Read nearly any blog post written in the last three years about social media, and you’ll inevitably find a reference to the “online conversation.” You need to demonstrate thought leadership. Your social media pages are a forum for customer feedback. We’re seeking to further engage the community. There’s a lot of online chatter about this.
Millions of conversations happen online every day, about an equally-large number of topics. Because social media allows brands to enjoy direct access to potential customers, marketing gurus are constantly encouraging companies to join these conversations. Unfortunately, some companies go overboard. For example, who else hates this comment:
“Great article, Joseph. My company actually does a lot with this topic. You should check us out at companylink.com.”
Forget any kind of real dialogue — this is a monologuing sales pitch. It’s not genuine, it’s annoying, and it does anything but make me want to hear about your company. Obviously, this is not the ideal reaction.
This brings online marketers to a crossroads. How can one join this “online conversation” without sounding like a billboard? How do I contribute something and have it reflect positively on me? Can I comment/tweet/post and not include a sales pitch? The answer to the last question is a resounding “YES!” Answers to the other questions are a little more nuanced, but the following tips should help.
- Pay Attention to Brands That Do It Well
Where do you go when you want to become an expert at something? Other experts. The next time you browse the Internet, pay attention to how top brands interact with their followers. Which ones are annoying and overly-sales-y? Which ones are genuinely interesting? If a brand does insert a reference about its product, is it well-done? Is it over-done?
- Never Pitch Your Product by Using a Hashtag Unrelated to Your Brand
Don’t ever hack a popular hashtag and turn it into a way for you to pitch your product. Most people don’t search for content based on hashtags, but when they do, they’re looking to see the type of content that made the hashtag popular in the first place (More on this in No. 4) — which was not your sales pitch. Here’s an example for the hashtag #runnerbliss:
Bad: Our new line of shoe, the AirRun 10, will make you so fast, all of your runs will be a #runnerbliss
Good: It’s 6 a.m. outside. All you see are other runners. You smile because you’re in good company. #runnerbliss
- Add to the Conversation; Don’t Copycat
Reposting content is fine, but you’ll get much more engagement when the content is original. People appreciate new ideas. In other words, your Twitter feed can’t be a stream of retweets.
- Respect the Aura
By that I mean don’t post content that is so loosely associated with the conversation that people wonder what you’re doing there. If a hashtag is humorous, keep your content humorous. If it’s a news-related hashtag, comment on the news (i.e. “We’re happy to hear this happened,” “We’re saddened by this news,” etc.), and don’t try to insert your own message in there.
- Promote Connections
Things like modified tweets (written like “MT”), follow Fridays (written like #FF), or pushing out other users’ content when it’s genuinely interesting can all help raise the level of engagement on social media. And engagement, as you’ve probably heard over and over, is what it’s all about.
- Respond to Responses
Piggybacking off the importance of engagement, one key way to participate in the online conversation is to converse with the people who engage with you! Thank people for their comments either way — good or bad. If it’s good, broadcast your praise to the world! If it’s not, then deal with the problem immediately. A quick response has turned many a disgruntled follower into a brand ambassador.
- When You Do Make a Sales Pitch, Do It On Your Own Channel
My point in writing this blog post isn’t that you should never pitch your product online. It’s just that when you do make pitches, keep it to your own pages. Join other conversations to bring people to your channel; then tell them about how great of a company you are.
- Be Patient
As with any area of marketing or sales, patience is a key trait for success. Building loyalty doesn’t happen overnight, but if you work for a great company, you’ll win people over in the long run … just don’t annoy them in the first place.