Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Golden Ticket Inside Social Media

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the eccentric candy-maker Willie Wonka hid Golden Tickets inside a select few candy bars. These tickets allowed the recipient and a guest into a world full of wonder and a lifetime supply of candy. This prompted a whirlwind of candy bar buying, followed by shortages and a Beanie Baby-like frenzy, until all the tickets were revealed.

Regularly, companies leap into the world of Social Media, expecting that they will uncover the Golden Ticket to wild success and great riches. Or they hope that a Social Media presence will spur a craze of buying and speculating in their products, as the "cool factor" kicks in.

In 1996, companies ran to build Web Sites. In 2009, companies rush to create Twitter accounts. What's the difference?


In 1996, companies sought to show how cool they were or to promote their existence by building a Web Site. Often it was no more than a tri-fold pamphlet uploaded awkwardly onto the screen. The information was one-way, there was no reason to come back after visiting once and getting the store hours. Communities on websites trickled out as it became clear that questions would remain unanswered, and registration meant spam an email newsletter in your Inbox.

Today, companies build Social Media presences that includes multi-media, but in essence are still the same one-way communications of the past. Watch this, buy that. Leave a comment, but don't expect a response, except an automated "thanks for your comment."

Despite this, there *is* a Golden Ticket inside every Social Media long as you keep a few things in mind when you make the initial candy bar:

Consumers require a closed circle of communication.

If someone asks you a question, answer it. Then go one step above that and make sure they have *all* the information they need. You can learn their general location on nearly any kind of Social Media site you're on (or you can ask.) Use this to suggest local store locations, mention late or early hours, or offer to put their name down for a reservation. It's your responsibility to make sure the gaps are filled in. You know what's needed, the consumer may not.

It's not enough to follow someone who talks about you.

It's so easy to create an automated system that searches for your keywords, then automatically follows the person who used it. But...what does that get you? It's up to you to convert that follow into a customer. Was it an one-off use of your keyword? Then make a comment to them about how it brought them to your attention. Maybe there's no real connection - but you can create one, by being real and human. (For instance, I once found myself followed by a NHL Hockey team because I used their team name. It was completely out of context, but they could have said something and made me like them, care about them, follow them back. Instead, they followed me for a while, then unfollowed when I wasn't talking about hockey. What was accomplished by that? I have no idea.)

That was the candy bar. Now it's time for the Golden Ticket.

Build your audience to build your market.

It's absolutely true that the number of friends you have on a Social Media site means next to nothing. It is also true that the number of connections you have does not have an exact relationship to sales. However, advertising has always been about saturation. The more people who see your message and the more times it is seen, the better recall people have of you, your brand and your product/service.

The more people you talk to, the more people who see you talk, the more they think of you when they are looking for something you sell.

Consumers desire more than passive participation in your brand.

When someone is a regular at a restaurant, the perq they get is feeling like one of the family. Servers know what they drink or what they like to eat, the manager knows their favorite table.

Before you build a Social Media presence, think about how you can bring that feeling to your friends/followers/connections. How can you make them feel like part of the team? After they've clicked "Become a Fan" how are you reaching out to them so that they advocate for you? Creating that kind of engagement is the crux of your Social Media strategy. *This* is the Golden Ticket inside Social Media.

When you read reports on the wildly successful use of Social Media by independent musicians, writers, artists etc., what you see is the end result of two important, distinct behaviors.

First, the artist sought out people who cared about them and their work. They built their audience incrementally, and encouraged their audience to increase it further. Music clips, pictures of works in progress, snippets of writing, all were pushed out to the audience, with encouragement to share these with their friends.

Second, these people reached out to their followers and asked them to help. They offered acknowledgement and other intangible measures of worth, along with tangible forms of recognition, like being listed in the liner notes of the next album.

By encouraging people to share and by asking for help, they turned their audience into their "team."

Giving your audience attention is the candy bar - letting them be one of your team is the Golden Ticket, and the path to long-term success and a lifetime of candy.
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