Take a step back. For the past 20-plus years we have heard about the need to establish one-to-one relationships with our consumers. Go back 11 years to Seth Godin's Permission Marketing and you'll find one of the ways he thought we could build these relationships was through email.
But guess what? Most companies messed that up because they started sending out email that was self-serving instead of serving their customers. Somewhere along the line the idea of delivering personalized messages to loyal and engaged customers turned into a need to get permission from the most people possible, which eventually turned into simply getting the biggest list possible.
This hit home when working with a client several years ago. We walked into the annual planning meeting to discuss the goals for the coming year. After all of the plans were presented, the person heading up the marketing organization said, "Our primary goal for the year is to add 10 million names to our email list." No financial targets. No engagement metrics. Testing and optimizing content were to be put on hold until that objective was reached. All of the energy and resources were directed toward the goal of building the biggest possible list.
Not surprisingly, the year was largely wasted. We met the goal, but other areas of the program suffered. Creativity on the content side suffered. The messages that were going out weren't personal. Revenue did not increase in proportion to the size of the list because a lot of the names being added simply never became engaged in the program. We'd shifted away from the core concepts of permission marketing (and relationship marketing) to mass marketing through a personal channel.
The same risk exists in social media. As we read about the "Social Media Revolution," about two-way dialogues, authenticity, transparency, and customer empowerment there is a specter looming beneath the surface. More and more we are hearing things like, "we need to get to 10 million Facebook Fans" and "we need to get 1,000,000 Followers on Twitter." It's like déjà vu all over again.
It's a wrong-headed approach and here's why:
1) The disconnect between "likes" and impressions: there is an underlying assumption that once a person "likes" your brand that your posts will show up in their news feed. That's not necessarily true for two reasons. First, Facebook EdgeRank determines your placement in each users newsfeed (if at all). Second, many users will hide your posts from their news feed. Click the "X" once and your posts disappear. A parallel can be drawn back to email deliverability. Simply said, not all of Facebook posts get delivered.
2) Social Media Fans don't represent new customers: another assumption of "big numbers" marketing objectives is that new fans (or followers or subscribers) represent new customers. In some cases this may be true, but as Jay Baer recently wrote in "Ra Ra Wrong. How Facebook's Cheerleaders Are Blowing Smoke", "the people that 'like' your company on Facebook already like you in the real world. Consequently, your Facebook fan page is just another way to identify, corral, and (hopefully) activate them."
3) The "relationship" is over-valued: social media seems like the ideal channel to establish a relationship with our customers. We post something to Facebook and people respond. That's good. But there is a good reason that Facebook allows us to "like" brands instead of becoming "friends." When is the last time you heard someone say, "My best friend is Diet Coke?" Or "I wish I could have a better relationship with Toyota?" You don't because consumers don't talk about brands that way. The fact is that consumers, and especially Gen Y consumers, are not interested in having a "relationship" with your brand.
Just to make the point, we recently asked a group of consumers about the "relationship" they have with different brands. Most respond that they have no interest in a "relationship," they just "like" stuff. A small percentage of consumers do want two-way dialogue and want to interact with brands. It's an important minority because of their willingness to endorse your brand to their friends, but it is a minority nonetheless, which doesn't give much credence to the idea of simply building a big list of fans.
Building a social media strategy is an imperative for any brand in today's world, but building the biggest social media list possible is a recipe for disaster. Sure, it may all simply be semantics, but we've been down this road before and there is no reason to make the same mistakes. Take your eye off of building a quality audience and the audience you end up building will be less impactful (and thus less profitable) than if you had simply focused the same resources on generating better content. Interact with your customers. Thank them when they do nice things. But most of all, engage consumers by injecting fresh and engaging content into the community.
Do these things and the numbers will come. Focus on the numbers first and your efforts will end up being wasted.