Monday, March 23rd, 2015 | 8 min read
While the adoption of social media into the mainstream has only been in the works for a little over a decade, the field has evolved so rapidly – and has become so integral to the way we do business – that it can feel like it’s been around for at least a century.
The pace at which social media has evolved is such that most marketers and consumers still don’t fully grasp the fundamental shift it’s created in the way we do business. These days, social media is a critical part of business growth and can even make or break the future of your company.
Your brand’s success on social largely depends on the quality of the relationships it builds with its audience. We’re talking about customer service, but not in the traditional sense. Social customer service isn’t just about solving people’s problems in a Facebook comment thread; it’s about continuously nurturing your relationships with consumers by creating delightful customer experiences.
How did we get here? First, let’s take a look at the evolution of social media and how it affects your brand.
With the rise of the World Wide Web and the household adoption of dial-up modems in the early 1990s came a huge demand for Internet-connected households.
Soon, the desire for hyper-connectivity also increased. People shifted away from focusing solely on their local communities like book clubs and kickball teams and began to explore online communities that weren’t restricted by geography. Suddenly, they could connect with like-minded individuals regardless of where they lived.
Chat rooms and online forums around niche interests became popular – this was the start of social media. But these online communities were soon pushed aside by a small group of the first full-fledged incarnations of social networks, including Friendster and MySpace. Both got their 15 minutes of fame, but they eventually failed because of poor user experience and a fundamental misunderstanding of what people really wanted to be able to do on a social website.
Next up was Facebook. Initially, the social network created a sense of exclusivity by only allowing members from a handful of elite universities. People wanted to be part of the club. Not only did Facebook have a simple and beautiful user interface; it was also a great way to connect with anyone and everyone that mattered at your college and the other colleges around you.
As Facebook functionality was, initially, primarily limited to chatting with friends, other platforms filled people’s growing desire to share content with the world. Social news sites became a significant force. Digg.com in particular was a huge part of the early social news experience. The platform allowed people to share links to news stories and webpages they loved. If another Digg user liked the content, they’d “Digg up the content” with a vote. If the content was promoted to Digg’s front page, those websites saw a significant surge in traffic.
Businesses of all sizes soon caught on to the power of having their content shared across the web, and they began to pay to promote their content on Digg. Unfortunately, Digg taught us that social networks need to strike the right balance between organic content and marketed content. With time, the quality of the content on Digg’s homepage plummeted, and the social network sold for a fraction of its initial valuation.
Last but definitely not least there’s Twitter, which launched after Facebook (and during Digg’s heyday). As social news started making waves, Twitter evolved from a “what are you doing?” medium to a “what’s happening?” medium. People quickly transitioned away from sharing quotidian details like what they’d had for lunch and towards towards using the platform to talk about what they were reading, thinking, seeing, or selling. In other words, Twitter became a space for thought leadership and personal branding.
The Conversation Prism, by Brian Solis & Jess3, is a useful tool to help you visualize the mass amount of social platforms now available to consumers.
Nowadays, nearly 9,000 tweets and 2,000 Instagram photos are published each second. That means that since you started reading this post well over half a million new tweets appeared online. There’s A LOT of social content vying for consumers’ attention.
Each social platform has its own way of cutting through the noise and delivering the best, most relevant content to its users (some more developed than others). But consumers still feel like there’s a lot of noise and not enough signal. In our attention economy, everyone (including the brands whose content we really do care about) is fighting to be seen.
Marketers need to find new ways to capture the attention of the consumer who has seen just about everything. Whereas text-heavy blog posts were a big deal in 2011, marketers have recently turned their attention to storytelling through imagery and video. Who knows what will happen in the next few years.
The types of content that brands use to engage consumers on social will continue to evolve, but no matter what direction it goes in one thing is clear: effective social media marketing is about building relationship capital with your audience. This happens through showing consumers that you really get them – that you can talk like them, chat with them about the things they’re interested in, and empathize with them.
As the role of the marketer evolved with the rise of social media the role of the consumer changed, too. The latter quickly realized that they could talk back to brands who had been talking at them their whole lives.
The Cluetrain Manifesto predicted this would happen. The premise of the manifesto is simple: markets are conversations. More importantly, brands need to act human. They need to be approachable.
Companies now see that social media marketing doesn’t work if they simply broadcast their message. After all, shouting from the rooftops doesn’t mean people will pay attention to you; you’ll get a lot farther by starting face-to-face conversations with people on the street, one at a time.
I wrote one of the first bestselling books on social media. I submitted it for publication in 2008, when social media was just starting to gain popularity. As an early adopter, I recognize that the future of social now lies in customer experience management, and a big part of this is providing great customer service through social channels.
All of this leads back to humanizing your brand. Get down-to-earth with your customers. We’re all human, and people appreciate when brands remember that. For example, say things like: “Bummer, I’m so sorry to hear that” or “You rock! Here’s a virtual high five!”
After all, if a brand acts like me, I identify with the brand. I want to joke around with the brand. I feel like the brand is an extension of me. And I tell people how awesome the brand is: I retweet their tweets that show me there’s a real person managing the account, and I share my positive experiences with my friends. I might even write about it.
As I said on my blog not too long ago:
If you give someone a direct relationship through one-on-one assistance, you are marketing better than ever before. Today, that’s your sales vehicle.
About the Author: Tamar Weinberg is a professional hustler and author of The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web (O’Reilly, 2009).