seen update ever. It has been seen by over 135,000 people, liked 2100+ times, received 180+ comments and shared 805 times in the last 8 hours.

But what about sales? Well, as he writes:

The traffic to my blog has seen some improvement (although not the same spikes as we see on the above charts).

In other words. The traffic patterns coming to his site didn't correlate with the exposure traffic on Facebook. And we are still talking about traffic... what about sales?

Darren also posted a screenshot of his Facebook stats, which even more clearly illustrate the problem:

The post "What did you photograph this weekend?" has a tremendous amount of reach (option #3 - exposure-based marketing), but scored incredibly low when it comes to likes and shares (option #2), and shows no sign of usefulness for his existing customers (option #1).

This is the old world of marketing:

  1. Existing customers coming back for more
  2. The result of word of mouth (referrals and recommendations)

  1. New customers discovering you via exposure

Of course, Darren is hugely successful (also financially) because his product is great. His Digital Photography School site is a great resource for would-be and amateur photographers. And this is why he is getting so much social engagement.

Your product is 80% of your social strategy.

Think of it like this: If social tactics can boost your social effects by 300% then it matters a lot what you start out as.

The caring company

Of course, having a great product is only part of the story. You also have to demonstrate that you care about it. There is nothing worse than a company trying to sell you something that seems good, but you just can't shake the feeling that brand doesn't really care for anything else than their shareholders.

And this is especially true in today's world of abundance. It's easy to create a good product (because they are all produced in the same factories in China). But what makes people connect with you is the feeling that you love doing what you do.

People need to feel that you care. And it's not just that you care about the product you make, but also that you care about talking about it.

One example is Audi. I think we can all agree that Audi is deeply passionate about their product, and they do make some truly remarkable cars.

But when it comes to their social strategy, they are only focusing on tactics. Here is a simple example. Every single one of the images below were uploaded on the same day, seconds apart.

So they got the tactics right (create snack-sized videos that are easy to share and embed), but they completely forgot to communicate.

In other words, they are demonstrating that social to them is a job that they have to get over with as quickly as possible (hence bulk uploading videos), rather than their most important form of communication in which they have to inspire and motivate their customers.

It's just terrible.

Here we have a great brand with a great product from a brand with a huge social following. But because they approach social media as a job they just have to get over with, they are absolutely killing themselves.

Each one of these videos only has about 2,000 views... from company the size of Audi!!!

What a waste.

So if 80% if your social strategy is about creating great products, 19% is about caring (your passion and purpose), and the remaining 1% is your social strategies.

Caring, of course, means doing many different things. The most important element of all is to demonstrate your true passion. I use the word 'true' on purpose because if you try to fake it you will end up in a world of hurt.

First, you need to demonstrate that you care for your product. Here is a good example:

It may not be the best brand video because he sounds a bit 'staged', but it demonstrates that they didn't just make an average product. They cared about every single detail of it. They cared about how people use it. They cared about the comfort levels from the way they allow you to adjust your helmet in many different ways.

The other element of caring is your passion. Yes, I know, I have used Jamie Oliver as an example many times before, but he is a perfect example of this:

Take a look at this video:

The product (in this case, extremely simple pancakes), aren't innovative, complicated, complex or intricately designed. They are just great in the easiest form possible.

But what makes this wonderful is why they are so simple. That's where we see the passion. And the way Jamie is telling this story is just wonderful. I bet you want to make these right now.

This is a family who loves food. Who have a passion for food.

Ask yourself, do you have that passion in your company... or are you just doing a job waiting for the next weekend?

Your customers can tell.

Here is the thing about passion. From your customers point of view, passion is a feeling. And it's your job to maximize that feeling. From a perspective of a brand, however, it's a choice. You decide to be passionate. When you wake up in the morning, you make a conscious decision that you love what you are trying to do.

We all remember the great quote from the old book "7 Habits of Highly Successful People" (1989).

"My wife and I just don't have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don't love her anymore and she doesn't love me. What can I do?"

"The feeling isn't there anymore?" I asked.

"That's right," he reaffirmed. "And we have three children we're really concerned about. What do you suggest?"

"Love her," I replied.

"I told you, the feeling just isn't there anymore."

"Love her."

"You don't understand. The feeling of love just isn't there."

"Then love her. If the feeling isn't there, that's a good reason to love her."

"But how do you love when you don't love?"

"My friend, love is a verb. Love - the feeling - is a fruit of love, the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?"

Love your product. Love what you do. It's the only way you can persuade your customers to love it with you.

The problem in most brands is that because Marketing's role used to only be about creating exposure, the culture of the company has dissolved to a point where nobody really feels ownership over the product. So nobody really cares.

But your product is your company. And the only way to get that back is to tear down the silos that keep people apart and start loving your product across the company. And once you do, people will start loving it with you.

It's by far the most important social strategy that you can have.

I love you!

The third element is to love your customers. Traditional marketing is all about convincing people right up to the point of sale, but no further. Social marketing is about caring for your customers before, during and after they have turned into customers.

This means that customer support and marketing are no longer two separate functions. They are the same thing.

How many times have you heard this?

I first tried to contact this brand via email, but didn't really get an answer. Just some bureaucratic crap. Then I complained on Facebook and they immediately apologized and now everything is fine.

This is what happens when you compare Customer Support (who are tasked with finishing customer support requests as fast as possible) with Marketing (who want to engage, excite and motivate the customers for as long as possible).

A friend of mine recently had this very experience with Lego. Their customer support was terrible, but their community managers not only solved the problem, but also did it in a loving and caring way.

Love your customers, at any point of interaction. This also means that you stop thinking of marketing as a separate department who is only tasked with creating exposure. Your marketing is your brand. It's not a department. It's who you are.

But this also illustrates another limitation of the past. Because marketing in the past was limited to only creating exposure (option #3), customer support was seen as reactive. You had to wait for the customer to get angry and call you to complain.

That is a terrible way to do business.

But the wonderful thing about the social world is that it's connected. So you don't have to wait for people to need your help. Care for them before they need it. Help them today, support them in their actions, give them tips and guidance. Inspire them by connecting them to what other people do.

Remember the video from Jamie Oliver. This is what that video is about. I own one of Jamie's pans, so that video is designed to care for me in how I can use it.

Show that you love your customers. True love. Passionate love.

And again, love and passion is a decision. It's something you decide to do if you want to make it work. It can't be faked.

As you can see, option #1: "Getting existing customers to come back for more" is not really about traditional marketing at all. Instead, it's all about the true social revolution which demands that your marketing strategy refocuses on something much bigger than just creating exposure.

It's about your product, your passion, and how you express your love for both. And as I said, your social strategy should reflect this. 80% is about making your product great. 19% is about showing the love, and 1% is about using tactics to maximize the effect.

Now let's talk about option #2, i.e. sales being "the result of word of mouth (referrals and recommendations)

Sharing versus recommendations

Take a look at the illustration below. Which one do you think creates the most sales?

The first one (A) is when a brand posts a message on their Facebook page, which people then react to and reshare with their friends. Nice!

The second one (B), is when people love your product so much that they start to share it on their own.

The difference is enormous. The first one is the simple act of sharing, the second is the act of recommending. And we all know that recommendations work far better than anything that you can do on your own as a brand.

So when it comes to option #2: Word of mouth. It's far better to persuade other people to share something on their own than it is to just keep posting messages on your Facebook page hoping that some of your fans will reshare it.

And, just to illustrate this. Trek has half a million fans, but the above post was only reshared by 116 people (0.02%). Not a very good use of resources.

Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't have a Facebook page, a Twitter profile, a photostream in Instagram, or a G+ page. Of course you should have all these things, just as you should have a website.

But your own profiles are not the primary tool in your social toolbox. It's not what you share that makes it work. It's what other people share about you.

Of course, there are exceptions, like the Old Spice campaign, but those are expensive to do and often fail. Sure, if you have a great idea and are willing to put in the effort to make such a campaign work, go for it.

But that's not a strategy. Your strategy is to convince people to do it for you.

So how do you get people to recommend you socially? The answer is 'useful awesomeness'. A big part of that is of course the things we have already covered. Create a truly great product, which doesn't have to be complex or expensive (think Jamie's pancakes). Be passionate about it and show your love. But the other equally important part is focusing all this amazing energy on your customers.

Make it useful to them. Jesper didn't post an official brand image, he posted his image. And if you visit his Instagram page and blog, you will find many more about how he is using it in his quest to run a Triathlon.

Trek is enabling him, which is what creates the social effect. In other words, your primary social strategy is to enable useful awesomeness!

It starts with a great product. It's enhanced by your passion and expressed with your love, and made to work by helping people be just as crazy about it as you.

That's option #2.

Option #3: Advertising and SEO

Finally, let's discuss option three. In itself, it isn't really worth much. It's just a facilitator whereas option #1 and option #2 are enablers. But that doesn't mean it isn't seriously important.

Think of it like a sphere of influence.

In the middle of the sphere you have your repeat customers, who are a tremendously powerful source of sales if you influence them right (option #1). These customers will then use their immense power to spread your love (recommendations), and these two combined create your sphere of influence.

The people within this group are those you can influence through your social actions. And if you have a great product or idea, this sphere can grow to quite magical proportions (just look at the many Kickstarter campaigns).

But outside this sphere there are still millions of people who have no idea that you exist. Posting more on your Facebook won't make any difference to them, because they will never see your posts.

The only way to reach these people is to focus on exposure, either through different forms of advertising, SEO, but also through social promotions (like sponsored posts).

But you have to understand the nature of what you are doing. A sponsored post on Facebook is not a social interaction. It's exposure, just like any other form of exposure. And you have to design it as such. The point of a sponsored post is not to get people to comment. It's to make people aware.

Same with the use of hashtags on different services. The point of using them is to reach people outside your sphere of influence.

And this is also the case with social media tactics. They increase reach and engagement, but to what?

So the question is, how much of your budget should you allocate on each? The answer of course depends on the size of each sphere.

If you have a high-energy but slow moving circle of influence and an even smaller group of people that you can love, you need to spend most of your budget on reaching people outside it (option #3 - exposure).

Just remember, creating exposure and reach has no meaning by itself because all you do is to create awareness. You need to focus that awareness on a great product.

If you on the other hand have a fairly large, but low-energy circle of influence, your challenge is instead to ignite it. You are already reaching a lot of people, but you are failing to make them feel the love.

Creating more exposure or focusing on social tactics is not going to make any difference. You need to create love.

Note: This is the most common problem for established brands.

These are your options:

  1. Getting existing customers coming back for more
  2. The result of word of mouth (referrals and recommendations)
  3. New customers discovering you via exposure to advertising and SEO

Most brands still focus 80% of their budgets on option #3. But options #1 and #2 are far better at creating sales... but only if you can love them.

Marketing is no longer a department or an action. It's who you are.

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Daniel Van+Meer

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Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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