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Why Do Social Media & Community Building Actually Work?

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The Ecommerce Times was recently writing article on social media community building and reached out to 15-year digital marketing expert and 10-year social marketing expert Brian Carter for an interview. ECT published some of his responses in this article, “5 Ways to Build Community Around Your Brand.”

If you liked that, here are Brian’s complete responses!

Q1. Why is it important to build social or community around a brand?

When we do social for clients, part of that is building engagement and awareness around a brand and its offerings.

 

In a time where a lot of digital experts have gravitated toward conversion optimization only, I understand that, because I grew up doing that with SEO focused on conversions, Google AdWords focused on revenue and ROI, Google Analytics, Omniture and split-testing.

I’m a data guy, a test-discover-learn guy… basically a geek!

So it took me a long time to believe that engagement really had a hard quantitative value beyond all the soft feel-good stuff people seemed to like about it.

Starting in 2010 when I founded my agency, we ran fan growth and engagement ads for companies along with Facebook and Google ads for lead gen, ecommerce and other conversion-oriented campaigns, though I often was skeptical about whether the fans or likes were really helping them grow their customer base, drive sales, or improve profits.

The customer often wanted fans and engagement things, and we counseled them about it (“this isn’t the quickest way to get customers or profits”), but they may have wanted the fan numbers or the likes on their posts, and we took the challenge to get the best results we could there. We drove fans and engagement down to low costs and discovered how to get really high engagement rates.

But I was still skeptical about the business value of fans and social media engagement.

And it’s hard to overcome that skepticism, a skepticism many people have, because:

a. Multi-touchpoint analytics are spotty (not every company has them)
b. The analytics for multi-touchpoint seems complicated or out of the way (not every company wants to dive into this just to examine whether their bias is correct), and
c. Finding out the truth about your social media’s conversion value sometimes requires spending money or even third party studies of your analytics.

Not every company can or will do all of that 20% or so of clients we’ve had who did both engagement and conversions AND looked at their metrics, we’ve always seen big benefits to running engagement ads in addition to conversion campaigns:

  1. Engagement ads usually spike organic search traffic and sales: Increased brand awareness from social engagement ads increases search engine searches for your brand name (people notice you more and think, “Oh what was that thing? Oh yeah that company… Let me search for that now…”), which gets you additional organic traffic and sales. When you see an organic traffic and sales spike after starting a new social ad campaign and not changing anything else, you have to be honest: it might have been that social awareness. Sometimes you can track that, if the social ads led to traffic, but if they didn’t, your website analytics can’t even track that, unfortunately.
  2. Engagement ads can pay for themselves: Often you can look at the social engagement ads data and see specific revenue driven from that same ad spend- and often it pays for itself. It may not be a positive ROI, but its breakeven. That means you have to run other ads, of course, to drive profits, but the engagement ads aren’t necessarily a cost- they may pay for themselves. Now, to make that happen, there must be links in your posts… if you aren’t putting links and calls to action in your posts, that’s a whole nother topic- how to create effective engagement ads that also drive traffic…
  3. Engagement ads can improve conversion rates and profits: The brand familiarity you get from this (look up the “mere exposure” effect if you haven’t heard of it) lowers people’s resistance to buying from you, which increases conversion rates, which in turn lowers cost per sale and cost per customer, which of course, increases profits.

Q2. What are some of the most effective ways that e-commerce businesses can build this kind of social media or community? Why do these strategies work?

You have to run Facebook and Instagram ads, create a lot of posts and ads, and see how your customers respond to them.

It’s just like learning how to get along with a real person- you have to get to know them- and online the only way to get to know people is to either look at their data first, or put stuff out there and see how they respond.

Listen to the data- what do they like? What do they share? What do they click on? What don’t they respond to?

You need a repeatable process for constant improvement- we call ours F.I.T. First you find the Facts- that’s data about who are they- then you Invent things, and Test them (discover what works by looking at everything!).

Then look at the Facts again- how did they respond to what you Invented? By Inventing more stuff like what they liked, you create a better and better fit of your marketing materials with their likes. If your marketing fits your customers, they love you more, likability increases, and you know what excites them.

The RARE company’s research on loyalty showed that 86% of customers are loyal because they like the company. So how likable is your brand, and how likable is your marketing? What are you doing to increase that? What process do you use to ensure you win at likability?

This is critical to your survival, and to thriving, because when companies disrupt others, or entire industries, its always because they suddenly make your customers a lot happier than they have been. You can’t afford to just be good enough and maintain, because that’s what companies like Blockbuster and Borders and the Yellow Pages and Yellow Cab did before they got disrupted by Netflix, Amazon, Google and Uber.

Continually strive to become greater and make your customers happier. Make sure you have a process for that. We use F.I.T.

Q3. What are common mistakes that e-commerce businesses make when trying to build social engagement, and how can these mistakes be avoided?

The biggest mistakes companies make with engagement are about vanity, narcissism, self-centeredness. We’re talking about smart people who would never walk into a mixer and talk about themselves for 15 minutes straight. Hopefully… They’re smart enough to know that people like people who focus on them. Not on themselves. They ask others about their lives and family and hobbies, and they make a friend.

But somehow they have a blindspot when it comes to marketing their brand- and they get very narcissistic. They do self-centered things by showing their products a lot… even their “lifestyle” images are about their products, not truly about the customer’s lifestyle.

They don’t think about who the customer is- what their daily life is like, their pains, fears, worries, dreams, goals and obstacles. And when they do it’s only in terms of their products.

You have to go a level beyond your product into the customer’s life and emotions and live with them and talk about other things and have faith that this creates a relationship that makes them love you so much that of course they want to buy your products.

You can’t be afraid to NOT talk about the product for a while. You can’t be so afraid that if you go off topic, you’re wasting time.

Because the truth is: so much of friendship and relationship is about wasting time because you are together.

You have to just be with them- without selling- sometimes, or you’re not building a relationship… you’re just an annoying salesperson… and that’s not a likable approach.

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