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Why all social media isn't for everyone

Has it ever pained you that your favourite toilet paper brand doesn't have a Facebook page? Does it annoy you that your breakfast cereal doesn't tweet? No? Me neither.
There are many good reasons to be on social media: to advertise specials and promotions, to use it as a sentiment indicator and to give your users an easier way to complain or compliment the brand. But does this really mean that all brands should be invading our news feeds and tweet decks? I say no.

In the quest for always-on marketing, brands have invaded the networks that people use to connect with their friends and family. As this is the result of ever-increasing irrelevance of traditional advertising and marketing tactics, it's understandable to want to take your brand to where your customers are. It is also, seemingly, considered bad practice to not be present on at least two social networks. But should this always be the case?

To find out if, and why, your brand should be on a social network, here are some questions worth considering:

Why is this important for my brand?

If it's because you want to engage with your customers, you're only partially on your way to success. Have you asked whether your customers want to engage with you? Also, will being on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn really increase your sales? Will it motivate people to move from a competitor to you?

It boils down to having to figure out what value being on social networks is going to bring to your business. And no, simply sharing memes is not valuable (to your brand or your customers). If all you want to do is be there so that your users will engage with you, you need to re-evaluate your marketing strategy.

Why is this important for my customer?

Your genuine fans are buying your products or using your service because they like the way you do business. And while it's well known that word of mouth is the most powerful (and least controllable) tool, it doesn't translate as easily online. Your customers will likely become social media fans or followers for various other reasons: they genuinely love your brand (or content), they want to keep abreast of latest offers or you're offering a channel/means of communication that they need.

But if you think it's for sharing content just because it's from you, you're mistaken. People share content because they like the content, not just because it's coming from a brand that they like. And that loyalty is far more visible in sales numbers than in sharing motivational images on Facebook.

So what value is your user getting from your brand page? Think about your brand and the products or services you provide. If your services or products are faster moving (e.g. retail) there might be some value in posting offers using social media. But if your product is something that people buy once or twice in a lifetime, the value in bombarding people with the latest offer becomes hazy.

There might, however, still be value in using those channels for support. In short, stay true to your brand. If you are a service provider, make sure that your value is in providing that service more effectively - don't focus on engaging users with interesting content.

Can we market without social media?

Let's examine the supposed return on investment of brand social media. Comparatively, it is a cheap means of marketing. It's also ever-present. But, for a truly worthwhile presence, it's not just about being everywhere.

It's actually about being in the relevant places. If your brand doesn't sell online, and your Facebook page is directing users to your physical locations - what is the point?

That conversion is harder to measure and it's not just influenced by your presence on your customer's favourite network. It's a lot more about how your deal meets their convenience and needs as well as their desire for your product. My guess is that if your company focused more on the quality of your product or service, rather than being omni-present, you would have happier customers and a better bottom line.

What does this all mean?

It means that before you play spam-a-lot on social networks, figure out what the value is to your brand, your customers and whether this is the best strategy to achieve it. Start with evaluating your in-house or existing channels. If they are inefficient, fix them. Otherwise there is no point in adding new channels. Then define your reason for being on social media. Keep it simple: if you're offering customer support, stick to it and make it work. If you're offering content, make sure it's consistently compelling.

Then evaluate the available platforms. Your purpose might be better served by being on LinkedIn than on Twitter. And finally, commit yourself to value within this space. It's hard work but many brands are doing it really well.

If you're still unsure, that's what digital agencies are for. Good agencies solve problems; they interrogate the objectives, consider options and test them. Your brand might benefit more from an excellent ecommerce site than a Facebook page, or be better suited to Twitter than Facebook. Focus on being in the right places, for the right reasons and your solution will be one that is not only well considered but also more likely to succeed.

About Thandi Guilherme

User Experience Designer at NATIVE VML. She spends most of her days working out how to give customers the best experience possible from her client's products. This includes the process and system flows, interaction design and information architecture. Her bigger clients include the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Pick 'n Pay and General Motors. She has a background in Philosophy and secretly dreams of brewing her own beer. Twitter: @ironyandgum LinkedIn: Thandi Guilherme Who's who: Thandi Guilherme
Sam Usadolo
I do agree with Thandi except that I would like to emphasise that social media such as facebook and twitter gives your customers an unfettered space to engage with you, if there is a need to do so. Social media offers organisations interactive space to connect with their customers and possibly respond to their needs.The question is not whether you need social media but asking how you can use social media to complement your organisation's communication/PR strategy. If you are not doing this, you may be denying your organisation opportunity to communicate to its stakeholders.
Posted on 25 Feb 2014 15:10
Dumi Maseko
I think what I have had to say the other guys have put so beautifully. In the genesis of all this social media revolution. No customer knew that this social media will create an intimate relationship with their favourite brands, so those who are not on social media never know how it feels to have customers that are loyal to them and express it. If they have tried it before, then they need to change their strategy. Steve Jobs once said, "You can't expect to ask customers what they want and only then start developing it. By the time you launch your product, they would have moved on to something else." So this is where research is essential.
Posted on 25 Feb 2014 17:40
Thandi Guilherme
Hi Sam, I agree with that. It should be a complimentary channel rather than the only way your customers interact with your brand. And it's definitely about the value your brand offers in those channels.
Posted on 25 Feb 2014 18:01
Thandi Guilherme
Hey Emma, I think it's awesome that you use SM as a review tool. I wonder, however, what happens when these human interactions do the brand damage rather than good (Woolies and the Hummingbird?), despite being a reputable business. Your point is taken, but it is a serious responsibility of the brand to make sure that the channel is being used for that - not just for spam or bad content. A brand who can interact with their consumers transparently and with integrity have it right. My point was though, that it shouldn't be an add-on or another channel that is going to be inefficient. There are plenty of brands who are present on SM just to be there - and my opinion is that it doesn't necessarily mean its relevant or add value.
Posted on 25 Feb 2014 18:14
mbali cindi
I agree with Thandi. It is important to be channel neutral I think. I believe that a brand needs to understand its consumers, find out if the target market you going for actually uses these SM platforms before creating a strategy for social media. It depends on where your consumers are most receptive.
Posted on 26 Feb 2014 14:47