I went through a phase in trying to market my books and services where I thought I was invisible.
In attempting to get my material known to a wider public, I was using social media in what I thought was a sensible way to contact people who undoubtedly needed what I had to offer - all I needed to do, I thought, was to place a reasonable ad in front of a few thousand people and they would immediately click on the ad and be taken through to my website. Not all of them would buy, of course, but a significant percentage would instantly recognise the value that was being offered and that would be enough for me to grow a sustainable business. I had worked over all the figures time and time again; now it was just a matter of doing it.
Social media, after all, was a huge gathering of people, a vast number of whom would be having conversations about things closely relating to what I had to offer. By interrupting these conversations and displaying my products, I would be able to attract attention and encourage buying. The potential of two billion people using Facebook, I imagined, was such that naturally I would be able to get the attention of enough people to make me wealthy.
It was all a matter of numbers. Boy, did I work those numbers over, all the time.
But I was mistaken.
I got zero response, time after time after time. I might as well not have wasted the time doing all the postings. Because it doesn’t work like that at all.
The clue is in the name: ‘social media’. ‘Social’ means that people are normally on Facebook and similar sites for entertainment, communication, sharing, light relief and casual browsing. ‘Media’ means the mechanism through which they do these things. One way to imagine Facebook is as an enormous, international party at which people congregate together with people they know or like and where they lightly discuss or share topics of a largely non-disturbing nature. Sure, religion and politics and world disasters or situations are mentioned, but such is the nature of social media that the viewer or reader is in control of how much they expose themselves to those things. It’s easy to scroll past something that you don’t like or don’t want to engage with at that moment; no one knows whether you have seen a post and decided to ignore it, so you are generally safe from acrimony. If you do engage in a political argument with someone in a comments thread, it’s a simple matter to turn away and even to block anyone who bothers you. The ripples die down; the pond is large.
In brief, social media involves people in a slightly different way that needs to be explained and recognised if it us to be of any use to marketers.
There are several levels to social media engagement. At the deepest and most profound level, we are in contact with those people who are fundamentally engaged with us, our closest family members of friends, the ones who share our ideas and our lives so much that they are part of us. If you are serious about being in business, and have a real purpose for it, it is into this close circle that you will wish to draw more and more people: you want them to participate in what you have to offer, you want them to become loyal and supportive friends who think like you, apply what you have to say, and forward your message to others.
Paradoxically, it is these people with whom you can also be lightest: because you share such a strong foundation, you can also ‘lighten up’ and joke with them. This audience doesn’t mind you appearing briefly to make a joke, or sharing a picture of what you had for dinner with them. The purpose of social media is largely to weld this group into an even stronger group, linking already existing family and friends all over the world in way which can be determined by the individual. You don’t have to write long letters or have long telephone conversations, you can simply click ‘Like’, and others in your close group will feel reassured to that degree that you are there and connected.
The next level up from that contains those who are not quite so close. These people may still be friends or perhaps they are distant relations, but they aren’t quite so linked up. You might see occasional posts from them; they might only hear from you rarely. There is enough shared reality there for there to be some overlap in terms of interaction, but not to any great degree.
And then there are the rest: people all over the world communicating with each other who aren’t part of your closer circles. In this group is the marketer who is a stranger to you personally. He or she wants your attention, but you are usually engaged elsewhere.
Social media marketing can largely be a bag of tricks to jump you into the ‘inner circles’ of people’s social groupings. By tracking what you are interested in and then designing a post which seems to resonate with that, some seek to bypass all the niceties of getting to know you and to teleport into your closer circle. If you imagine Facebook as a giant party, this would be like someone suddenly interrupting your conversation with established friends to try to make a point. You might listen for a moment. If you had a particular need, and the interruption seemed to be to do with that need, you might pay more attention. Say, at a party, you were interrupted by someone offering you a drink at the exact moment that you felt thirsty, you might well stop what you were doing and take the drink. Encouraged by this, the drink-offerer would set off to find other conversations which he or she could interrupt.
Social media marketing is at present largely this process of interrupting people who are doing something else in order to get them to do what you want them to do. Some marketers even call it ‘pattern interrupt’ and make it a point of pride when they can accomplish it.
Of course it works to a degree. But its approach is clumsy at best and hit-and-miss at worst.
The most effective way to become part of people’s inner circles is to recognise one’s own.
Someone on the outside of a conversation hankering to get in must naturally experience frustration. If the purpose of entering the conversation is simply to make a point and then see who responds, that frustration can only grow larger over time. That’s not what conversation is all about. In truth, it’s not what communication is all about. If one makes a habit of ‘pattern interrupting’ in order to ‘capture’ attention and then leaves, after a while one will develop a reputation as a bad listener, someone to be avoided. The long term effect, then, of ‘pattern interrupting’ is a reduction in trust and in inclusion in the conversation, the exact opposite of what one is trying to achieve. Thus social media marketers come to be regarded suspiciously.
How can social media marketing ever succeed in that case?
By developing the conversations one is already part of.
All of us who participate in social media are already part of ongoing conversations to one degree or another. To grow a sustainable business using social media, one simply has to continue and expand the conversations in which one is already engaged.
Does this mean jumping into every thread and trying to turn it into a sale? Of course not. It means recognising and following a sequence.
1. Recognise that each and every social media interaction, no matter how small, is a communication with someone real. That person is either remote from you geographically, emotionally or spiritually, or is near to you in some way.
2. Each and every response on social media, from blocking someone to a simple ‘Like’ to a full blown conversation to clicking a link and going on to make a purchase is either pushing someone away, drawing them nearer, or keeping them exactly where they are.
3. Understand that this process of communication has gone on for some time already and that, within your own circles, there are those who deeply trust you and want to be closer or remain close to you, as well as those on the fringes.
4. By far the most fruitful way of developing a sustainable business is to plant seeds in the already fertile soil of those who know you and are closest to you.
5. You can speed this up by developing spaces on social media in which you can fully be yourself, display your materials or offers, and encourage others to draw nearer to you if they have affinity with what you are offering. So, for example, a Facebook group aligned to your business and its goods is going to attract exactly that audience most receptive to you and your products or services.
6. ‘Pattern interrupting’ is counter-productive in the long term because it sets you off on the wrong foot. The onus is then on you to justify the interruption. Instead of interrupting anything, merely continue conversations that are already happening.
7. The key ingredient to turning any ongoing conversation into something which leads to further closeness and possibly to a sale for you is listening.
8. The end product of any conversation, whether in social media or not, is not a sale: the end product is closeness between you and the other person. They may have to buy something from you as part of getting closer, but as long as you focus on closeness, all will be well.
So social media marketing - or any marketing, for that matter - works better when it works with the pattern that is already there, rather than seeking to interrupt it. This is a far more wholesome approach and is also more fun: it’s easier and better to learn more about the people you already know than it is to establish trust with complete strangers.
Try it. You might be surprised.