Unleash Your Social Army

Have you noticed that your company’s social media posts are reaching fewer of your brand’s followers? This isn’t happening by accident, or simply a problem germane to one network. Social media platforms are systematically making it harder for companies to interact with their followers.

Why would they want to do that, you ask? It's part of their effort to monetize, of course.

 

Facebook makes for a great example. At first the site shunned brands altogether. They were all about the purity of the user experience. Then the decision was made to allow companies to create pages and people were able to follow by “liking” their page. Once they received the like, page owners could deliver messages directly to their followers. This was a boon for brands. Consider as an example this quote from Bob McDonald, CEO of Procter & Gamble (January of 2012):

“In the digital space, with things like Facebook and Google and others, we find that the return on investment of the advertising, when properly designed, when the big idea is there, can be much more efficient. One example is our Old Spice campaign, where we had 1.8 billion free impressions and there are many other examples I can cite from all over the world.”

Clearly this represented lost revenue and an opportunity for Facebook. They began to fix their problem by forcing companies to adopt the Timeline page layout, which eliminated some of the brand’s control over their page and made it more difficult for them to “like-gate” or force visitors to like the page before receiving an offer. Then in September 2012, Facebook announced a change to their algorithm that minimized posts from brands on user news feeds. The impact was severe and almost immediate. Posts are now seen by less than 20% of a company page’s followers.

Facebook is not alone in its efforts to throttle back the free reach of its business users. LinkedIn recently went through a redesign and its page layout now more prominently features real estate dedicated to its advertisers. It’s an effort that’s paid off (literally.) LinkedIn recently announced that revenue for its “Marketing Solutions” products was up 64% over the same quarter a year ago.

Twitter has also placed an emphasis on advertising revenue through both mobile ads and sponsored tweets. In fact, a recent report by eMarketer projects they’ll generate over $400 million from advertising yearly by 2014.

So, how can companies continue to engage their followers without succumbing to the extortion of advertising on these networks? We suggest they enlist their greatest asset– their employees.

TECHNOLOGY MAKES IT POSSIBLE
When you consider that most social media networks offer at least a free / basic version of their software to end-users, and many don’t charge users at all, it’s easy to see why social media adoption rates continue to soar. In fact, according to a recent Ipsos study, social media is used by 62% of the world’s Internet users, trailing only email (85%) in popularity. Unlike email, most social media platforms allow users to connect and engage without having access to some kind of unique ID (i.e. an email address.) While each has its own rules, all social sites provide us with at least some way to connect by affiliation, geography, demographic, business and/or lifestyle interests. While they don’t guarantee that our request will be honored or reciprocated, social media sites do give us the opportunity to network with people we couldn’t connect with otherwise.

PEOPLE HAVE MORE FREEDOM THAN BRANDS
By their very definition, social networks depend on a vibrant growing community of users. Whether you’re a brand or a person, there’s little point in visiting (or investing in) a network where engagement is rare. In fact, for many social media sites, engagement is considered a more important metric than the total number of users. To that end, social networks look for ways to increase engagement, not stifle it. It’s why users can follow companies on LinkedIn or Facebook, but brands can’t initiate the relationship. While companies can follow individuals on Google+ and Twitter, that doesn’t guarantee reciprocation. To gain access to the user’s feed or stream the user must implicitly follow back.

Some brands try to skirt this issue by creating fictional personas or worse, through spamming and other disingenuous techniques. Others have attempted to purchase their followers only to find that they’ve paid for fake profiles created by software programs called bots. Social networks realize the dangers of these practices and have begun to crack down. There simply is no substitute for a real network of real people and the best way to create it is person-to-person.

ITS TOUGHER TO SQUEEZE PEOPLE
Recently some social networks have played with the idea of throttling the posts of their individual users. Facebook announced a program recently that would allow users to pay $7 to have their posts promoted on their friend’s pages. It was seen by many as an obvious ploy to generate revenue in support of an ailing stock (post IPO) and users have rejected the notion outright. In fact, a survey conducted just last week indicated that nearly 84% of respondents would be unwilling to pay anything to promote their content.

SOME OF YOUR EMPLOYEES ARE ALREADY DOING IT
As mentioned above, over 60% of Internet users already use at least one social network. Facebook alone has nearly 1 billion users worldwide and each user has an average of 260 friends. While the overall audience on LinkedIn is smaller with 150 million users worldwide and 60+ million users in the USA, the average user has 2-300 direct connections. While the percentage of users skews wildly by industry, job type, demographics, and other factors, it’s probably safe to say that in the average company of 500 people, at least 100 are using social media and their connections alone might give the organization first-level access to 25,000+ contacts.

For some organizations this is scary data. The knee-jerk reaction among some is to ban social media in the workplace. Over 50% of companies ban Facebook for at least some of their employees. But in a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) age of smartphones and tablets, does this really make sense? Chances are, your employees are using social media in the workplace, whether you want them to or not.

IT’S A WIN - WIN - WIN
Instead of seeing social media as a threat, try to imagine the opportunities to be gained by enlisting your employees. It’s a win for your prospects and customers who aren’t interested in a sales pitch.

They’re seeking information and knowledge. Social media has become a new source of continuing education. It’s also a win for your employees as it gives them a way to build relationships in their industry, demonstrate thought leadership and promote their company. It’s a win for your business because it’s the one space where you can differentiate yourself from competition. Seriously! Take a look at your competitors. Are any of them leveraging social media with their employees in any kind of orchestrated manner?

Social media by itself is not a magic bullet. You’ve got to have a solid strategy around the content your organization promotes. You’ll have to train your staff and you'll need a social media policy that helps guide your people’s actions, hopefully keeping them from saying or doing something they shouldn't. Finally, you’ll need a plan that clearly defines your objectives and the metrics by which you’ll measure. With those things in place you’ll be ready to unleash your army of advocates and win the battle for social media supremacy.

Here at Crowd Hydrant we passionately believe that you can Own Your Niche by creating awesome content and delivering it through the social networks of your employees. It puts your content where the relationships are. Your prospects and customers read it, share it, and visit your website. Search engines promote it, driving even more traffic your way. It's crowd marketing and it works. We create and curate content for our clients, giving them the time and bandwidth necessary to leverage their investment more effectively. Want to learn more? CONTACT US