The BS schism between "What I need from consumers" and "What I expect and do as a consumer" is a serious problem. By failing to recognize their own preferences, expectations and habits as consumers, business leaders construct and deploy brand strategies that fail to meet their customers' preferences, expectations and habits.
BS can be seen everywhere. CPG marketers who skip every single ad on their DVR continue to purchase TV advertising; customer care leaders who go apoplectic if they are put on hold nonetheless minimize call center staff and expect customers to patiently wait on hold (while lying about "unexpectedly high call volume"); automakers who would never use a product that put their families at risk calculate whether it is less expensive to recall cars or pay off a few widows. Business leaders routinely treat others in ways they would never accept themselves; that's BS.
The problems in social media may not be life or death, but today's corporate social media strategies are rife with BS. People who hate to see "like this if you're glad it's Friday" in their news feeds use identical tactics to game "engagement" on their own brand fan pages; social media pros who demand brands respond to their tweeted complaints still routinely ignore their company's customers on Twitter; and content managers who would never take the time to read a salesy brand blog post still invest in content strategies to develop the Internet's 44,600th article on the value of whole life insurance. (Seriously, that is the number of hits you get when you search for "value of whole life insurance!")
|photo credit: Chris Blakeley via photopin cc|
Step One: Get a pen and piece of paper or open a blank Word, Notepad or TextEdit document.
Step Two: Capture every brand for which you would advocate in social or real life. Let's first be clear on the definition of an advocate. In the social era, we have conflated customers, loyal customers, fans and advocates into one sloppy category, but they are not the same. An advocate is someone who will jump into a conversation to protect and defend a brand against criticism, or someone who would actively act to encourage people to buy the brand. For the purpose of this exercise, only include the brands you would actively defend if a friend took the brand to task or have unequivocally recommended a friend buy. (After all, an advocate unwilling to advocate is not an advocate.)
Step Three: Create a list of all the brands whose content you can recall seeing in your Facebook news feed. Do not include media brands (FOX, CNN, Mashable, Upworthy, etc.), since they are in the business of disseminating content, and exclude brands that got into your news feed using paid or sponsored means; let's just focus on earned media.
Please do not simply read this blog post and skip the exercise. Being aware of BS is not the same as recognizing how deeply you are afflicted with your own BS. Do not proceed until you have taken a few minutes to complete those three simple steps.
Don't worry, I'll wait while you create your two lists. To ensure you give yourself some time, here is the Jeopardy theme song to play while you consider your answers:
Done? Good! Now, let's ask a few questions:
Question One: How many brands are on your advocate list? In my experience, most people have trouble creating a list of more than a dozen brands for which they would really advocate. Eliminate the small number of brands that almost everyone includes on their list (such as Apple, Google, Whole Foods, Starbucks, Disney, Coca-Cola, USAA, Uber, JetBlue, etc.), and what remains is a tiny number of advocate-earning brands.
BS questions: If you didn't work at your company, would it be on your list? Do you think it is on your friends' lists?
Question Two: What percentage of the brands you buy and use are on your advocate list? Do a rough calculation of the brands in your life. Open your refrigerator and pantry and estimate the number of brands in your kitchen (soda, cheese, fruit, cereal, cooking oil, paper towel, etc.) Then go to your bathroom and estimate (toothpaste, cosmetics, bandages, soap, shampoo, etc.) Then think of your car (gas, oil, windshield wipers), office (paper clips, stapler, pens, paper), closet (shoes, shirts) and devices (hardware, apps, games, etc.) Is the percentage of brands for which you would advocate more than a couple percentage points of the brands you purchase and use?
BS question: What are the chances your brand is in your customers' few percentage points?
Question Three: For how many of the brands on your advocate list have you actually advocated in the last three months? In the last several months, have you posted a positive review? Tweeted praise? Written a blog post about how wonderful the brand is? Clicking like or commenting on a piece of content does not count; first of all, that is not really "advocacy" as we have defined it and second, when is the last time you have seen something in your news feed just because a friend "liked" or commented on a post? Chances are you have actively advocated for few, perhaps none, of the brands on your advocacy list.
BS question: Do you expect large numbers of your customers to actively advocate on your brands' behalf when you exhibit so little advocacy behavior yourself?
Question Four: How many of the brands on your advocate list are ones for which you see content in social media? In the last three months, do you recall seeing any of these brands' tweets? Do you see their pins on Pinterest? Do you visit their blogs? If so, how many times? It is likely the content from these brands--your favorite brands!--is almost completely invisible to you.
BS question: Do you expect your content to reach a significant of your customers and advocates?
Now let's turn your attention to the list you created of the brands you can recall seeing in your Facebook news feed.
Question Five: Of the brands you have "liked," what percentage appear in your news feed? Chances are, you have become a fan of a lot more brands than you realize. Check your number of likes by visiting your timeline: Click your name at the top of Facebook, then "More," then "Likes" and then "Other Likes." How many companies and brands are there? Scan the list and take note of all the brands whose content you never see, despite the fact you are a "fan." Surprising, isn't it?
BS question: Do you still labor under the delusion that your Facebook posts will be seen by your fans? Are you still posting and investing just as much into Facebook content strategies as you did two years ago, when organic reach was greater?
Question Six: Of the brands whose status updates you see, did you originally like them because of their social media content or a social media promotion? Of the very few brands whose content you see in your news feed, are they ones that lured you with freebies and sweepstakes? Was it their Facebook posts that encouraged you to like the fan page? Or did you become a fan of these brands because they provide you with great products and service or furnish a terrific customer experience? What drove your "like"--social content or real-world value?
BS questions: Are you trying to lure prospects with content on Facebook? Or in the social era, have you instead invested in creating the right customer experience that encourages people to put your brand on their advocate list?
That's it. You are cured! You can now live free of BS (at least until your next meeting with your boss when he or she demands another unreasonable goal). If you were honest, here is what you just learned:
- Your social strategies count on significant number of advocates, but as a consumer you actually are an advocate for very few brands.
- Your social strategies rely on your advocates to act on their positive brand feelings, but your own social activities demonstrate little advocacy behavior on behalf of your favorite brands.
- You continue to invest in content on Facebook even though you see very little of the content posted by the brands you have liked.
- You expect your social content and promotions to attract prospects, but as a consumer, you have followed brands not because of content or social updates but because they treat you right.
Having been cured of your BS, what will you do different? Will you continue to build brand social media programs as if your consumers have vastly different expectations and social behaviors than you? Will your social media strategies be based on assumptions of advocacy and loyalty that you know are not true? Will you invest more in social media content or work with your product, customer care and marketing peers to build social knowledge and function into your brands' customer experience?
There is no way to inoculate yourself from BS. It infects all of us from time to time. To succeed in the social era, you have to actively combat this scourge by forcing yourself to think like a consumer, not like a business leader with revenue, expense and profit goals to achieve. The brands that win in the social era will be the ones led by people who fight BS at every turn.