Does social media marketing still matter? Not like you think.

social media strategy

I received a message from a reader in the U.K. wondering if social media marketing still matters. She had read my book The Tao of Twitter (which is really about social media strategy) and wondered if the book’s main ideas were still relevant in a world where it is so difficult to earn attention and connect with customers.

The short answer is, yes — it still matters, but probably in a way that is much different than you think. I believe the essential nature of social media marketing has changed forever, and I will address that today.

Is it really marketing?

100 percent human contentI have never really liked the phrase “social media marketing.” The power of social media is connection, and I can assure you that you people will not connect to you if all you do is “market” to them! However, if you come alongside people at their point of need and help, inform, or perhaps entertain them, there is a chance for a spark of new connection … and that is a great starting point.

Instead of viewing social media as “marketing,” I would like to reframe the strategy today and contend that it is a first step in a powerful marketing process. To take advantage of the wonderful opportunity of social media, you need to view it in the larger context of today’s consumer realities.

The role of emotion

To understand this process, let’s step back and identify the two types of marketing.

The first type is direct marketing — driving sales through ads, promotions, coupons, etc. Social media has some role in this transactional world, especially if you have “conditioned” followers to pay attention to your social media marketing for bargains and special offers. And, of course, social media plays a crucial role in customer service. Twitter is the homeroom for complaints!

But I contend the larger opportunity for marketing is brand marketing. A simple example of brand marketing is Coca-Cola. What comes to mind when I mention Coca-Cola? Probably this:

social media marketing

Coca-Cola spent billions of dollars over many decades to move your attention away from brown-colored sugar water to the emotional relevance of cuddly polar bears.

Brand marketing creates emotional meaning between you and your customers. It creates an expectation that you will have a certain feeling when you interact with a brand. You probably have wildly different emotional reactions to the following words, a result of decades of brand marketing:

  • Harley Davidson
  • Patagonia
  • New York Yankees
  • LEGO

Social media and content can also fuel the emotion behind your personal brand. I’ll talk about that more in a minute.

The emotional continuum

Social media can play an important role in brand marketing that creates long-term, loyal customers.

Here is a graphic illustration from my book Belonging to the Brand, which simply depicts social media’s role in brand marketing.

social media marketing and branding

We see that the emotional connection of social media is weak. It is ephemeral. Often, you might feel like posting is like throwing a message in a bottle into the ocean, hoping somebody will notice.

The true power of social media marketing is in its ability to connect us to a world of relevant new people — people who may want us, need us, and maybe even love us as loyal customers. In sales parlance, this is the top of the funnel, the beginning of a relationship and possible sales.

This real magic starts when you interact with people in a way that provokes their curiosity. Can you move them to your audience?

An audience is the group of people who subscribe to your content, like blogs, videos, podcasts, Instagram, and other opt-in channels.

When you have an audience of subscribers, you’ve achieved an entirely new level of emotional connection! Your message is no longer floating in the media ocean, you have reliable reach. A subscriber is telling you, “It’s OK to communicate with me. I’m interested.” This is also the fundamental strategy of personal branding.

Unfortunately, this is where most companies stop. They are falling short of the ultimate emotional connection with customers — community.

Social media marketing that leads to an audience

In my book Belonging to the Brand, I explain that community, characterized by 1) relationships between your fans or customers, 2) a shared purpose, and 3) evolving engagement, is unparalleled in its ability to create meaningful emotional bonds with customers.

In fact, an active and engaged community creates a layer of emotional switching costs. Your customers literally feel like they belong to your brand.

Here’s a small example of the emotional continuum in action. I will talk about myself and a personal brand, but I think you can see how this can apply to anyone or almost any company.

Case study of the process

If you add up my social media audience across all channels, it is somewhere around 500,000. Pretty cool.

If I put out a message on social media announcing that I have a new book, how many books will I sell? Almost none, and I’m speaking from experience! Even with this large audience and more than a decade of continuous engagement, I’m throwing a message into the ocean.

But I still post on social media and interact genuinely because I know many people will become curious enough to click my profile, visit my website, absorb my content and subscribe to my blog or podcast.

Oh happy day!

Maybe this was you? Or maybe you’re reading this post and discovering me for the first time? If you become part of my audience of subscribers, we’ll enter into a new emotional relationship. We’re getting to know each other and perhaps even develop a parasocial relationship where I feel like part of the family.

If I announce to my audience that I have a new book, how many will buy it? Lots. Because with every post and podcast episode, they form a tighter emotional bond and with people who want to support me.

But that’s not the end. The ultimate bond comes when members of the audience grow into a community.

Reimagining social media marketing as a process

The RISE community is a vibrant group of marketing geeks trying to discern the future of our profession together. And this is where I have my strongest bonds.

If my community knows I have a new book, how many will buy it? Everyone. And they will also review it, promote it, and give it away to their friends.

The bond of community means so much more than just reliable reach. It enables organic advocacy, which is the most incredible marketing you could ever wish for!

Waking up your strategy

I think this new characterization of social media — a top-of-the-funnel relationship that leads to audience and community — is the most accurate depiction of the role of social media marketing strategy today.

The problem is, most businesses are stuck on a view of social media marketing that emerged 15 years ago. The world was much different then. You could attract attention simply by having an interesting social media account — it was a novelty!

No longer. If the entirety of your social media strategy is posting content without a larger strategy that leads to audience and community, your organization needs to wake up and see the new world as it really works today.

Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak at your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram.

Illustration courtesy MidJourney

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