Losing control is never good - particularly in business. Take, for example, the world of social media marketing.
In recent months, we have all had to accept changes and new rules - many of which have left us wondering: what on earth is coming next?
How can we regain control and protect our businesses online?
These changes have led many businesses to feel a sense of betrayal and confusion.
After all, the social media landscape used to feel like the most amazing level playing field. You could access the same opportunities whether you were a one man band or a huge corporation.
And all of these huge benefits of marketing and customer reach were free.
In a recent blog post, Jay Baer of Convince and Convert explains that the rationale behind the shift to social media marketing “is easy to understand, even in hindsight. With more and more customers spending a preponderance of their free time on a handful of social platforms, why not fish where the fish are swimming?”
The strategy of using social media as a viable means of customer acquisition worked extremely well for a while.
The problem was that we lost control almost without realising it. The going was so good that we forgot that we were marketing our businesses on online real estate that we just didn’t own.
Were we lulled into a false sense of security with all of the social media customisation and branding options available? Maybe.
Did the social media platforms promise us the world - at least in business marketing terms? Maybe.
Should we be surprised that the rules have now changed? Should we be outraged at the audacity of Facebook et al?
Baer notes that “Conveniently, we forgot that the owners of the social platforms are companies, not benevolent distributors of branded content. And once those companies started going public, their legal obligation became to maximise value for their shareholders, not yours.”
For as hard as it is to stomach at times, the writing was always on the wall if we had but wanted to see it. The social media platforms that we have come to know and love are not charitable organisations devoted to furthering our own businesses.
They are businesses themselves. They have to guard their own futures, introduce rules that make sense for their own businesses and ensure that their platforms remain competitive and user friendly.
And if that means developing an algorithm that scuppers your business reach well then so be it.
So, what can we do to protect our online businesses and the communities that we have worked so hard to build?
The answer is surprisingly simple actually.
We have to start driving our online audience from our social media platforms and towards our own websites and blogs - ie. the online real estate that we actually own.
That is not to suggest that we turn our backs on social media. I don’t think any of us could (hand on heart now) do that even if we tried. No, social media will maintain its vitally important business role.
However, we need to adapt the way we think about social media to allow us to feel secure if and when the rules of the game change.
We need to use social media for:
News - making sure we include a link to our website for the full details
Engagement - ensuring that we include links and details of communities and forums that allow the conversation to take place
somewhere that we control
First response customer service - with a view to taking the conversation off the social platform as soon as
Driving traffic - using content, data, and other lead magnets to tempt readers from the social platform to your
Build Your List Not Your Numbers
How much time do you think that you have spent on building your social media followers and fans? I’m betting (if you have done this in an organic way) that you have spent many, many hours on this task.
I know I have.
As much as it can feel satisfying to see those followers grow, it is never too early to try to convert them from being a number on a social media platform to a member of your own email list.
Looking back, I know that I waited far too long to start this process. I kept telling myself that I just needed a few more followers and then I would start pointing them in the direction of my own website.
However, I did always have this feeling niggling away in the back of my mind - what would happen if the social media platforms that I was spending so much time cultivating suddenly disappeared?
The thing was, only a short while ago, this seemed like a ridiculous concept. However, with the changes that we have seen recently at Facebook, Pinterest and Google+ it no longer seems quite so far fetched.
So we need to protect ourselves. But how?
One way that we can protect ourselves is by building an email marketing list.
Here are some ways to do this:
- Create a lead magnet. This should be something of high value to your audience such as an eBook, video course or a cheat sheet
- Promote that lead magnet on all your social media channels
Collect email addresses in exchange for access to your lead magnet (the value of your lead magnet will make this exchange
worthwhile for your audience)
Design a regular, high quality emailable newsletter - use software such as Mailchimp to achieve this
- Sell - tempt your audience with your products and services once you have gained their trust by delivering consistently valuable content.
In addition, you can use your own website to promote your email newsletter or lead magnet.
For example, consider using a Call To Action button. I use one from Wise Pops to promote my email newsletter. I have also sprinkled CTA buttons throughout my site (such as the one below) to tempt my visitors to sign on up.
Long Live Email
Far from withering away in the face of social media’s ascendancy, email marketing remains stronger than ever. Indeed, according to a report by the Radicati Group, there are now three times more email accounts than Facebook or Twitter accounts combined.
In addition, according to the Nielsen Norman Group, when asked how they would like to receive updates from a company, 90% of people chose email newsletters with only 10% choosing Facebook.
Meanwhile, email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new clients than either Facebook or Twitter, according to McKinsey & Company.
In short, your email list is probably the most powerful tool in your marketing box.
And you can control it far more effectively than you can control the business honchos at Facebook, Twitter etc.
Of course, it is true that email owners are becoming more savvy and less likely to give their addresses away to just anyone who asks. And it is also true that a reader can easily unsubscribe to your newsletter.
However, if you are providing a consistent stream of high value content, you can maintain and build a healthy subscriber base. In addition, the chances of developing a more stable and meaningful business relationship are far greater via your own email newsletter.
Moving The Conversation
As I mentioned above, I am in no way suggesting that social media will become a less important marketing tool in the future. I am just advocating a way for businesses (and small businesses in particular) to control their own paths and not be tied to the fortunes of another company.
We need to move the conversation from social media onto our websites.
If you are using your social media platforms as a way to provide awesome customer service, you should look to move the conversation towards email or even a telephone chat as soon as possible.
This is not because you have anything to hide, but because you need to control a situation that may be tricky to handle via social media.
Meanwhile, if you use social media to engage with your customers and colleagues about your products and services (or perhaps about larger industry issues) why not consider creating a niche forum on your own website where you can invite people to come and discuss trending issues and newsworthy topics.
You can do this using a comments tool. I have been using Disqus to capture blog comments (see below).
I am also really interested in a new tool by Powr.io that enables you to create (and protect) online businesses conversations by adding a simple piece of code to your website.
As online forums formed the embryonic beginnings of social media, owning your social and online community in this way may feel a bit, well, retro. However, the advantages of owned social
communities - customer loyalty, reach, direct sales and business intelligence - are far too tempting to ignore or dismiss as an old throwback.
Twin this with social and you will be able to be able to harness the potential of both powerful online marketing strategies without having to live in fear of the next set of rule changes.
Do you agree?
If you do or if you think I have missed a central point, let’s continue this conversation in the comments section below.
Thanks for reading!
Take care, Jane x